Government has truly become Big Daddy in many people’s minds. Nothing proves this claim more than recent arguments on the floor of the North Carolina Senate regarding SB 594. The proposed legislation is simple. It requires a drug test in order for individuals to receive Work First cash benefits and job training. However, to hear liberal politicians rail against the law, one would think that supporters of the legislation were forcing the poor into the streets.
Instead, the bill goes out of its way to protect the rights of qualified individuals to receive temporary assistance for their needy families and to provide job instruction under this federally funded, staterun program. The number one qualification is that applicants not abuse drugs.
Think about it — what would a person addicted to drugs do with the cash payments they receive under the program? These cash payments are not insubstantial. In fact, qualifying families can get a one-time payment equivalent of up to three months worth of Work First benefits in cash. How effective would any employment training program be if the jobseeker is high and addicted to crack, heroin, crystal meth, et cetera?
The bill has several safeguards to make sure that individuals who are serious about the Work First program are allowed to participate. First, if you test negative for drugs, the legislation requires the program to reimburse you for the cost of the test that runs around $50. Second, if you test positive for drugs, you will not be accepted into the program, but can resubmit an application after one year. However, in the meantime, you can enter into a drug treatment program. If you successfully complete it and retest negative for drugs, you can qualify for Work First in a shorter time period.
Opponents of the bill complained about how unfair it was to ask applicants to demonstrate that they were not addicted to drugs. Further, they claimed that the testing was not necessary based upon a somewhat similar law in Florida. In the Sunshine State, 98 percent of applicants passed the drug test. Opponents of the proposed law claimed that this result was proof that no drug test was needed. Sit back for just one minute and think about the lunacy of this argument. You would have to be high on drugs to apply for a program and spend $50 on a test that you know you will fail. In fact, two percent of the applicants in Florida were apparently high and fell into that category.
The bottom line is this: demanding a drug test in order to receive the cash benefits and job training offered by the Work First program makes common sense. Sheer logic dictates that in order to receive the most benefit from any government program, the limited funds should go to the most qualified individuals. Drug use is not and never will be an indicator of potential success in the job market.
The most effective way to weed out applicants who can make the best use of the taxpayer funds available in the Work First program is to mandate a drug test as an initial qualifier. It is truly the height of absurdity that there is even an argument put forward against this well reasoned bill, unless government really is our Big Daddy and he likes to pay for his kids’ drug habits.
Thom Goolsby is a state senator, practicing attorney and law professor. He is a co-chair of the Senate Judiciary 1 Committee.