MEMPHIS, Tenn. - The number of people receiving welfare in Tennessee is growing and it's growing at a more rapid rate in Shelby County. The state is not alone, more Americans turn to welfare in an effort to ride out the recession. Lawmakers in some states want welfare recipients to submit to random drug testing.
Now there are Facebook groups for and against the idea that are gaining popularity. On any given day, the seats at Department of Human Services in Memphis are filled with husbands, wives, brothers, daughters, young and old, black and white. This is where people go to get government assistance to help pay their bills or buy food.
Carmelita Robertson is picking up food stamps to help feed her 5 children.
“It's a problem in memphis, a lot more will be on welfare if jobs don't pick up,” said Robertson.
Numbers show the temporary assistance for needy families cases in Tennessee or TANF, grew 12.5 percent from 2008 to 2010. In Shelby County, the numbers grew 17 percent over that same period.
“I think a lot of people need help, that's why welfare's there, the reality of it is it's extremely abused and over used and abused,” said syndicated radio talk show host Ben Ferguson.
Over the years, at least 8 states have proposed some sort of legislation mandating drug testing for welfare recipients. Legislation has been proposed in Tennessee but has gone no where. Michigan tried to institute the law in 1999 but the court of appeals ruled it unconstitutional.
Now, there are Facebook pages dedicated to the topic.
Almost 1.5 million people are fans of the Facebook page "Mandatory Drug Testing for Welfare." On the other hand, 2,300 have joined the group "Against Mandatory Drug Testing for Welfare.”
“I think it's a great idea,” said Ferguson.
Syndicated radio talk show host, Ben Ferguson thinks welfare recipients should be drug tested.
“if you're willing to take money from the average taxpayers there should be some sort of burden of proof saying hey, I’m willing to show and let people know I’m not on drugs,” said Ferguson. “If someone uses drugs set of guidelines, find again maybe off 6 months, show clean and get back on I’m not afraid to help people we should help people. I don't mind helping someone willing to help themselves, I mind helping people not willing to help themselves.
“I think it's completely inappropriate,” said Jacob Flowers.
But other's, like Flowers from the Mid-South Peace and Justice Center, say drug testing welfare recipients is inappropriate and a violation of civil liberties.
“By saying you need to get drug tested to get federal assistance is like asserting you've done something wrong by being on federal assistance in the first place. I think there are always going to be zealots in the legislative body trying to shame and bring down people rather than try working to help them and make them productive members of society.
What Flowers and Ferguson do agree on, is it shouldn't just be those receiving welfare that are drug tested.
“I would like to see them drug test everyone else who receives tax payers’ money as well, from people who pave our roads to people who do sidewalks,” said Flowers. “Representatives in Nashville, Washington, City Hall, and County Commission should want to be drug tested to let the community know I’m serving you and I’m here to serve and I’m not messed up on the job.”
And that's exactly why Ferguson says legislation on the topic will never pass.
“I think a lot of elected officials don't want to be drug tested.”
We talked with people outside the welfare office about the topic, some are welfare recipients, and others have family or friends on welfare.
They had mixed reactions.
“(Reporter) you actually know people who've used welfare checks to buy drugs? (bystander) Yes I think they should.”
“(Reporter) if we smoke weed or anything like that, what does that have to do with us getting our food stamps? (bystander) We ain’t gonna spend it on weed or nothing we gotta provide for our families.”
“(Bystander) No I don’t think people should be required to take a drug test for welfare? (Reporter) Why not? (bystander) I think it's a violation for their rights.”
“(Bystander) A lot of people here need help for real, it would be a good thing to test them.”
Both Flowers and Ferguson agree that the welfare system could be much more effective.
“I don’t think drug testing is going to fix the problem don’t think it will fix the abuse altogether, I think it's the step in the right direction. When make people more accountable for decision making, it makes it more productive citizens and protects these children's lives,” said Ferguson.
“I know folks that tell me they've had babies to get increased government assistance, we can focus on them and bring shame upon them or we can look at what kind of fu*#@* up system do we live in, where the alternative to taking care of your basic needs, paying water bills, rent, keeping lights on is to go through the trouble of having another child in your life,” said Flowers.
Updated: Friday, 10 Dec 2010, 10:10 AM CST
Published : Thursday, 09 Dec 2010, 4:19 PM CST
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