Why One Congresswoman Wants to Drug Test the 1%

By Zachary Siegel 06/20/16

The Top 1% Accountability Act is a response to states' efforts to drug test people who receive public aid.

Why One Congresswoman Wants to Drug Test the 1%

Some Republicans are obsessed with the contents of poor people’s urine. They badly want to know whether recipients of food stamps and welfare are recreational drug users, so they can then deny them social aid. 

Last November, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) put into effect legislation that would require Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) applicants to answer questions about their drug use and, based on their answers, submit to urinalysis. Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) attempted to carry out a similar vendetta against the poor and ultimately failed, leaving Florida taxpayers on the hook for $1.5 million in legal fees used to fight opposition to the policy. 

These policies are expensive and produce embarrassing results. For example, four months into Florida’s implementation, only 108 out of 4,086 applicants (or roughly 2.6%) tested positive for illegal drugs. These low numbers have been replicated over and over again in states that have implemented the same policy. A year into Tennessee’s welfare drug testing only denied 30 people out of 28,559, based on failed drug tests. 

One Milwaukee congresswoman, Rep. Gwen Moore (D), is sick and tired of what she called the continued "criminalization of poverty" by Republicans like Rick Scott and Scott Walker, among others. Which is why she proposed a bill called “Top 1% Accountability Act,” requiring anyone claiming itemized tax deductions of over $150,000 per year to submit clean urine. The richest Americans take full advantage of the tax code's many deductions, and in order to do so, Moore wants them drug tested. 

Drug testing the poor perpetuates a false narrative that poor people are drug addicts, said Moore. She’s right. Multiple studies analyzing drug tests of welfare recipients find that they are no more likely to use drugs than the general population. 

“By drug testing those with itemized deductions over $150,000, this bill will level the playing field for drug testing people who are the recipients of social programs,” Moore’s bill notes.

Moore feels a duty to stick up for the poor because she herself was once on welfare. “I am a former welfare recipient,” she explained, “I’ve used food stamps, I’ve received Aid for Families with Dependent Children, Medicaid, Head Start for my kids, Title XX daycare [subsidies]. I’m truly grateful for the social safety net.”

Unlike trying to save a few by kicking people while they’re down, Moore said, “We might really save some money by drug-testing folks on Wall Street, who might have a little cocaine before they get their deal done.” 

Though drug testing is wildly expensive and, by and a large, a waste of time, Moore wants to level the playing field for all Americans. If the rich can drug test the poor to save some bucks, then shouldn’t that logic cut both ways? 

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Zachary Siegel is a freelance journalist specializing in science, health and drug policy. His reporting has also appeared in Slate, The Daily Beast, Salon, Huffington Post, among others. He writes often about addiction, sometimes drawing from his own experience. You can find out more about Zachary on Linkedin or follow him on Twitter.