Friday, February 4, 2011

Tonight, On a Very Special Raconteur Daddy

Even though I make my residence in Nebraska, I will always call South Dakota my home.  I still follow South Dakota politics, neither because of my attachment to the state nor due to any great love of politics, but because most of my friends on Facebook still live there and a few are politically active one way or the other.  It was one of those friends that turned me on to a story that touches on a hot-button issue.

There was an editorial written by a local newspaper calling out legislators who are spending their time preparing legislation as a form of political posturing rather then work to enact policy that addresses the issues facing the state.  The letter goes on to state that other legislation, which would require Dept. of Social Service workers to administer drug screenings to welfare recipients, is an unrealistic plan and a waste of legislative time as it is currently written.

This sparked significant debate on my Facebook wall when I linked the story. The debate started with one person asking why I thought drug testing for welfare recipients was a bad idea, and it went on from there.

Here is my take on the subject.  If the government-sponsored aid in question were being used to provide only for an individual, I would support testing that individual for illegal drug use.  However, it is far more likely that the aid is being used to support a family, not just an individual, and that the children in that family are innocent victims of the poor choices and addictions of their elders.

It is these innocent victims who will be forced to suffer when government passes a zero-tolerance "no aid for addicts" law.  Nobody wants to see the government pay to support illegal drug addiction, or any kind of addiction for that matter.  But when you remove the support for addicts, you are removing the support for their families as well.

Most people will respond to this by arguing that any children living in the home ought to be removed in the event their adult provider fails a drug screening.  There is validity in this argument.  After all, a person who cannot pass a drug screening is hardly the ideal parent, and their addiction is likely damaging the well-being of the children.  It is also likely that the addiction is the cause of most of the hardship that caused them to apply for government aid in the first place.  This solution causes a new batch of complications.  The first complication that comes to my mind is that I don't feel like a single failed drug screening should be grounds for the children to be taken from the home.  The process for removing children from the home requires substantial evidence that the parent is unfit, and I don't know that a single failed drug screening should qualify.  If that was the case, then shouldn't we be removing the children from the household for anybody who fails a drug screening, such as those required for work?  To do otherwise seems to be singling out citizens who are already suffering financial hardship.  The idea of a government taking custody of the children based on the results of one drug screening smacks of Gestapo.

The second problem I see is easier to communicate.  There will be parents who simply do not attempt to receive government aid simply because they are too entrenched in their addiction, but do not want to face the prospect of losing their children.  These children will be left without support to suffer until they are removed from the home for some other reason.

It is very easy for politicians today to make the demand that government aid not be used for illegal drugs.  It's hard to argue with that, nobody wants to feel like their tax dollars are supporting a dangerous and illegal addiction.  But with so much support offered so readily, these consequences and several others are overlooked.  The reality of the situation is that most government aid is given in a method that cannot be used to directly purchase drugs.  More likely, the aid is used to cover expenses, such as groceries and utilities, thus freeing up resources that can be spent feeding their addiction. 

So what is the solution?  

I don't know.  I don't claim to know.  But if I can come up with these dangerous pitfalls just off the top of my head, it seems that a zero-tolerance edict is not the way to go.  I would recommend looking at the entire situation, solving the problems in reverse order.  For example:  We want to end government sponsored addiction, so first we need to make sure that the innocent dependents of the addicts are supported.  So before we can do that we need to make sure the programs are in place and funded to cover their increased workload.  Otherwise the children will suffer while lawmakers scurry to fix the problem they created.  Simply put, we need to make sure the safety nets are up before we go pushing people out on the tightrope, rather than installing them after somebody starts falling.

If you've made it this far I would first like to thank you.  Your dedication to listening to my rant is nothing short of remarkable.  I still plan to keep this blog fairly light reading, liberally seasoned with humor.  Remember how, before the era of the "dramady", a sitcom would occasionally warn you that tonight's episode would be free of humor by calling it "a very special" so-and-so?  Well, I suppose this was "a very special" Raconteur Daddy, and I would love to hear your thoughts on the subject.  I promise that the next post will be more fun.  Maybe I'll throw a fart joke in there.

1 comment:

  1. As some background, Nev and I discussed this issue last night, and we are in general agreement. Here is where I stand: I am a classic liberal and libertarian and am generally against the welfare system and the welfare state; in my opinion, governmental intervention in the society and the economic causes more damage and it helps. For a society and an economy to work properly, there has to be incentive to succeed and an opposite incentive not to fail, which a massive taxpayer-funded safety net interferes with (and creates a nation-wide tragedy of the commons). The problem, however, is that the system is in place (and has been for well over 50 years) and society has adjusted to it on a basic, essential level. Thus, we cannot just arbitrarily decide to scrap the entire thing because of the massive collateral damage (e.g., to children). In other words, two wrongs don't make a right. Likewise, further tinkering with a broken system in an effort to fight a losing "drug war" does not help either.

    In short, I agree that the South Dakota legislation in a mistake.

    What's the answer? I'd like to see the American proto-welfare state dismantled slowly with the intent of weaning citizens off Big Brother's teat. The change to the system needs to be with the dual focus of shrinking the system down to a reasonable level while not "pulling the rug out from under" the participants. In other words, the goal is to eventually get rid of the system, not utilize it to fight different battles.