Rick Scott signs drug screen legislation for Temporary Assistance applicants

New legislation in Florida law requires aid recipients to take drug tests presupposing the poor are more likely on drugs.

WASHINGTON, June 8, 2011- Florida’s new legislation requiring low-income needy families to pass a drug test before receiving aid is on-track for keeping tax payers from subsidizing drug use. However, the law  misses the larger point of stereotyping low-income recipients and allowing abuse by neglecting to test all aid recipients.

Florida Governor Rick Scott this week signed legislation requiring applicants seeking to benefit from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program to pass a drug screen before receiving aid. After signing the bill into law, Scott, a Republican, said it was “the right thing for citizens of this state that need public assistance. We don’t want to waste tax dollars. And also, we want to give people an incentive to not use drugs.”

Funds for the program are granted to states by the federal government.

Under the Florida law, which goes into effect July 1, aid applicants will be required to front the cost of the drug screening. If they pass the drug test and are accepted into the program, they can apply for a refund.

Applicants who fail will be able to ask that another relative receive the funds on behalf of their children. The good news is that at least innocent children won’t be denied help because they just happen to have drug-addicted parents.

Let me be clear: I do not want tax dollars to be used to supplement anyone’s drug habit. My concern with the program is that the drug tests are limited to low-income poor who receive public subsidies. I also don’t want to subsidize college kids who receive grants and have meth and pot habits, or errant business owners who use government grant money to feed their cocaine habits. It would be considered outrageous to drug test people in those groups because we all assume most people in college or who run a business are doing the right thing. In actuality, though, there are drug users in all socio-economic classes.

This law presupposes that poor people are more likely to be on drugs than other beneficiaries of state and federal funds. If the idea and intent behind it is to make sure our tax dollars aren’t wasted on fueling a drug habit, shouldn’t all recipients of state and federal aid be required to take a drug test?

I have no objection at all to drug testing the recipients of government subsidies. I do worry that the impetus behind the Florida law comes from a deep dark place in the minds of legislators, the suspicion that most women on public assistance are holed up in their houses, unemployed and having babies while their men avoid work and shoot up or smoke pot all day. Was there a study done to validate this thinking that I missed? 

When it comes down to it, the issue is probably personal for me. As a mother of three who looks quite young, I’ve been on many occasions the target of judgmental stares when I’ve been out and about with my children. I feel I’m being judged with the stereotype of the black welfare queen who breeds children she cannot care for, instead relying on the government and taxpayers to feed, clothe and house them. 

Stereotypes are based on judgments not necessarily rooted in fact, but ideas and notions assigned to certain people, often times race-based. Not all people admit to believing racial stereotypes in mixed company for fear of being labeled politically incorrect, but few can deny having stereotypes about various groups. It has been stressful, but I’ve learned to ignore the looks and stop trying to internalize, predict and interpret every gawk. 

Who wants to subsidize coke addicts? I don’t, but I am not sure I want lawmakers legislating stereotypes, either.

Read more Politics of Raising Children in The Communities at the Washington Times. Follow Jeneba Ghatt at @JenebaSpeaks. Her work can also be read at JenebaSpeaks  and Politic365.  She also co-hosts a Blog Talk Radio show called Right of Black which tackles current events and politics from a perspective not often seen in the mainstream media.

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Jeneba Ghatt
Jeneba Jalloh Ghatt is a former journalist turned lawyer turned citizen journalist. Currently, she manages her boutique communications law firm, where she has represented small businesses and nationally-recognized civil and consumer rights organizations before the United States Supreme Court, federal courts and the FCC. She also covers the White House and US Congress for the online news site Politic365.com while authoring her own influential blog JenebaSpeaks.com which is frequently accessed by top policy makers and think tanks, and the investment community. JenebaSpeaks.com focuses on the intersection of politics and technology and reports on policies and rules in the communications and tech sector.
Before opening her law firm, The Ghatt Law Group, which was the first communications firm owned by women and minorities, Jeneba regulated Comcast and Starpower as the Assistant General Counsel for the District of Columbia's Office of Cable Television and Telecommunications, and at one point was the only communications regulatory attorney in the entire city. She is founding member and policy chair for a new trade association, the National Association of Multicultural Digital Entrepreneurs and provides advice and counsel to new businesses in the tech industry, particularly small businesses owned by women and minorities.

Born in Sierra Leone, West Africa, but raised in the United States by her Catholic mom and Muslim dad, she started her college career creating web content for one of the earliest websites in history while working part time for the University of Maryland's Office of Technology. Following her graduation from the Catholic University of America, Columbus School of Law, she founded and co-wrote one of the earliest blogs and since then has gone on to found and author six different widely read and influential blogs. She was one of only 22 writers and bloggers to attend the first White House summit for African American media.
She holds a Certificate in Communications Law Studies from Catholic; a Juris Doctor from there as well, and a Master of Law in advocacy degree from the Georgetown University Law Center where she first taught and lectured as a Staff Attorney and Graduate fellow at that law school's Institute for Public Representation. She later went on to teach Media Law at the University of Maryland at College Park and guest lecture at Yale Law School and Penn State University, College of Telecommunications. She is well skilled and versed with social media and manages several Twitter, Facebook, Linked In accounts and groups.
She sits on the board of several non profits and trade associations.

Contact Jeneba Ghatt


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