This week, based on what’s happening in the General Assembly, Arkansas made some clear statements on what we think about rich and poor folks in our state.
First, if you’re poor, and receive government assistance, we believe you just gotta be on drugs so we want to make you pee in a cup to prove otherwise. Second, if you’re rich, we’ll give you a hefty tax cut, but if you’re a low-income worker you get no tax relief.
On Thursday, SB600, a bill requiring drug testing of people receiving assistance from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program if they are suspected of using drugs, passed a House Committee. The bill has already passed the Senate.
Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families came out strongly against SB600, along with two other bills, HB1924 and HB1785, that would drug test those who receive government assistance. In a recent press release, they make two key points on why drug testing the poor is a the wrong way to go.
First, the data shows poor folks receiving assistance are overwhelmingly free from drug usage. From the AACF press release:
“Other states that have tried to restrict access to these important programs with drug testing have found that public benefit recipients test positive for drug use at much lower rates than the general population. Only a small fraction are likely to test positive, but all low-income folks forced to participate will feel the sting of judgment that is at the heart of this bill.”
Second, it’s probably unconstitutional. Again from the AACF:
“If suspicion based drug testing of poor families sounds fishy, it’s because it is; drug testing public benefit recipients has led to a host of legal challenges for being unconstitutional in other states. Testing in Florida has been halted by a federal judge because it likely violates the Fourth Amendment’s protection against unreasonable search and seizure.”
According to Daryl Bassett, Asa Hutchinson’s appointee to head up the Arkansas Department of Workforce Services, it would cost $1.75 million to get drug testing program started and “far north of $2 million” a year in annual costs. Bassett also noted in his testimony before the House Committee that gave it a “do pass” he didn’t know where the money would come from to pay from this drug testing.
Based on other states’ experiments with these types of drug testing programs, we’ll spend millions of dollars to catch the 1-2% who get government help and do drugs.
It’s a classic case of government being a penny-wise and a dollar-foolish.
Drug testing of low-income Arkansans likely won’t reveal a large number of drug users, it’s probably unconstitutional and we’ll waste millions doing it.
In the end, State Senator Linda Chesterfield summed up the unneeded drug testing program perfectly this week: “We as a state don’t respect the dignity of the poor.”
This week, while one House Committee voted to make some poor folks turn over their urine, another House Committee rejected a bill that would have given the working poor a bit of tax relief.
Representative Warwick Sabin’s bill, known as the Working Families Opportunity Act, would have given an earned tax credit to roughly 279,000 working Arkansans who were left out of the middle-class tax cut that the General Assembly passed this year.
Sabin’s bill died on a voice vote in committee. Arkansans who work and are poor didn’t get a tax cut this year.
But lo and behold, just one day later this very same committee voted to give wealthy Arkansans a capital gains tax cut. In fact, the committee voted to exempt charging taxes on all capital gains for $10 million and above.
To his credit, Republican State Rep. Kim Hendren spoke and voted against the capital gains tax cut noting: “It just bothers me a bit when we say we can’t afford it for the low-income folks but we can afford it for us fat cats.”
Great point, Rep. Hendren.
What’s happening lately in the State Legislature can best be summed up as:
If you’re rich – here’s your tax cut. If you’re poor – here’s your cup.