Then the welfare state met the drug user. The first debate around legal drug use came from California. The state and many cities began to argue over whether people who received government aid should be allowed to spend the money on legal drugs. The age-old debate of what products should and shouldn’t be allowed for purchase with government aid rang out.
The debate spread to state after state. Were they going to let the government purchase drugs, however legal they were? Where do you draw the line? Was there even a line?
Timothy Jefferson was silent on the topic. The Administration issued no statements. Rumor was that Jefferson was hoping the states would work it out. They didn’t work it out. They looked to the White House and said, “Hey, this is federal law. A little help?”
Jefferson told the states he would get back to them. He formed a focus group and headed off to Camp David. At first, it seemed that Jefferson saw this as a burden, but soon he found the opportunity in it. The states, the cities, the Feds were all looking to him for direction. And direction he would give them. To Jefferson it was simple. Everything fell into his creed of personal accountability. He knew he was responsible for the fiscal welfare of the country as well. How to balance these? He must get the most possible value out of the people’s money. You couldn’t do that by giving away money with little demand for return.
What was wanted here was a contract: a contract between the people and the people. Jefferson would offer a contract.
He offered this: “The people who receive government aid will provide community service. Based on an equitable wage for the service performed, you will work off seventy-five percent of your aid up to but not exceeding forty hours a week. If you cannot for good cause perform community service while you are receiving government aid, you will have up to twelve months to begin your community service. If in twelve months you do not begin community service, your aid will be cut off. In return, the aid given to you will not be subject to any expenditure rules. Your personal choices and freedoms will not be limited because you receive government aid. You are free to not sign the contract. Not signing the contract precludes you from receiving federal government aid. You may rescind your request for aid at any time and be relieved of community service commitments.”
The Contract would be offered on all Federal aid. Jefferson would not mandate that states follow this policy but any programs supplemented in any way by federal monies would be subject to The Contract. He recommended states and cities implement some version of The Contract.
Thirty-two states and hundreds of cities chose to implement The Contract for both federal and state aid. Everyone else either put no requirements on government aid or issued rules stating that government aid should or should not be spent on drugs.
The opposition cried foul. There were extenuating circumstances in many cases. Hardship had to be taken into account. Jefferson decreed that agencies were free to make documented exceptions.
Other critics warned of rampant drug use and rampant abuse of the system. Jefferson argued the Civic Accountability Boards would take care of abuse.
The courts agreed with Jefferson. The government was certainly allowed to place stipulations on aid that it handed out. It was a long and common practice.
Of course, if you were going to require community service, then you had to have someone administer community service. You had to have a lot more of it for people to do. A handful of people cleaning road sides wouldn’t cut it. Significant amount of public services could be handled with this newfound labor pool. Civil service unions cried foul. This would take jobs from civil servants. They sued to stop the law. The courts ruled that a government’s job was not to provide jobs and so could provide public services in what manner it saw fit.
You couldn’t choose what kind of skills came with your community service workers, so more general labor projects were needed. Non-vital service projects. Beautification projects became an easy choice: graffiti removal, gardening, cleaning and maintaining parks, etc.
Beliefs and arguments sprang up that the costs to manage the projects were higher than the benefits that came out of them. In some cases that may have been true. Jefferson argued that objection was missing the point. The point was to instill personal accountability into receiving government aid. It would encourage people to get off government aid. If they did not make an effort to get off government aid, then at least they would have to work for it.
Again, critics claimed it was a slippery slope. Nothing appeared to be out of reach of government control and stricture, from the innocuous divvying up of highway funds to provisioning of health care to providing of personal welfare. Government had always placed strings on things provided. The question was where did the breadth and depth of those strings stop.
Jefferson knew it was slippery. He began to edge away from the slope. But it was too late. One of his party members jumped off the cliff. Jefferson was obliged to follow.