House Bill 1351 needs to be defeated
When I first saw the summary for House Bill 1351, I wondered if Michelle Obama had somehow taken control of the Republican caucus in the Indiana House of Representatives. Fortunately, that is not the case, but this is certainly something that Mrs. Obama would support.
The basic point is that food stamp benefits would only be allowed to be used for “nutritious” food, and that people getting welfare would have to be drug tested. Unfortunately, this is a case where legislators are passing laws about things without necessarily considering all of the implications of doing so. One obvious question is this: What is considered nutritious? Are the people defining the term qualified to define it?
Part of the problem is that poor people often live in “food deserts,” where it is difficult to get to a grocery store that offers truly nutritious food instead of what is offered at a convenience store. One such neighborhood in Bloomington is fairly equidistant from a Marsh and a Kroger. If someone does not have an automobile, how do they get there? It is walkable, but not in bad weather and when a parent needs to take small children. Public transportation is possible, but it is slow and inefficient, and the problem of transporting small children is also present.
A better option would be to help people on food stamps learn how to cook nutritious food, how to do it quickly (because convenience is important for a single parent with small children) and how to shop for nutritious food that is affordable. Without those tools, further limiting what food stamps can be used to purchase is not going to be effective and will result in people being able to eat less.
The other aspect of this bill is drug testing – a proposal that was derailed a year ago by an amendment that would require state legislators to take drug tests. While the amendment was admittedly a “troll” piece of legislation, why should legislators not be drug tested? Many Hoosier employers require drug testing as a condition of employment, and there are few positions where someone can do more damage than in the legislature. Plus, legislators are paid by tax dollars. This seems reasonable.
Some have complained that drug testing is “unconstitutional,” but I disagree. No one has to take welfare benefits. It could simply be a condition of getting something, not an unreasonable search. If you want benefit X, you have to provide blood or urine in exchange for it. If you do not want to provide blood or urine, then you can simply refuse the benefit.
The problem with the law is that it could punish children for the irresponsible behavior of their parents. It would be better to treat drug abuse as a public health problem, and help bring the parents into being productive members of society instead of taking away benefits their children need. Reform is certainly needed, but this is not the way to go about it.
The drug testing bill was bad enough a year ago, and it deserved to be defeated. With the shortsighted restrictions on what can be purchased with food stamps, it is even worse now. If House Bill 1351 reaches Governor Pence’s desk, he should veto it.