It’s long been a rallying cry of the right: if you want to be on the public dole, you should be able to pass a drug test. You’ve seen the memes and the bumper stickers. Sounds good, right?

Governor Walker of Wisconsin has proposed his plan that would require drug testing for those seeking food stamps and unemployment benefits. According to The Daily Signal:

But the most controversial points are the governor’s proposals to require drug testing for individuals filing for unemployment and for “able-bodied, working-age adults requesting food stamps” through the state’s FoodShare public assistance program.

The bottom line, Walker says, is the bottom line: Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for public assistance programs for individuals who can’t pass a drug test.

Taxpayers should have a great say in where their tax dollars are spent, that’s not a point I disagree with and is a principle I will always advocate. When it comes to mandatory drug testing as a contingency for public assistance though, I’m not convinced it’s a good idea for two simple reasons: 1) requiring drug testing is an expansion of government 2) it doesn’t address the problem of why people are seeking public assistance to begin with.

If we are to consistently advocate reduced government intrusion in the life of the individual citizen and smaller government overall, then we can’t rightly argue that requiring drug testing should be conditional for unemployment benefits. An entire new bureaucracy would be required to implement such an act.

If the era of bloated government has taught us anything, it’s that the bigger the government, the greater the waste, fraud, and abuse. Those who are determined will always find a work around. More tax payer money is spent, more government jobs are created, and for what? To ensure the guy who got laid off thanks to Obama’s economy hasn’t been toking up?

I’m not pretending there aren’t those who live off taxpayer good graces. They exist, but they’re not representative of the entirety of the public assistance population. Which leads me to my next point.

Our attitude on limiting public assistance is all wrong, and so is the way we talk about it. There’s any underlying assumption and I’d argue in many cases, arrogance on the right, that everyone on public assistance is lazy or entitled, and so we treat them as though they’re undeserving or unworthy of public charity. We complain there’s an entire generation living off entitlements, yet show no interest in helping them to a place where they can succeed. We are not taking measures to address the reasons why people are on public assistance, we just don’t want them there.

According to a Guardian article, one in seven Americans is on public assistance. A ridiculously high number by any measure. Those that work to enroll people in programs like SNAP are charged with this goal, “alleviate hunger, lessen poverty.” A nobel cause, but enrolling citizenry in a public assistance plan without providing a means of escape helps no one. 

We all too easily take the road of judgment rather than reaching out to help those less fortunate saying people should just “Get a job!” And while the statement is correct, the attitude is not only personally destructive, but politically devastating. For all the criticism on the right to “Get a job!” what are we doing collectively to provide a solution?

Of course the answer should be simple: the private sector and local communities and charities should be there to offer this type of aid because it’s not the government’s job, but where are we to fill in the holes where both government and the private sector fails?

There are people who have never been told they’re valuable and that they have purpose in life. They’ve never been told it’s possible to excel or to change their circumstances. All they know is the life that surrounds them, in many cases, that’s a life smothered by poverty, violence, and drugs. It’s in these situations we should be showing compassion, assistance, and imparting the values of self respect, hard work, and the belief they too, can achieve whatever they believe to be possible.

I would love to see reform that starts with working to help those on the government dole get off and make something of themselves rather than more ‘reform’ that barely addresses the symptom.

 Follow Kemberlee Kaye on Twitter 


Donations tax deductible
to the full extent allowed by law.