Efforts to drug test welfare recipients has opposition from unusual sources. Ironically a supposed advocate for children defends parents who abuse drugs and believes we are to help them, not punish illegal activities:
South Dakota representative Mark Kirkeby is the prime sponsor of House Bill 1120 and he believes financial aid through welfare programs should not go to people who abuse that privilege.
"I think it just bears down to that initial focus on there," Kirkeby said. "I really don't believe any tax dollars should go to support anybody who, in fact, is using illegal drugs. I just can't emphasize that enough."
South Dakota Voices For Children director Susan Randall agrees that illegal drugs are a problem. But she says a bigger issue is how the bill would create new roles for the state employees who work with welfare recipients.
"We have law enforcement and the court system for a reason," Randall said. "If there are issues with violations of drugs, then that's the proper place for them to be dealt with. Social workers and health care personnel's responsibility is to be in a helping mode."
Under the proposal, if someone refuses a drug test, they would be denied financial assistance for six months. Those who consent and are found with drugs in their system wouldn't receive aid for a year.
"These are low income people who are coming to the state to receive assistance in needing basic needs in tough times," Randall said. "And it seems inappropriate to assume, somehow, that we need to police them in this fashion."
But representative Kirkeby says the bill would help find recipients who are using financial aid appropriately.
"If somebody thinks that they don't want to be subjected to it, it's kind of a pretty good indication that they very well could be doing something wrong," Kirkeby said.
Yet Randall says it's those people who need help the most.
"This bill offers no provision to assist that individual in recovery and rehabilitation," Randall said. "It's all about being punitive and saying 'no, we're not going to help you.'"
A plan to make three state agencies give drug tests to people getting help from a wide range of welfare programs was rejected Tuesday by a South Dakota House panel.
Meanwhile, the Health and Human Services Committee approved a second measure that gives state officials the discretion to conduct random drug screening of people who get cash payments from just one welfare program, known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. The department would have the option of denying benefits for one year to anyone testing positive for drugs.
Supporters of the measures said drug testing is needed because some people on welfare are using illegal drugs.
"The intent and the philosophy of this bill is if you are going to be receiving tax-supported services, you're going to be drug-free," said Rep. Mark Kirkeby, R-Rapid City, sponsor of the defeated bill.
Kirkeby said his bill would help children by making sure their parents are not using illegal drugs.
"I'm not looking to hurt anybody. I'm trying to help individuals and certainly the citizens and taxpayers of South Dakota," Kirkeby said.
State Social Services Secretary Kim Malsam-Rysdon opposed both bills, saying the measures did not specify how drug testing should be done. The people who work in various welfare programs also have no expertise in detecting signs of possible drug use, she said.
In addition, studies have shown welfare recipients are not much more likely to use drugs than anyone else in society, Malsam-Rysdon said. About 7 percent of the general population uses illegal drugs, while about 9 percent of those on welfare do, she said.
Courts have struck down similar drug testing programs in other states after ruling that they violate people's protections against unreasonable search and seizures, Malsam-Rysdon said. Federal regulations also prevent using drug use as a reason to deny food stamps or coverage in the Medicaid program that provides health care for poor people, she said.
Sad that taxpayers are forced to fund the lifestyle of parents that include illegal drug use. Sad that those who use children for political gain would support such lifestyles. It is even more sad that they would support children being in an unsafe environment. This admission by a state official is very disturbing:
Malsam-Rysdon said people who work in welfare services are not trained to detect drug use.
So it seems that welfare is not about supporting the best interest of children. Instead it is about supporting irresponsible and even illegal activities of the parent(s)that are a danger to children. And it is the Department of Social Services that are not part of the 10% across the board budget cuts and instead are getting more state dollars. Why isn't the media reporting on that? And what about a little insight into the percentage of welfare recipients who are single parents and for what reasons their children don't have their father's support?
How many law-abiding citizens are required to be subjected to drug tests in order to work and pay the taxes that fund government while welfare recipients sit in front of their big screen TVs, smoking cigarettes, and consuming illegal drugs with a cell phone is stuck in their ear while their children are neglected and unsupervised? Doesn't sound like officials from the Deprarment of Services are capable of detecting such activities.