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Monica J. Stich, Fargo, Published February 09 2013

Letter: Is this how ND treats its people?

North Dakota is an agricultural, down-to-earth, hardworking state. I am proud to have grown up here. We take pride in how we treat each other. How we help each other without question. How we go into action without being asked.

With House Bill 1385, North Dakota welfare recipients would be required to pass drug screening tests before they would be eligible to receive benefits. Two programs in particular are involved: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, SNAP. Temporary Assistance for Needy Families – please note the word, “Needy.” It does not say for “clean and sober” families. I am concerned about the effect this bill would have on our most vulnerable population and how it could disenfranchise the same.

Children victims

According to North Dakota’s governmental legislative website, www.legis.nd.gov, the bill states that if a parent fails the required drug tests, the denial of benefits would not apply to the minor children. It goes on to say that an immediate member of the family may be designated to be the protective payee of the minor children. If the immediate family member declines or if one is not available, the parent may choose someone else. However, that person would also have to pass the drug tests and furthermore, would be subject to approval by the department.

This brings to mind a frightening and realistic scenario of minor children not receiving their benefits. “Yes, honey, I know you are hungry. Aunt Sally has not been able to get time off from work to go have a drug test. What’s that? No … Auntie is not on drugs. OK, you are wondering, ‘then why does she need to take a drug test?’ Well, in order for her to pick up some Cheerios for you, she has to prove that she is not taking illegal drugs. That’s right, now eat your cracker and get ready for bed. Try not to think about how hungry you are, OK?”

How does it help?

The government renamed the program SNAP to get away from the negative connotations that were attached to “food stamps.” Using food stamps – having to take extra time at the cash register to tear out and count the food stamps, which looked like Monopoly money. The embarrassment; the shame. That has since been corrected by the SNAP EBT card, which functions as a regular debit card. Now one may go through the checkout and swipe a card – just like anyone else – and thereby, maintain some dignity and be treated with respect.

As it is proposed in HB 1385, before one would be able to claim SNAP benefits, the applicant would have to pass drug tests. A question: How would that possibly help those who need nutrition? Are not the drug users the very people who need the most nutritional assistance? Rarely (if ever) does one hear of a drug user being in superb nutritional health. Not to mention the stubborn German men who reside in North Dakota. Or perhaps more accurately, our men, in general. Wives may beg and cajole their husbands into agreeing to apply for assistance. But then ask those same men (section 3b) to provide a urine sample to be tested for drugs – and they may refuse based on sheer principle.

Pee first to eat

Not only is this bill insulting, it is a slap in the face. “Are you hungry? Would you like a bowl of oatmeal?” No, wait. “Pee into this bottle first and then I will see whether you deserve this bowl of oatmeal.”

If the North Dakota Legislature is so concerned about tax dollars being misused, then I have a suggestion. Instead of preying on the drug-addicted-down-and-out people, how about targeting the people at the other end of the spectrum? Those who are very well-off – scrutinize them instead.

Shame not the way

I propose we shift our attention to those of a specific income level (earned and unearned income). Subject them to criteria dependent on their passing drug tests. If they fail, they go into a higher tax bracket and pay more income taxes. These are the people who would have the means of getting help and the resources to pay for the required drug tests.

But, alas, getting that passed would take an awful lot of effort, lobbying, and, of course, money. Being heard above the uproar would be an indomitable feat.

Drug addicts and abusers are judged every single day. Certainly they do not need the state government doing the same. State government cannot serve its people by delving out shame to the needful members of our state. Yes, we have drug addicts, abusers, alcoholics and homeless people. We also have dysfunctional people, disabled people and people with handicaps. Despite our low unemployment rate, we have unemployed and underemployed people. People needing help. Are we to turn our backs on those in need? I think not. Not here. Not in North Dakota.