Is drug testing welfare recipients morally inappropriate? Do people in need of welfare assistance have a right to that financial assistance? Well, in an ideal world the answer to the first question would be a resounding “No”. For in the ideal world, welfare recipients would be grateful that they were given help and, in turn, they would think it utterly inappropriate to squander money that, in the first place, was not theirs on such things as drugs.
In other words, there is a fundamental difference between welfare as an entitlement and welfare as a gracious social benefit based upon the goodwill of others.
If welfare is an entitlement, then people are free to do whatever they please with the money in just the way that people are free to spend their salary as they please. One person saves a little of each paycheck, whereas another spends every cent of every paycheck on gadgets. Each acts within her or his rights.
By contrast, if welfare is a gracious social benefit based upon the goodwill of others, namely tax payers, then surely welfare recipients ought not to squander that money on beer and wine and other utterly non-essential goods.
Let me offer a neutral example. Suppose a friend asks me to lend him $700 just for sheer personal use and I readily have that much money to lend him. Well, it is clear that he can pretty much do with that money what he pleases. That case, though, stands in sharp contrast to a friend who says to me, I need $700 in order to pay rent and buy food. In this second case, it is ever so clear that if my friend only squanders that money on beer and movies, then he has actually abused our friendship. In particular, there has been a violation of my goodwill.
Bringing this back to welfare recipients: It is surely the case that welfare recipients should not think of the money that they receive as an entitlement. Welfare should be understood as none other than a social benefit—shouldered by the taxpayer—that is intended to tide people over until they care for themselves. Welfare is not entitlement in the way that earning one’s salary is.
Given this reality, any society rightly asks whether a welfare recipient shall be responsible in the use of the money that she or he is receiving at the expense of other taxpayers. And if that world is such that drug-testing is warranted, then so be it.
There is a difference between drug-testing people in some public way that humiliates them and respectfully requiring a drug-test. In effect drug-testing someone in private is no different than a person having a complete physical examination with her or his physician where that physician examines the private parts of the patient.
In other words, the mere requirement of a drug-test for a welfare recipient cannot be construed as inherently inappropriate or humiliating. And if in a society, such as the one in which we live, there is considerable probability that a welfare recipient might engage in the use of drugs, then testing welfare recipients for drug use is none other than a way of protecting the money of tax payers. And that is surely appropriate precisely because it is ever so appropriate not to squander the money of tax payers. Indeed, society has an obligation not to squander the money of taxpayers. And being a welfare recipient does not in any way defeat that right of taxpayers not to have their money squandered.
It is none other a most repugnant form of arrogance that welfare recipients should treat the money from welfare as an entitlement; and it is just so much nonsense to think that is inappropriate to ask them to provide evidence that they will not squander that money in certain ways when there is substantial evidence that precisely that sort of squandering is going on.
As I made clear: No one should be humiliated. And the mere knowledge that one has been subjected to a drug test is absolutely no more humiliating than the mere knowledge that one has been subjected to a complete physical examination. Indeed, even the public knowledge that one has to undergo a complete physical examination is not humiliating. So the mere public knowledge that that one has had a drug test is not in and of itself humiliating. Certainly, there is no reason why the drug-test should be more humiliating than being on welfare itself. If people are not ashamed of being on welfare, then it takes a very long and unusual story to make sense of why the mere fact of a drug-test should put them to shame.