Mistrusting the poor


[This is an expanded version of an earlier post, giving it a national perspective.—Betty]

     The Massachusetts legislature has decided that the poor can’t be trusted with money, and a legislative commission has considered not allowing recipients of food stamps (now called SNAP, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) and recipients of welfare (TAFDC) to use cash for any of their purchases (such as paying the rent), and issuing vouchers instead.

     The legislature has already passed a law that doesn’t allow people who receive cash on their Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards to pay for liquor, lottery tickets, casinos, or strip clubs. They are worried about people using EBT cards in other states, even though SNAP is a federal program administered by the United States Department of Agriculture and EBT cards can be used in all states. In order to avoid stigmatizing food stamp recipients, USDA said that an EBT card should be no different from any other credit card. When a member of the EBT Commission proposed to put a photo ID on EBT cards, a representative of retail stores said that this would be a nightmare because every shopper would have to have a photo ID, which the cashier would have to inspect.

      EBT cards can be used for food, or they can be cashed if a person receives welfare payments (TAFDC). Most people use cash to pay landlords, child care, or transportation. The SNAP program doesn’t allow any purchases except food (e.g., no household supplies or liquor).

     Mistrust of the poor is widespread throughout the country. Across the nation, lawmakers have proposed legislation to implement asset limits for food-stamp recipients, longer waiting periods for welfare benefits, and mandatory substance abuse counseling for people receiving housing assistance. At least 10 states are considering bills that would require photo identification for EBT cards. At least two states — Ohio and Tennessee — are considering restricting or eliminating eligibility for those convicted of drug felonies. (That would, of course, punish their children.) At least two states —North Carolina and New Jersey— are considering requiring people to perform community service to receive government help.

     Twenty-three states are considering drug testing for welfare recipients. Drug testing was proposed in Wyoming, but rejected by the legislature. It was also rejected by the Virginia and Indiana legislatures. Oklahoma passed the law. Florida passed the law and the ACLU is challenging it. Arizona and Missouri require testing for anyone they “reasonably suspect of illegal drug use.”

     Mitt Romney says drug testing for welfare recipients is an “excellent idea.” Newt Gingrich considers drug testing a way to curb drug use and lower costs to public programs. He also advocates drug testing for unemployment compensation and food stamps.

     Research shows that welfare recipients are no more likely than the general population to use drugs.

     Conservatives would like to eliminate all safety net programs, including Social Security and Medicare. In order to do that, they begin by means-testing programs. Then they stigmatize the means-tested programs and cut them. Demeaning programs such as drug testing result in fewer people applying for the program. Conservatives have proposed a means test for Social Security and Medicare, which is their first step toward cutting or eliminating them. If Social Security is means-tested, I wouldn’t be surprised if some legislator proposes to require drug testing of all retirees and prohibiting them from buying liquor or lottery tickets, or going to casinos or strip clubs.

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5 comments on “Mistrusting the poor
  1. Anonymous says:

    Arizona already restricts

    Arizona already restricts people who have felonies from recieving benefits. I got a felony in another state before moving to Arizona. Nowhere on the application does it ask anything about being a felon, but it does state that felons cannot recieve benefits. I applied for me and my 2 children because I was unemployed (finding work is not easy either). They awarded me and my children. When they finally asked me if I was a felon, I told them the truth, and now I am stuck with an overpayment, but I still get benefits for my children. Anyhow, the children do and should still recieve the benefits even if the parent has a felony. Not only do the children suffer from not getting the assistance, they also suffer because mom or dad has a hard time finding a job in the first place. (I am still unemployed because no one credible will hire me because of my felony). But that is another topic.

  2. Anonymous says:


    I really don’t understand why this is such a complex issue.  People get drug tested all the time for work, and it’s not insensitive then.  I think it’s a great thing.  Drug test them/us.  Maybe it will encourage people on drugs to get help.  I have used welfare, I would not have found it intrusive or belittling to have a drug test requested from me.  In many other parts of the world, the poor aren’t given nearly as many benefits as in the U.S..  We should all be thankful to our govenment for funding these programs in the first place. The whole idea of welfare is to use it to get yourself to a better place in life.  Lets face it, the system IS abused.  There are some people who stay on welfare for years and years while making no attempt to become a more self sufficient person. (Obviously, not everyone) I honestly, feel there should be a time limit as well, for people that aren’t on disability.  I am sorry if you all feel I am a terrible person for that.It does no good for an addict to have a free paycheck, a free apartment, and free food.  That does nothing to help this person.  And while some people may feel offended for being drug tested, I think the majority would be HAPPY (like myself) that the reputation people got for being on welfare could get turned around.  I mean seriously.  No one wants to take your section 8 voucher, becuase many landlords think, well..  that you’re a drug addict!  So if welfare started drug testing I think people might just start thinking of recipients in a new light.  It would only give us a better reputation, and the people who do use drugs might have a wake up call and get the help they need.

    • Betty Reid Mandell says:

      Reply to "Really?"

           You say that welfare recipients should submit to drug testing because they are getting government money. By that logic, shouldn’t the head of Goldman Sachs submit to drug testing because the government bailed him out? Shouldn’t the owners of oil companies submit to drug testing because they get a government subsidy? And shouldn’t the dependents of a deceased Social Security claimant be required to submit to drug testing?

           Social Security is a universal, not a means-tested, benefit. While most of the benefits consist of a recipient’s own earnings, the government also contributes to it. Because everyone receives it, it is not stigmatized. Welfare, on the other hand, is means-tested, and only the poor receive it. Means-tested benefits carry stigma, and that is on purpose. The shame people feel about receiving them keeps many people from applying for the benefits, and that saves the government money.

           You say that there should be a time limit on welfare. There is. The welfare reform act of 1996 set a 5-year time limit on receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), and allowed states to set a shorter time limit. Many states did set a shorter time limit. For example, Massachusetts set a 2-year time limit. Because many families have reached their time limit, the food stamp (SNAP) rolls have skyrocketed, and thousands of families are homeless.

           TANF now requires all non-disabled parents to find a job when their youngest child is 2-years-old. In these times of high unemployment, many people have not been able to find a job. Caring for children is work, but it is unpaid. Welfare mothers want paid work, but they also need day care, and that is in short supply.

           Some nations value parents’ child care work. Finland gives either $150 or a layette to each mother when she gives birth to a child. In Helsinki, bus drivers let parents with young children in a carriage or a stroller in the back door, and don’t require them to come up front to pay because the country believes that a parent shouldn’t have to leave a young child unattended. Most industrialized European countries give a family allowance for children, to help defray the cost of raising children.

           The key is treating with dignity.

  3. taxpayer says:

    how about this concept I have

    how about this concept I have a job, i pay taxes, i get drug tested to obtain the job and random testing anually.so since my money funds these checks, why should the recipient not be held to the same standard?

  4. kevin says:

    It is sad to hear that It is sad to hear that poverty is one of the major concerns in our country. The government should act accordingly to resolve this issue. Thanks for sharing this news with us and keep posting more updates in your blog. windows outlook express

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