The era of accountability

Lawmakers finally seek to attach strings to public benefits

Washington will be the last one to know – but around the country, responsibility may be making a comeback.

We’ll know for sure after the November elections. But the signs are encouraging.

In increasing state capitals, lawmakers are filing bills that finally, and blessedly, put a few reasonable strings on public benefits. Most of them involve drug testing, which is the minimum that should be required. Florida was among the first to require those receiving public benefits to be drug tested; now Georgia and South Carolina and, no doubt, other states are following suit.

Gov. Nikki Haley’s spokesman used the key word in describing the movement in South Carolina:

“Anything that increases accountability ...”

He went on from there, but that said it all. Accountability.

Truth be told, governments have done no one any favors by not expecting accountability over the decades. They’ve paid out tax money with little regard for making sure taxpayers were well-served. And in expecting almost nothing in return from recipients, they’ve propagated what, in other circumstances, is called “the soft bigotry of low expectations.” The less we expect of people, the less we’ll get – and the more potential that will be lost.

This is certainly true in the case of unemployment benefits, and South Carolina state Sen. Paul Campbell would like to change that. His bill would require beneficiaries, after six months, to volunteer 16 hours a week in order to receive benefits.

The knee-jerk reaction among some will be to consider that harsh. Oh, good grief. Our ancestors thought nothing of earning their keep with a good day’s work – and 16 hours isn’t even half a working week. Besides, it may just give someone the chance to not only feel as if he or she is contributing, but to hone or even show off some job skills. And that could lead to future employment!

Moreover, now more than ever, it’s time states and local governments got more bang for the buck. A sudden army of volunteers could help keep the trains running on time, as it were, and maybe help spruce things up a bit without increasing taxes during a fragile economy.

Predictably, a liberal organization is blowing back against the ideas, saying that, “To suggest that the unemployed are lazy drug abusers who are just sitting around feeds a false, ugly stereotype.” Nonsense. No one is saying that. Besides – if they’re not lazy drug abusers, then they shouldn’t mind volunteering.

Meanwhile, anyone who is lucky enough to apply for a job and earn a paycheck is likely subject to drug testing. Why should public benefits carry any less than that minimal burden?

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