HB 30: drug testing for welfare benefits
April 11, 2009

Objectives and results
by Missouri Rep. Ed Emery (R-126 including the counties of
Barton, Dade, Jasper and Polk)

"It is neither compassionate nor wise to treat someone else's discomfort with that which makes only me feel better." --Anonymous

House Bill 30 was passed by the Missouri House on April 9th and requires the Missouri Department of Social Services to drug-test applicants and recipients of certain welfare benefits. I cannot count all the times someone has asked me why we don't drug test welfare recipients but do test those who work in the private sector. Taxpayers often support state assistance in some circumstances, but most are opposed to subsidizing a drug habit with no accountability.

The floor debate on HB 30 was very interesting. It consumed over two hours and included passionate opposition from the minority party. Some were opposed, claiming that those who would fail the drug test might really need the money and not be able to afford groceries without it. I question whether they will buy groceries if they are on drugs. Some claimed that the small amount per month that would be lost upon failing the test (around $50 per month) would not discourage drug usage.

Others claimed that drug usage is a disease rather than a character flaw, and the "victims" need treatment, not loss of welfare. If I had spoken on the bill, I would have asked the members to step away from the labels that Republicans are too harsh and Democrats are too soft and address the bill by considering objectives and results.

Few would disagree that the objective is to reduce poverty and its effects. The second question is results. How are we doing? If we consider the state budget, the welfare portion has gone up every year since I have served in the legislature, and there are no signs that it is turning around or even slowing. If MoDOT spent billions on roads and they got worse, or if they spent millions on road safety, and traffic deaths went up, wouldn't we question whether we had found the right solution?

I believe that choices really do make a difference in future success, and I do not accept that every foolish decision I make is due to a disease contracted through no fault of my own. But if that were true, and my disease was being treated, wouldn't I insist on getting better? How long should I accept my treatment if it cost me more and more, and I only grew worse?

It is not compassionate if I treat someone else with a treatment that is totally ineffective but makes me feel better. We must change direction if we are serious about addressing poverty, and HB 30 is a small change in direction. Personal accountability is a part of life and is essential to recovery from any distress - physical, mental, or character related.

After the lengthy and vigorous debate, HB 30 passed by a vote of 104 in favor and only 45 against. Most understood that taxpayers are becoming frustrated by the lack of accountability in our welfare system. They are not content with a state government that continues to spend more and more of their money without expecting any results.

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