Is this a real thing, conservatives calling for drug tests for those who get welfare benefits? I saw this remark everyone saw:
South Carolina Lt. Gov. Andre Bauer has compared those on government assistance to “stray animals,” saying that the reason you stop feeding animals is that “they breed.”
“My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed,” Bauer said during a speech advocating that the government take away assistance to those who do not pass drug tests.
And here’s a number someone just pointed out to me: there are 2 million fans of the group “Making Drug Tests required to Get Welfare” on facebook. Many are there to criticize it in the comments (and the comments are something), but probably not that many.
Since not seeing the sun in forever is getting me into a crap mood I’ll say this: I think I can support this idea if, and only if, it is also required that people who claim a mortgage interest tax deduction are also required to take a drug test.
Kick some numbers: According to this research, “Tax Expenditures for Owner-Occupied Housing” by Poterba and Sinai (p. 8), the average homeowner saves $1,060 as a result of the mortgage interest deduction. (Different than how much they deduct, this is the actual savings.) If you want to subsidize homeownership because you think it has a halo effect, this is a terrible way to do it, since the benefits go to the top: For 25-35 year old homeowners with over $250,000 in income, the mortgage interest tax savings is $7,077. For household under the age of 50 with incomes between 125,000 and 250,000, the average tax savings from the mortgage interest deduction is roughly $3,600.
And richer people are far more likely to claim this deduction – more than 98% of homeowners with income in excess of $125,000 claim itemized deductions, compared with 23% of those making under $40,000.
Have I mentioned how poorly designed it is as a subsidy yet? As Ed Glaeser points out, this is an incentive to leverage up on housing, which is a major problem, it pushes up prices in places where housing is constrained, and gives a huge incentive to buy larger, single-family detached homes. All of this is lame.
How much does food stamps cost a taxpayer per person who receives it? Where can I get a good estimate? This gov site is giving me $124/month per person, so if two people are on food stamps for 6 months (or 1 person 1 year) it’s about $1,488, or less than half of what we give someone who makes $175,000/year to lever up when they buy a gigantic home. It also has the twin benefits of helping people suffering through double-digit unemployment, as well as the the highest “bank for the buck” rating as stimulus as estimate by Mark Zandi of Moody’s Economy.com. All of this is not lame.
Plus, there would be the interesting part of dragging 98% of homeowners who make over $125,000 and having them directed to pee in a cup by social workers, and giving them a first hand experience of the petty humiliations and disciplinary mechanisms of our current War on Drugs. That would certainly move the debate forward for those who would like to see solutions to issues surrounding drug use that don’t involve militarizing the police force or eating the Bill of Rights.