Orin Hatch, a Republic senator from Utah, wants to pass a bill that would prevent drug users from receiving welfare or unemployment benefits. According to Hatch, welfare and unemployment benefits allow addicts to continue using drugs without contributing meaningfully to society. Hatch’s bill would force recipients to take a drug test before qualifying for benefits.
It is important to note that he frames the argument in a way that highlights the negative effects that benefits have on the addicts receiving them.
Hatch’s approach to solving this problem is simple. Perhaps too simple.
There is little doubt that many people who receive welfare benefits use substances of some sort, but would taking away their benefits actually help them? Wouldn’t it make more sense to require recipients to enroll in treatment programs in order to continue receiving benefits? After all, making an addict poorer does not mean that he or she will stop using drugs and get a job. It’s much more likely that the addict will commit crimes to fund his or her drug addiction. If welfare keeps crime rates lower, then it benefits society as a whole, not just recipients.
Hatch’s approach also makes it more difficult for struggling families to function. If it means the difference between food, shelter, and clothing, then taking away welfare benefits could harm children more so than adults. Of course, it’s naive to think that addicts spend much of the money on their dependents.
Many people are also worried that Hatch’s bill violates privacy rights. They wonder whether government has the right to test people for drugs when they have not committed any crime. Others, of course, will argue that those receiving hand outs from the government should give up some of their privacy rights. It’s simply the cost of receiving welfare benefits. Still, it seems like a misuse of power to treat impoverished people as criminals just because they need financial assistance.
This issue is more complicated than Hatch wants to admit. Significantly more research is needed before he can claim that this approach will actually help taxpayers or people receiving welfare benefits.