By Kalena Thomhave | Apr 05, 2018
Despite a clear lack of evidence of significant drug use among welfare recipients, lawmakers in at least two states are moving forward with plans to require drug screening for individuals seeking assistance. State legislators in Illinois and Iowa have introduced bills that would make drug testing a prerequisite for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), the U.S. cash assistance program for very poor families. If passed, the states would join more than a dozen others in mandating drug testing for welfare applicants.
But the outcomes of those existing state testing programs contradict the harmful and racist stereotype of the drug-addicted welfare user.
Over the past several years, proposals to drug test the poor applying for or receiving TANF have been quite popular among a number of conservative states—and some states have begun attempting to expand drug testing into other assistance programs, too. Wisconsin drug tests not just TANF applicants, but has moved forward with a plan to also test Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamps) applicants (without federal approval, which may be illegal). Wisconsin’s Republican Governor Scott Walker even wants to drug test those who apply for Medicaid—potentially barring people from health care when they could perhaps need it most.
The Illinois bill would also require that SNAP applicants be drug tested, pending federal approval. (Not being a conservative stronghold, it’s probably unlikely that the Illinois proposal will pass.) And the Iowa bill proposes drug testing all recipients of public assistance.
However, the results of these drug-testing initiatives have amounted to a wasteful use of funds when one considers how few welfare recipients actually test positive for drugs. An analysis by ThinkProgress found that, in 2016, 13 states spent $1.3 million on welfare drug testing, with just 363 people testing positive.
Since the data don't exactly justify the expense of these programs, one should consider other reasons that conservative legislators keep advancing legislation like this—namely, to attempt to justify a certain narrative. Without “immorality” and other individual characteristics to blame for poverty, what’s left? A systemic canker—that threatens the American narrative of hard work and equal opportunity.
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By Kalena Thomhave | Mar 30, 2018
When a bill to raise the Louisiana minimum wage by just $1.25 failed, advocates didn’t reduce their demands—in fact, they did the opposite.
On Tuesday, the Louisiana Senate voted against a bill that would have raised Louisiana’s minimum wage to $8.50 an hour by 2020. “Not advancing this legislation is a step backwards for our families and our children who live in poverty but want to work,” said Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards.
But just two days later, supporters of a $15-an-hour bill introduced by State Representative Joe Bouie testified in a hearing before the House Labor and Industrial Committee—a bold statement given the clear leanings of the legislature. The committee unsurprisingly rejected the bill, but the hearing was an opportunity for advocates to make their case in front of committee members.
“Can any of you live on $290 a week?” said Ben Zucker, co-director of advocacy organization Step Up Louisiana. “Too many of these low-wage workers working for multinational corporations ... making record corporate profits come into our state and pay our workers so low they can’t afford to eat,” Zucker said, as reported by New Orleans’s Gambit. Louisiana is one of five states without a state minimum wage, so the federal minimum of $7.25 is in effect.
State Senator Troy Carter of New Orleans, who sponsored the $8.50 bill, has sponsored minimum-wage legislation for the past three years, but each attempt has failed. He has also sponsored a bill that would allow voters to determine whether to pass a constitutional amendment raising the minimum wage. (As of 2016, 76 percent of Louisianans support raising the wage.) Bouie’s bill was the first $15 minimum-wage legislation introduced in the Louisiana legislature.
One in five people in Louisiana lives in poverty, and the state has one of the highest poverty rates in the country, as do Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina, and Mississippi, which also don’t have state minimum wages. Sixteen other states have wage floors that match the federal minimum of $7.25.
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