Congresswoman Gwen Moore (D-Wis.) is “sick and tired, and sick and tired of being sick and tired, of the criminalization of poverty.”
She explains in a recent press release,
As a strong advocate for social programs aimed at combating poverty, it deeply offends me that there is such a deep stigma surrounding those who depend on government benefits, especially as a former welfare recipient. Sadly, Republicans across the country continue to implement discriminatory policies that criminalize the less fortunate and perpetuate false narratives about the most vulnerable among us. These laws serve only one purpose: stoking the most extreme sentiments and misguided notions of the conservative movement.
As I’ve said time and time again, the notion that those battling poverty are somehow more susceptible to substance abuse is as absurd as it is offensive. If anything, our nation’s opioid crisis continues to underscore how substance addiction knows no social, racial, or economic distinctions. The time has come to stop vilifying vulnerable American families for being poor and start focusing on the policies that will help create an economy that works for everyone.
Representative Moore is upset about the increasing number of state laws that require welfare recipients to pass a drug test as a condition for receiving government benefits.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL).
At least 15 states have passed legislation regarding drug testing or screening for public assistance applicants or recipients (Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Utah, West Virginia and Wisconsin). Some apply to all applicants; others include specific language that there is a reason to believe the person is engaging in illegal drug activity or has a substance use disorder; others require a specific screening process.
Federal rules permit drug testing as part of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) block grant to the states. TANF provides cash assistance to poor families with children. Recipients are required to find employment within 24 months of receiving benefits, and benefits can be received for a maximum of 60 months. Beginning in 1997, as mandated by the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act instituted in 1996, TANF replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program. Federal rules do not permit drug testing as part of the food stamp program (SNAP), although some states have tried to institute it anyway. Financial assistance given directly by the federal government — such as Pell Grants to students — does not require passing a drug test.
The “baseless attacks against the poor” inspired Moore to introduce in the House the Top 1% Accountability Act of 2016 (H.R.5507). She says that the last straw was when her fellow Wisconsin representative Paul Ryan, the Republican Speaker of the House, “stood in front of a drug treatment center and rolled out his anti-poverty initiative, pushing this narrative that poor people are drug addicts.”
The Top 1% Accountability Act would “amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to prohibit certain taxpayers from itemizing deductions for a taxable year if the taxpayers fail to submit proof of clean drug tests with their tax returns.” According to Moore, her legislation “would require taxpayers with itemized deductions of more than $150,000 to submit to the IRS a clear drug test, or take the much lower standard deduction when filing their taxes.”
Under current law, all U.S. taxpayers are allowed to either itemize their deductions or take a standard deduction after figuring their adjusted gross income. The amount of the deduction claimed lowers one’s taxable income. For tax year 2016, the standard deduction is $6,300 for single and married taxpayers filing separately, $9,300 for head of household taxpayers, and $12,600 for married taxpayers filing jointly.
Moore believes that “the benefits we give to poor people are so limited compared to what we give to the top 1%.” She claims that the government spends $81 billion on everything “that you could consider a poverty program” but that taxing capital gains at a lower rate than ordinary income costs the government $93 billion. “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,” she said.
Although the Top 1% Accountability Act has no chance of passing in the Republican-controlled House, Moore hopes that her bill “will help eradicate the stigma associated with poverty and engage the American public in a substantive dialogue regarding the struggles of working- and middle-class families.”
But Moore has it backwards on welfare and tax deductions. And she is not alone. Millions of Americans likewise believe that “the poor” are entitled to receive welfare benefits and that tax deductions are government subsidies for “the rich.” Even Republicans, who are quick to talk about the Constitution, the free market, and limited government, support welfare in principle. They just want to reform it, eliminate the waste and fraud in it, and make it more efficient. But welfare is unjust, immoral, and just plain wrong.
It is never right for the government or any individual American to forcibly take money from one American and give it to another American. Never. Ever. No matter what the situation. Charity should always be voluntary. Always. Every time. No matter what the situation. It doesn’t matter how much money or wealth someone has. It doesn’t matter how much money some government bureaucrat or private busybody thinks that “the rich” ought to give. It doesn’t matter how badly someone “needs” the money. Taking money by force is robbery even if the government does it, and even if it is for a “good cause,” such as fighting poverty.
Besides, welfare is not authorized by the Constitution, is contrary to the free market, and is an illegitimate purpose of government.
And tax deductions are not subsidies. Tax deductions, like tax exemptions, reduce one’s income subject to tax. They work the same way, but deductions are generally subject to more limitations, conditions, and exclusions. There are a number of tax deductions that Americans may take in order to lower their total income to their adjusted gross income. These deductions are then supplemented by the itemized deductions or standard deduction mentioned above. In either case, one will pay less in taxes the greater the number, and the greater the amount, of deductions that one qualifies for.
But letting Americans keep more of their money is not a cost or expenditure of the federal government. Letting Americans keep more of their money is not the same as giving benefits to poor people. The government is not entitled to a portion of every American’s income, even for “good” reasons. Tax deductions are always a good thing because they allow Americans to keep more of their money in their pockets, purses, and bank accounts and out of the greedy hands of Uncle Sam.
And it should be noted that the ability of “the rich” to itemize deductions is already limited. According to the IRS, “The limitation for itemized deductions to be claimed on tax year 2016 returns of individuals begins with incomes of $259,400 or more ($311,300 for married couples filing jointly).” Deductions subject to the overall limit on itemized deductions include taxes paid, interest paid, gifts to charity, job expenses, and certain miscellaneous deductions. Deductions like medical and dental expenses, investment-interest expense, casualty and theft losses, and gambling losses aren’t subject to the overall limit on itemized deductions, but are still subject to other applicable limits. If one’s itemized deductions are subject to the limit, the total of itemized deductions is reduced by the smaller of 80 percent of your itemized deductions that are affected by the limit or 3 percent of the amount by which your adjusted gross income exceeds the applicable thresholds.
This is all conveniently overlooked by Representative Moore.
It is welfare that actually costs the government money, not tax deductions.