Milwaukee congresswoman Gwen Moore; “We’re not going to get rid of the federal deficit by cutting poor people off Snap. But if we are going to drug-test people to reduce the deficit, let’s start on the other end of the income spectrum.”
Moore plans to introduce a bill on Thursday that she thinks will even the playing field or, at least, “engage the wealthy in a conversation about what fair tax policy looks like”.
The bill, called the Top 1% Accountability Act, would force taxpayers with itemized deductions of more than $150,000 – which, according to 2011 tax data compiled by the IRS, would only be households with a yearly federal adjusted gross income of more than $1m – to submit to the IRS a clear drug test from a sample no more than three months old, or take the much lower standard deduction when filing their taxes.
It might use slightly different mechanisms, but the government provides money to Tanf, Snap and unemployment benefit recipients in much the same way that it provides money to people who own homes, contribute to charities or go to college. Most people – including those with high incomes, who qualify for far more deductions and credits than the average person – just don’t “see” tax deductions as a subsidy similar to those given to low-income people in the form of benefits.
Moore thinks that needs to change. “The benefits we give to poor people are so limited compared to what we give to the top 1%,” she said. “It’s a drop in the bucket.”
And though her bill wouldn’t have any effect on low- and middle-income Americans, clawing back more than $100,000 in deductions from even a handful of super-wealthy recreational drug users – who would be forced to pay for their own tests – could be a much more significant revenue-raiser than testing Tanf recipients.
For instance, the seven states who implemented drug testing for Tanf recipients spent $1m on testing from the (recent) inception of their programs through 2014.
But the average rate of drug use among Tanf recipients has been far below the national average – around 1% overall, compared with 9.4% in the general population – meaning there’s been little cost savings from the program. Why? “Probably because they can’t afford it,” notes Moore.