The Wisconsin State Assembly passed a bill this week that would force public aid recipients to undergo drug testing and limit how much junk food they buy. We just can’t let go of the myth of the “lazy” welfare recipient living fat off the land. We’d rather waste money policing diets and administering expensive tests than helping people who’ve fallen on hard times.
The program to track food purchases would cost the state $55 million. Supermarkets would need to install new software to track the spending of food stamp users. They would be prohibited from buying crab, lobster, shrimp, and other shellfish. Fox 11 reports aid recipients wold be required to use “at least two-thirds of their monthly benefits to purchase nutritional foods such as beef, chicken, pork, potatoes, dairy products, fresh produce and food available under the Women, Infants and Children nutrition program.”
People buy processed food because it’s cheaper and easier to make. If the state was concerned about people’s health, they would spend the taxpayer money on nutrition education and incentives to help farmer’s markets participate in food stamp programs — they wouldn’t tack a “junk food” prohibition on food stamp spending. Just another tactic to perpetuate a stereotype. When it comes to welfare, Republicans are great at that — and a lot of people eat it right up.
Tennessee passed a law last year requiring welfare recipients to take drug tests. The state decided to test 279 applicants based on their answers to a written questionnaire about drug use. So while 13% of their sample tested positive, it still amounted to two percent of their total applicants. Two percent. Utah spent $30,000 on tests that caught twelve drug users. Think Progress reports that “before a judge ruled Florida’s drug testing system was illegal, it had turned up a drug use rate of just 2 percent among public assistance users.”
I guess this may be news to anyone who believes the tired myth of the welfare recipient who lays around all day, rolling in money and drugs, waiting to collect her check. This is a myth that needs to die a quick death. You know who uses food stamps? Tens of millions of American children. 45 percent of food stamp benefits go to children under 18, nine percent are aged 60 or older, and nearly 10 percent are disabled adults. So why so much contempt for the food stamp user? Just to throw in another stereo-type busting statistic, 40 percent of welfare recipients are white.
The majority of benefits go to households in which at least one person has a job. Most people seem to be aware that the cost of living in this country has gone through the roof, while wages have stagnated. Middle-wage workers hourly wages are only up six percent since 1979. Six percent. In this economy, no one should be surprise that people need help.
It’s disgusting that we’re wasting resources that could be used to feed children to pass empty legislation whose only purpose is to perpetuate the myth that welfare users are all drug addicts or people whose food intake needs to be policed. Millions have been helped by social services in this country – and they don’t look like the myth of the welfare queen created by the Reagan era and still perpetuated today.
We’ve made the exception, the rule — and it’s not doing anyone any good.