Favorite

Lawmakers punish the poor 

Since December 2015, about 3,000 Arkansans receiving benefits through the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program have been subject to drug screenings, thanks to a bill sponsored by Sen. Blake Johnson (R-Corning) in the name of "accountability."There is no comparable requirement for any other government subsidy or service. Homeowners aren't asked to pee in a cup before being handed a homestead tax credit or mortgage interest deduction. Retirees are sent Social Security checks without invasions of their privacy. We don't check on the drug use habits of people who benefit from subsidized student loans or CEOs who receive economic development incentives. If you can get behind the morality (and questionable constitutionality) of insulting low-income people with drug screenings, why not screen everyone else, too?

This year, legislators again shook their fingers at Arkansans who receive TANF by tacking on restrictions on how they may spend their benefits. A special language amendment attached to the budget bill that includes TANF says benefits must be spent on food, clothing, housing, utilities, child care and "incidentals." The new rules limit cash withdrawals, which runs contrary to specific instructions from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) meant to ensure spending flexibility. Without access to cash, TANF recipients won't be able to use their benefits for common cash-only expenses like field trips, lunch money, home repair and babysitters. The inconvenience might not upend people's lives, but it sends a broader message that low-income families aren't valued or trusted as members of society.

Setting aside questions about whether recreational drug use should be criminalized in the first place, lawmakers should consider who is actually ingesting illegal substances. If it's the purchase of drugs that legislators are worried about, they should target a demographic far more likely to use illegal drugs than people needing TANF aid: white, male, full-time college students. Nationally, over a quarter of white, college-going males are illicit drug users, according to the 2013 National Survey on Drug Use and Health performed by HHS. Surely, thousands of drug-consuming college students in Arkansas are enjoying subsidized tuition rates, student loans or scholarships paid for by the hard work of the rest of us taxpayers, but I have yet to hear of plans to subject the residents of the state's fraternity houses to intrusive and humiliating drug testing schemes or restrictions on their ATM use. If the goal is to increase accountability from people who benefit from government handouts, surely it makes more sense to start with Frat Row than the poor house. And yet, Arkansas lawmakers continue to demand "accountability" from the poor and no one else. Of course, no one is going to seriously propose drug-screening all college aid recipients or putting their spending habits under a government microscope. But what does it say about us that we would find it absurd to drug test a college student before giving them a scholarship, but not a mother trying to feed her kids? Laws that exclusively target low-income families highlight the deeply ingrained and unfounded mistrust of the poor at the Capitol.

There is no doubt some of Arkansas's poor do have drug problems, but they are not alone. HHS estimates that 70,000 Arkansans have substance abuse problems and most of them receive no treatment at all. The fact is that drug use in the U.S. crosses all demographic lines. Rather than penalizing the poor with TANF restrictions, perhaps Arkansas lawmakers should think about funding effective treatment programs for the state's low-income citizens.

Eleanor Wheeler is a senior policy analyst for Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families.

Favorite

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Ellie Wheeler

  • Help all veterans

    Veteran-specific bills often miss the mark on helping the most sympathetic military families by focusing on retirement income.
    • Dec 22, 2016
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Arkansas condones child abuse?

    If Harrises and Duggars go unpunished, yes.
    • Jun 4, 2015
  • Must address racial inequities

    We mourn for the families of the dead at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church. As we grieve it's time to rekindle a conversation about race in America and press for the changes that the Emanuel congregation championed for centuries — changes that also made it a target.
    • Jun 25, 2015
  • Racism is systemic

    In a speech on Sunday at Bethel A.M.E. Church, Gov. Asa Hutchinson played directly into the narrative of respectability politics, where white people tell people of color how they should respond to a situation and condemn responses from others in the community experiencing anger, rage and other expressions of grief.
    • Jun 25, 2015

Most Shared

  • Sarah Huckabee Sanders to be deputy White House press secretary

    Donald Trump announced additional White House staff today, notably including Sarah Huckabee Sanders, deputy assistant to the president and principal deputy press secretary.
  • Legislation filed for $10 million school voucher program

    The legislation to vastly expand transfer of state tax dollars to private schools came before the school choice day event I mentioned earlier.
  • Watch the trailer for 'Shelter,' the Renaud Bros. new doc on homeless kids in New Orleans

    Check out the trailer for "Shelter," the Renaud Bros. new feature-length documentary about homeless teens navigating life on the streets of New Orleans with the help of Covenant House, the longstanding French Quarter shelter for homeless kids.
  • Trumpeting

    When President-elect Trump announced he would, in a few days, force Congress to enact comprehensive health insurance for everyone, poor or rich, that would provide better and cheaper care than they've ever gotten, you had to wonder whether this guy is a miracle worker or a fool.
  • Putin and Trump

    Here's a thought exercise: What do you suppose would happen if Russian strongman Vladimir Putin decided to clarify remarks he reportedly made about Donald Trump during the election campaign?

Latest in Guest Writer

  • A better now

    The Boys and Men Opportunity Success Team (BMOST), an initiative led by a coalition of local stakeholders that includes the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation, city of Little Rock, Arkansas Baptist College, University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, Pulaski Technical College and Big Brothers Big Sisters of Central Arkansas, is determined to show you that what you see and hear about black and brown boys and men isn't the whole story.
    • Jan 12, 2017
  • Intro to ANNN

    The Arkansas Nonprofit News Network is an independent, nonpartisan news project dedicated to producing journalism that matters to Arkansans.
    • Dec 22, 2016
  • Help all veterans

    Veteran-specific bills often miss the mark on helping the most sympathetic military families by focusing on retirement income.
    • Dec 22, 2016
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

1.73-carat diamond found at Crater of Diamonds State Park

Jack Pearadin and Doug Nelsen found a 1.73-carat diamond after nearly a year of searching the park's field.

Event Calendar

« »

January

S M T W T F S
1 2 3 4 5 6 7
8 9 10 11 12 13 14
15 16 17 18 19 20 21
22 23 24 25 26 27 28
29 30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Putin and Trump

    Here's a thought exercise: What do you suppose would happen if Russian strongman Vladimir Putin decided to clarify remarks he reportedly made about Donald Trump during the election campaign?

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Putin and Trump

    • What? That was all made up? Oh my. Well, let's hope he gets busy on…

    • on January 22, 2017
  • Re: Putin and Trump

    • Pssst - Lyons plans to pen a column on why the donors stopped giving to…

    • on January 22, 2017
  • Re: Putin and Trump

    • The funniest thing about all this is that Lyons never said that Russia invaded anyone…

    • on January 22, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation