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Drug Testing for Dollars

February 23, 2009 - Joselyn King
When I once worked as a supermarket cashier, an adorable little boy -- about 5-years-old, unattended -- came up to my register with a $1 food stamp in his hand. He purchased a 5-cent piece of candy, and I gave him the change.

He ran back out to the rusting older vehicle where his mother and brothers sat. Each of his older brothers ­ one age 10, the other age 8 ­ also came in with a $1 food stamp, bought 5-cent candy, and took the change to Mom.

Mom then came in with hands full of coins. She asked for a pack of generic cigarettes in menthol, and threw down the change.

I was fuming as much as that stick that was just about to hang from her lips. Taxpayer money was going to support an unhealthy habit. Meanwhile, maybe that $3 could have been better-spent buying a bag of potatoes to feed the children.

I know food stamp coupons have been replaced with EBT (Electronic Benefit Transfer) cards, thus cutting down on some abuses of the system. The recipient can't get coins back now.

But Delegate Craig Blair, R-Berkeley, soon plans to introduce legislation that would require drug testing for anyone receiving welfare, food stamps or jobless benefits.

At least on the surface, it sounds like a good idea. Why should tax payers be enabling addiction?

At the same time, when government insists on checking a person's bodily fluids, is government becoming just a little too intrusive? Is that setting a dangerous precedent?

And what happens to the family of the recipient whose benefits are yanked?

It seems to be an area where maybe legislators are on the right track, but need to tred carefully.


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