Tomorrow's editorial tonight:
Let’s hope the county attorney’s office put the skids on the wasteful and ill-considered idea of Mecklenburg County requiring drug testing for all welfare recipients. The fact that County Attorney Tyrone Wade said such testing would be an unconstitutional violation of search and seizure laws and that only the state can impose drug-testing requirements – not counties – should be sufficient to nip this unwise idea in the bud.
Yet given the comments of some Mecklenburg commissioners on Tuesday, there’s the distinct possibility that pursuit of this folly will continue. It shouldn’t. Local and national data show the move would have negligible impact on nabbing drug users or reducing welfare rolls. Studies show less than 2 percent test positive. And the cost to test – Mecklenburg officials say it would be $6 million annually – is simply ridiculous, especially during an economic downturn. There are many more productive ways to spend $6 million, and they would yield a much higher return on the investment.
We’re not condoning welfare recipients – or anybody for that matter – using illegal drugs. They shouldn’t.
But singling them out for mandatory drug testing accomplishes little other than humiliating people who are down on their luck. Increasingly many of those people seeking assistance are middle-income families whose wage earners lost jobs – and most everything else – in the last recession. They are people whose tax dollars helped fund these assistance programs. Now, ideologically-driven politicians want them to be drug tested to get back some of what they put in.
Of course, the real target of these drug-testing-welfare-recipient laws aren’t those newly poor. The target is the persistently poor. Some feel these people aren’t deserving of help. Conservatives nationwide have latched on to this drug-testing idea as a way to stop providing such help.
N.C. Speaker of the House Thom Tillis, R-Mecklenburg, threw out the idea last month in a talk to a Republican group. He said the state should consider drug testing those receiving welfare and other benefits as a way to prioritize its spending.
Conservatives have gotten some public support by comparing the idea to drug testing required for many jobs. But the comparison is apples and oranges. The random drug testing required for jobs is associated with safety and security in the workplace. That’s not the intent of drug-testing welfare recipients.
In any case, the county already has a plan that sounds reasonable and fair on this issue. Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services Director Mary Wilson says applicants for Work First, a cash-assistance program, undergo a drug assessment. Those who show signs of drug abuse must enroll in treatment to receive benefits and are subject to drug testing. She also said the county administers drug tests for food-stamp recipients who have been convicted of some drug felonies. A positive drug test disqualifies those applicants for six months.
These policies are sufficient. County officials should not waste their time or our money on pursuing this unwise, illegal idea any further. State leaders shouldn’t either.
Wednesday, November 9, 2011
Tomorrow's editorial tonight: