If the intent of Utah's law requiring welfare applicants to submit to drug testing is to keep the program from helping those it was designed to help, then it seems to be working just fine.
But there are problems with discouraging people down on their luck from applying for assistance through Utah's Family Employment Program. The most obvious is the unfairness of requiring people who otherwise legally qualify for benefits to undergo the privacy invasion of drug testing. Utahns who get other forms of government assistance face no such requirement,
Rep. Brad Wilson, R-Kaysville, says his bill would help provide treatment to people addicted to drugs or alcohol by requiring them to submit to the Substance Abuse Subtle Screening Inventory or SASSI test, a tool that identifies individuals who have a high probability of addictive behavior. Not an addiction, but a "probabability of addictive behavior."
Those thusly identified must undergo a urine test, whether or not they actually abuse drugs or alcohol. If that process seems fair and productive, perhaps we should also require those seeking public office and its taxpayer-provided benefits to take a psychological test that identifies those who are most likely to use their government job to advance their own interests over the public good.
FEP data show that 1,020 of 4,730 welfare applicants scored high on the SASSI. Only 466 were actually tested, and only 12 returned positive results. And only four of those sought treatment the final outcome Wilson claims is the actual benefit of the law. Hardly a benefit worth the human and financial cost.
Wilson seems satisfied that the state saved an estimated $369,000 because 247 applicants were denied benefits in a three-month period. But what of those who never applied because of the requirement, whether or not they abuse drugs? And what of the cost to those families who get no financial help or assistance of any kind to help them get jobs and support their families?
The most egregious aspect of this self-righteous, paternalistic Republican way of labeling the poor as undeserving and addiction-prone is that those most severely impacted are the children in these struggling families. Only families with children are eligible for this meager assistance, which averages less than $500 a month for a family of three.
If legislators truly want to help the unemployed in Utah, why focus strictly on drug and alcohol addiction? Many other family problems keep people unemployed: mental illness, domestic violence, poor health and lack of training. Let's provide help for all of them.
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