News Should government benefits be conditionally granted?

  • Thread starter WhoWee
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In the context of this thread - what is wrong with a social contract whereby if you need our help - you agree to not break the law?
Nothing of course. It's not a breach of rights or in any way morally wrong to require people who are getting government benefits to conform to certain societal standards ... like not using illegal drugs.

My question had to do with whether such conditions/testing are actually worthwhile (wrt a cost/benefit analysis). The stats from Florida's testing of cash welfare recipients seems to indicate that the incidence of illegal drug use wrt that segment of the population is significantly less than the incidence of illegal drug use wrt the entire population.

But those statistics might be misleading in an important sense. It might be that, faced with the prospect of losing benefits via failed drug tests, a certain percentage of potential recipients of the welfare who would otherwise use illegal drugs choose not to do so because of the testing. And if that's the case, then the drug testing is a good thing, imo, by any measure, because any additional governmental expenditure will have been to good purpose in that it will have, presumably, changed lives in a positive way. Sometimes people who have habitually made bad decisions need a bit of (enforced) structure to compel them to make decisions that are good for them and those who depend on them.

So, wrt your OP, my current opinion is that, yes, government benefits should be conditionally granted. But not just wrt aid to the poor. The American financial and corporate sectors have in general habitually made some decisions and undertaken some actions which most of us would consider to be not in the best interests of America, or humanity for that matter. Of course holding the wealthy and powerful accountable is a lot harder than holding the poor and powerless accountable.

Which raises another question wrt your OP. Does it apply to wealthy and powerful corporations as well as people who need a few dollars to get sufficient food, or clothing, or housing, or transportation, etc. ?
 

Jasongreat

Nothing of course. It's not a breach of rights or in any way morally wrong to require people who are getting government benefits to conform to certain societal standards ... like not using illegal drugs.

My question had to do with whether such conditions/testing are actually worthwhile (wrt a cost/benefit analysis). The stats from Florida's testing of cash welfare recipients seems to indicate that the incidence of illegal drug use wrt that segment of the population is significantly less than the incidence of illegal drug use wrt the entire population.

But those statistics might be misleading in an important sense. It might be that, faced with the prospect of losing benefits via failed drug tests, a certain percentage of potential recipients of the welfare who would otherwise use illegal drugs choose not to do so because of the testing. And if that's the case, then the drug testing is a good thing, imo, by any measure, because any additional governmental expenditure will have been to good purpose in that it will have, presumably, changed lives in a positive way. Sometimes people who have habitually made bad decisions need a bit of (enforced) structure to compel them to make decisions that are good for them and those who depend on them.

So, wrt your OP, my current opinion is that, yes, government benefits should be conditionally granted. But not just wrt aid to the poor. The American financial and corporate sectors have in general habitually made some decisions and undertaken some actions which most of us would consider to be not in the best interests of America, or humanity for that matter. Of course holding the wealthy and powerful accountable is a lot harder than holding the poor and powerless accountable.

Which raises another question wrt your OP. Does it apply to wealthy and powerful corporations as well as people who need a few dollars to get sufficient food, or clothing, or housing, or transportation, etc. ?
ThomasT and WhoWee, lets look at another scenario. I dont use drugs, therefore the test wont effect me, but I use my welfare money to buy drugs, those which I sell. I am still using my welfare check to buy drugs, but I am not on drugs, how will taking my rights away keep me from buying drugs? The sad part is most welfare recipients, will only get fifty cents on the dollar for the previous discription.
 
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ThomasT and WhoWee, lets look at another scenario. I dont use drugs, therefore the test wont effect me, but I use my welfare money to buy drugs, those which I sell. I am still using my welfare check to buy drugs, but I am not on drugs, how will taking my rights away keep me from buying drugs? The sad part is most welfare recipients, will only get fifty cents on the dollar for the previous discription.
Accompanying the disbursement of government funds with certain, quite reasonable imo, conditions doesn't constitute an infringement of rights.

In the scenario you outline above, the person/entrepreneur who uses their cash assistance to make a profit (whether via buying and selling drugs or whatever) is actualizing the ideal of free market capitalism.

Ironically, it's the US's archaic drug laws that make a certain sort of entrepreneurship possible, and which make drug testing necessary in the view of some.

Nevertheless, I think that doing drugs for recreational purposes, or engaging in illegal enterprises, is a self-defeating practice. So, as long as recreational drugs (except alcohol of course) are illegal, then I don't think that drug testing is altogether a bad thing and might even help a certain percentage of welfare recipients to change some of their bad habits ... to the benefit of themselves and those who depend on them. Call it "tough love". I think it actually works wrt a lot of people. Of course, I don't think for a moment that that's the reason that a particular (state, local, or federal) government might adopt the testing requirement, or why a lot of people would be in favor of it. But the net effect can be, I think, a positive one.
 
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In the context of this thread - what is wrong with a social contract whereby if you need our help - you agree to not break the law?
Nothing at all - the problem arises when you presuppose guilt associated with breaking the law. Sobriety checkpoints was mentioned earlier - this would be the same as if at these checkpoints everyone had to go through a sobriety test, not just those the police had reasonable suspicion about. If there is reasonable suspicion about government assistance recipients breaking the law, by all means give them a drug test.
 
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If there is reasonable suspicion about government assistance recipients breaking the law, by all means give them a drug test.
Afaik, there's no particular reason to assume that recipients of government assistance engage in illegal drug taking behavior to a greater extent than the general population. But I think the assumption is that a person could not be in such dire straits unless he/she was either extraordinarily stupid, or mentally ill, or addicted to drugs and/or alcohol.

But then, the financial sector has gotten a lot more government aid than poor people ever will. So ...
 
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I was referring to specific individuals, not the group as a whole. Sorry for the confusion.
 

Moonbear

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I think personal responsibility is important. If someone needs assistance from the Government with housing, medical, food, education, transportation, utilities, communications, and cash in their pocket - shouldn't they be expected not to break the law?
That is the expectation. We also expect that our citizens are presumed innocent unless proven guilty, and a pesky 4th Amendment in the Constitution that prevents searches without probable cause. So, if someone shows up to their local benefits office clearly stoned out of their mind, sure, I have no problem with calling the cops on them and if arrested and convicted, having their benefits dropped. I do not condone testing anyone who ends up down on their luck just because they're down on their luck.

I don't know of any assistance programs that end because someone is arrested or tests positive for drugs (outside of the FL program) - do you?

Even when sentenced to jail - members of a household can still collect. We even have hiring incentives for ex-convicts.
Are all the other members of the household also guilty of a crime because one member has committed a crime? If so, why aren't they in jail too? Throw a whole family out on the street because one is a bad apple?

There is also a premise to our prison system that the idea is to rehabilitate people, which is why they get released eventually, supposedly having learned their lesson and better equipped to avoid making the same mistake again (yes, I concede that we fail miserably at this, but that's another discussion for another thread). If someone gets a 3 year prison sentence for drugs, and upon release can't get a job and can't get benefits, that's more of a life sentence. How do they survive out of prison without resorting back to criminal behavior if they can't earn an honest living and can't get government benefits? No matter how bad prison is, it starts to look pretty good compared to living in a cardboard box and begging for food. That seems like a setup to encourage a return to criminal behavior...nothing left to lose even if caught...rather than putting an end to it and helping them become a productive citizen.

But, even if we toss out the Constitution, ignore civil rights, decide that an addiction is an unforgivable crime, and cry that everyone who opposes this is a soppy, bleeding heart liberal who should be ignored because they just want to waste money on government handouts to pathetic, undeserving low-lifes, there's also a financial argument against it. First, consider the cost for every innocent person tested. Drug testing, especially if run by the government, isn't cheap. It's not just the cost of the test itself (and it's not a single test...they're somewhat done a la carte...do you test for every drug, or decide to pick a few drugs you've decided are worse than others?), but you need to employ the person who stands there and watches people pee in cups all day long (and being government, this will be a salaried position, protected by a union, and requiring benefits and vacation and sick days, meaning you actually need two people for the job so they can cover for one another during vacations, and you're going to need these people in every benefits office around the nation). Now, as those test results come back, there's going to be paperwork, and that means hiring someone to receive the paperwork, and enter it into a computer database (oh, crud, now we need a programmer to set up the database, and new work stations in every office for this person to sit at...or at least one per every so many offices depending on amount of drug test results coming in). Now we need to train the other staff in each office to access that database to look up the results as they decide if someone qualifies for benefits. That in turn will add at least a minute per day per client, but being government workers, probably will take longer. And that means their union will have a say on the matter too. You're going to need to hire an extra person to handle that extra workload (anyone who has ever worked for a government agency and/or dealt with union workers will understand how this will turn out that way).

But, aha! At this point, the argument is that surely this is all justified by the money saved by denying benefits to those who are guilty.

Okay, so now let's consider the cost of those who test positive.

First, we know the tests are not 100% accurate. I'm not even bothering with the false negatives, because in this context, everyone stays happy with a false negative...the gov't agency and public are content in the belief the test was negative, and the drug-using welfare recipient who tested negative is happy they didn't get caught. But, there are also false positives, and lab mix-ups. If someone tests positive, you're going to need to retest, just to be sure (you're still not really sure, but most people at this point are happy to ignore statistics, because they never really understood them in the first place, and they're terribly inconvenient to pay attention to this late in the game). I'm not even sure what one does about those who test positive the first time and negative the second time. Do you go for best out of three?

Anyway, now we're down to the ones we're doubly positive about. Now you're ready to take away their benefits. As you rub your hands and twirl your handlebar mustache, in walks the ACLU. Whatever you think of them, you KNOW this is the type of case they just drool about. They have lawyers who work pro bono for the sake of publicity, but the government has to pay their lawyers, even as they grumble at that pesky constitution someone still wants to enforce. Well, at least government lawyers are generally cheap compared to some out there. Oh, by the way, who pays for the courthouse, the judge's salary, the court staff and officers, added security when the throngs of reporters and protesters show up...oh, yeah, citizens' taxes. The same taxes we're saving by denying benefits to those awful drug users.

Now, for the sake of argument, let's assume the judge and jury have entirely lost sight of the Constitution or have been properly bribed and find in favor of the government. Finally, that druggie can be properly denied benefits, and arrested for drug use (if drug use is still a crime, a government agency can't ignore it, right?) Now we're finally going to reap the savings! Oh, yeah, there's the criminal trial now with the public footing the bill for BOTH sides! We're paying for the prosecutor and the public defender, because addicts applying for welfare benefits pretty much fit in that category of people who can't afford their own attorney, so get one appointed for them in a criminal trial. Now we finally get to toss them in prison where they belong as we deny them benefits.

Has anyone recently looked into the cost per prisoner, especially one who needs medical care for drug rehab while in prison, compared to welfare benefits? The last time I looked that up, we pay more for prisoners than we do in welfare benefits for an individual. So, even if you disregard all of the rest of the scenario of cost of testing, expected lawsuits and court costs, and added employees in the benefits office, the joke's still on us if we think it's going to save tax dollars to imprison someone rather than let them get welfare.

On the other hand, they're likely to live longer in prison than left on the streets as an addict, so there is a bit of irony that imprisoning addicts might be the more humanitarian approach if we're concerned about longevity and quality of life. But if the whole point is to save tax money by denying benefits for drug users, I think this is going to have the opposite effect of costing far more.
 
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I do not condone testing anyone who ends up down on their luck just because they're down on their luck.
I can't argue with what I take to be the gist of your post. And I think your post has elevated the level of discussion in this thread, as have BobG's posts and some others. However, I think it's best to assume that if a person is without means and generally down and out, then that condition isn't a matter of bad luck but a matter of the choices that that person has made (ie., that the person really is intellectually or emotionally challenged, or mentally ill in some sense).

After some consideration, my current opinion is that, in particular, the drug testing of recipients of temporary cash assistance is not an erosion of rights, and might even improve the lives of lots of the potential recipients.

And, in general, I do think that stringent conditions should accompany any sort of government aid.
 
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That is the expectation. We also expect that our citizens are presumed innocent unless proven guilty, and a pesky 4th Amendment in the Constitution that prevents searches without probable cause. So, if someone shows up to their local benefits office clearly stoned out of their mind, sure, I have no problem with calling the cops on them and if arrested and convicted, having their benefits dropped. I do not condone testing anyone who ends up down on their luck just because they're down on their luck.


Are all the other members of the household also guilty of a crime because one member has committed a crime? If so, why aren't they in jail too? Throw a whole family out on the street because one is a bad apple?

There is also a premise to our prison system that the idea is to rehabilitate people, which is why they get released eventually, supposedly having learned their lesson and better equipped to avoid making the same mistake again (yes, I concede that we fail miserably at this, but that's another discussion for another thread). If someone gets a 3 year prison sentence for drugs, and upon release can't get a job and can't get benefits, that's more of a life sentence. How do they survive out of prison without resorting back to criminal behavior if they can't earn an honest living and can't get government benefits? No matter how bad prison is, it starts to look pretty good compared to living in a cardboard box and begging for food. That seems like a setup to encourage a return to criminal behavior...nothing left to lose even if caught...rather than putting an end to it and helping them become a productive citizen.

But, even if we toss out the Constitution, ignore civil rights, decide that an addiction is an unforgivable crime, and cry that everyone who opposes this is a soppy, bleeding heart liberal who should be ignored because they just want to waste money on government handouts to pathetic, undeserving low-lifes, there's also a financial argument against it. First, consider the cost for every innocent person tested. Drug testing, especially if run by the government, isn't cheap. It's not just the cost of the test itself (and it's not a single test...they're somewhat done a la carte...do you test for every drug, or decide to pick a few drugs you've decided are worse than others?), but you need to employ the person who stands there and watches people pee in cups all day long (and being government, this will be a salaried position, protected by a union, and requiring benefits and vacation and sick days, meaning you actually need two people for the job so they can cover for one another during vacations, and you're going to need these people in every benefits office around the nation). Now, as those test results come back, there's going to be paperwork, and that means hiring someone to receive the paperwork, and enter it into a computer database (oh, crud, now we need a programmer to set up the database, and new work stations in every office for this person to sit at...or at least one per every so many offices depending on amount of drug test results coming in). Now we need to train the other staff in each office to access that database to look up the results as they decide if someone qualifies for benefits. That in turn will add at least a minute per day per client, but being government workers, probably will take longer. And that means their union will have a say on the matter too. You're going to need to hire an extra person to handle that extra workload (anyone who has ever worked for a government agency and/or dealt with union workers will understand how this will turn out that way).

But, aha! At this point, the argument is that surely this is all justified by the money saved by denying benefits to those who are guilty.

Okay, so now let's consider the cost of those who test positive.

First, we know the tests are not 100% accurate. I'm not even bothering with the false negatives, because in this context, everyone stays happy with a false negative...the gov't agency and public are content in the belief the test was negative, and the drug-using welfare recipient who tested negative is happy they didn't get caught. But, there are also false positives, and lab mix-ups. If someone tests positive, you're going to need to retest, just to be sure (you're still not really sure, but most people at this point are happy to ignore statistics, because they never really understood them in the first place, and they're terribly inconvenient to pay attention to this late in the game). I'm not even sure what one does about those who test positive the first time and negative the second time. Do you go for best out of three?

Anyway, now we're down to the ones we're doubly positive about. Now you're ready to take away their benefits. As you rub your hands and twirl your handlebar mustache, in walks the ACLU. Whatever you think of them, you KNOW this is the type of case they just drool about. They have lawyers who work pro bono for the sake of publicity, but the government has to pay their lawyers, even as they grumble at that pesky constitution someone still wants to enforce. Well, at least government lawyers are generally cheap compared to some out there. Oh, by the way, who pays for the courthouse, the judge's salary, the court staff and officers, added security when the throngs of reporters and protesters show up...oh, yeah, citizens' taxes. The same taxes we're saving by denying benefits to those awful drug users.

Now, for the sake of argument, let's assume the judge and jury have entirely lost sight of the Constitution or have been properly bribed and find in favor of the government. Finally, that druggie can be properly denied benefits, and arrested for drug use (if drug use is still a crime, a government agency can't ignore it, right?) Now we're finally going to reap the savings! Oh, yeah, there's the criminal trial now with the public footing the bill for BOTH sides! We're paying for the prosecutor and the public defender, because addicts applying for welfare benefits pretty much fit in that category of people who can't afford their own attorney, so get one appointed for them in a criminal trial. Now we finally get to toss them in prison where they belong as we deny them benefits.

Has anyone recently looked into the cost per prisoner, especially one who needs medical care for drug rehab while in prison, compared to welfare benefits? The last time I looked that up, we pay more for prisoners than we do in welfare benefits for an individual. So, even if you disregard all of the rest of the scenario of cost of testing, expected lawsuits and court costs, and added employees in the benefits office, the joke's still on us if we think it's going to save tax dollars to imprison someone rather than let them get welfare.

On the other hand, they're likely to live longer in prison than left on the streets as an addict, so there is a bit of irony that imprisoning addicts might be the more humanitarian approach if we're concerned about longevity and quality of life. But if the whole point is to save tax money by denying benefits for drug users, I think this is going to have the opposite effect of costing far more.
I would think the ACLU would support a social contract that helps people during a time of need and empowers the individual to take responsibility for their actions?
 

Office_Shredder

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ThomasT said:
However, I think it's best to assume that if a person is without means and generally down and out, then that condition isn't a matter of bad luck but a matter of the choices that that person has made (ie., that the person really is intellectually or emotionally challenged, or mentally ill in some sense).

Best to assume for who? For the sake of your argument?

WhoWee said:
I would think the ACLU would support a social contract that helps people during a time of need and empowers the individual to take responsibility for their actions?
I don't think you know the ACLU very well then. The ACLU doesn't care about whether the welfare is helping people, they just care whether there's any possibility of the government infringing on somebody's rights.

EDIT TO ADD: For example they challenged the Florida law
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/09/07/aclu-florida-drug-testing-welfare-rick-scott_n_952209.html [Broken]
 
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I don't think you know the ACLU very well then. The ACLU doesn't care about whether the welfare is helping people, they just care whether there's any possibility of the government infringing on somebody's rights.
Oh come now - are you certain?
 

Office_Shredder

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Let me clarify. The people in the organization of the ACLU probably do care about whether welfare is helping people, but the objective of the ACLU as an organization is not to improve the welfare system, but to defend against government encroachments of rights.
 
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Best to assume for who?
Best to assume because it's the most reasonable assumption. Or, you can assume that the fact that Mr.X is a broke homeless person is entirely due to circumstances beyond his control. Well, I don't buy that ... unless Mr. X is intellectually and/or emotionally challenged and/or has some sort of addiction, like drugs or alcohol or whatever. And if drugs and/or alcohol is his problem, then requiring him to pass drug tests to get money to live on can only help him, not hurt him.
 

MarcoD

IMO, it's a system which will be too easily exploited to warrant implementation.
 

Jasongreat

I would think the ACLU would support a social contract that helps people during a time of need and empowers the individual to take responsibility for their actions?
You keep mentioning the social contract, in the US I would argue that the social contract is the constitution, since it was in that document that we the people put limits on the federal government and which we agreed to live by. We as a people agree that we will live by the rules, imposed by congress, as long as they are resricted to the delegated powers listed in that document. Once the government goes beyond those, they have broken the contract and it is null and void.

There is no valid argument, IMO, that since government has gone above and beyond their delegated powers, ie; welfare, that those recieving welfare should then lose rights, because of the supposed social contract.

Welfare for the minority is the job of states, if in your state you feel you should take rights in order to 'better' serve the citizens, that is fine, if people agree they stay, if not they leave. General welfare is the job of the federal government, that is of most citizens, and I would argue that only describes the states, our federal government is supposed to do the things the states couldnt do, states are to do everything else, like welfare. One of the biggest problems today, one that wouldnt exist, if the south would have won the war of northern agression, states would not be allowed to vote to take funds from another state to fund their problems. California couldnt make a welfare state that wyoming has to fund, or if we go further iowa wouldnt be able to make california pay for their farm subsisdies, which would keep the US, a to each their own community. I think plenty of programs in states would disappear if they had to rely on the citizenry to fund it, a national government run by majority votes makes that distinction disapear. Pennsylvania, gets to keep 100% of its land, while voting to take 80% of utahs,nevada, wyomings land away.

To Moonbear, that is one of the most well thought out, superiorly expressed opinions I have seen in the political forums, you give us all something to live up to. Thank you.
 

Ryan_m_b

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That is the expectation...
(Quote shortened) This is a fantastic response. I've stayed out of this thread but the first thing I thought is how much is regular drug testing of everyone on benefits going to cost purely in terms of the test let alone anything else. Great points about the constitution and civil rights too :smile:
 
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You keep mentioning the social contract, in the US I would argue that the social contract is the constitution, since it was in that document that we the people put limits on the federal government and which we agreed to live by.
Sorry for the confusion - I was suggesting it's possible to conditionally grant benefits if we had a contract with beneficiaries requiring them to obey the law or risk losing their assistance. This would be a specific social contract that estimates the value of their benefits. I don't think beneficiaries realize how much their assistance (food, housing, medical, utilities, cash, transportation, communications, etc.) actually costs the taxpayer.
 

BobG

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Sorry for the confusion - I was suggesting it's possible to conditionally grant benefits if we had a contract with beneficiaries requiring them to obey the law or risk losing their assistance. This would be a specific social contract that estimates the value of their benefits. I don't think beneficiaries realize how much their assistance (food, housing, medical, utilities, cash, transportation, communications, etc.) actually costs the taxpayer.
Except in this instance you're requiring innocent people to sell their inalienable rights in return for the government benefits they receive.

Your plan is only reasonable if you only test welfare recipients that will fail and how will you know which will fail before you've conducted the testing?
 
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Except in this instance you're requiring innocent people to sell their inalienable rights in return for the government benefits they receive.

Your plan is only reasonable if you only test welfare recipients that will fail and how will you know which will fail before you've conducted the testing?
Who has the right to engage in unlawful activity?
 

Evo

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This topic has been beaten to death.
 

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