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Ian McColgin
10-01-2011, 09:55 AM
An offer legislators can’t refuse — or can they?
*
BY CARL HIAASEN

Gov. Rick Scott’s crusade to drug-test cash welfare applicants is turning out to be another thick-headed scheme that’s backfiring on Florida taxpayers.

The biggest beneficiaries are the testing companies that collect $10 to $25 for urine, blood or hair screening, a fee being paid by the state (you and me) whenever the applicant tests clean — currently about 97 percent of the cases.

The law, which easily passed the Legislature this year, was based on the misinformed and condescending premise that welfare recipients are more prone to use illegal drugs than people who are fortunate enough to have jobs.

Statistically, the opposite is true, despite the claims of Scott and Republican legislators who cheered this unnecessary and intrusive law.

The Department of Children and Families reports that since July, when the drug-testing program started, only 2.5 percent of welfare applicants have failed.

By contrast, about 8.9 percent of the general population illegally uses some kind of drug, according to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.

This substantial disparity in favor of the unemployed is not an anomaly. Thirteen years ago, the Florida Legislature funded a pilot drug-testing project targeting poor residents who were receiving temporary cash assistance from the state.

Of the nearly 8,800 applicants who got screened for drugs, fewer than 4 percent tested positive. That little exercise in class-bashing cost taxpayers about $2.7 million.

Either the governor didn’t know about the earlier study, couldn’t handle the math or just didn’t want to be bothered with the facts.

However, here are some new numbers that even a sixth-grader can understand:

When the law was passed, the DCF said the new drug-screening law would result in about 4,400 tests a month, or 52,800 a year, at a charge of $10 to $25 each.

Applicants initially pay for their own tests, but they’re reimbursed by the state if the results of the drug screens are negative. If the current rate of failure holds steady at a measly 2.5 percent, Florida taxpayers will be on the hook for 97.2 percent of the tests, between $515,000 and $1.27 million annually.

This is not the scenario presented by Scott and others like Rep. Jimmy Smith of Inverness, who justified the law by wrongly implying that welfare recipients have higher drug-use rates than the rest of us. Good luck finding an office building in Tallahassee where only 2.5 percent of the workers smoke pot in their leisure time.

The support for the drug-testing law — and the polls say it’s popular — is based on the reasonable notion that people who are struggling to find a job shouldn’t be spending a dime on dope. Whether you can legislate sobriety or common sense is highly debatable, but the more pressing question is whether such laws are ultimately worth the expense to government.

So far, the state hasn’t offered any figures on how much money we’re “saving” by drug-testing welfare applicants. Each month the number of those seeking cash assistance varies, and the amount of each payment depends on the circumstances and size of the family.

But with such a small percentage of applicants testing positive, the state will be lucky indeed if the amount of denied welfare benefits exceeds the true costs of administering the law, which go well beyond the urine and blood screens.

Taxpayers are also paying the governor’s legal fees to defend a predictable (and winnable) lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the blanket drug-testing requirement.

A Navy veteran who’s a single father in Orlando, joined by the American Civil Liberties Union, charges that Scott’s law allows “unreasonable and suspicionless searches” because it’s used against all cash welfare applicants, regardless of whether or not they show evidence of drug use.

Not surprisingly, the staff of the Florida House raised a similar concern when the measure was being written. And, not surprisingly, grandstanding lawmakers shrugged it off.

Some judges haven’t been so quick to do so. In Michigan, a drug-testing program aimed at welfare recipients was struck down by a federal court, citing privacy rights in the Fourth Amendment.

Back in 1997, the U.S. Supreme Court likewise relied on the Fourth Amendment when voting 8-1 to nullify a Georgia statute requiring all political candidates to take a drug test.

Here in Florida, Rick Scott’s campaign promise of mass job creation is at least coming true for professional urine samplers. However, in addition to being sued over drug-testing welfare parents, Scott also faces a court fight for ordering random substance screening on thousands of state workers.

Interestingly, the governor’s pee-in-the-cup mandate doesn’t apply to the one bunch that whizzes away more tax dollars than anyone else – the legislators who pass such useless laws.

I say line up all 160 of ‘em for a patriotic whiz-fest at the Capitol clinic. You think more than 2.5 percent might test positive? Let’s find out.

And I’ll pay for it out of my own pocket. Seriously.

# # # # #

ishmael
10-01-2011, 10:20 AM
This is clearly uncostitutional. If you don't have a right of privacy over your body what do you have a right to privacy over?

So what is the way to deal with welfare recipients using some of the proceeds to feed a habit? I'm sure it happens, and we can agree it isn't a good thing, but what do you do about it?

At this point, I can't come up with a thing.

S.V. Airlie
10-01-2011, 10:23 AM
Ian..Explain why so many companies require drug testing and FLA shouldn't to send out welfare checks.Is it just the money?I mean this sounds like a lib thing to get help for those who test positive.

ishmael
10-01-2011, 10:33 AM
Jaimie,

When you sign on with a company you sign a bunch of papers, somewhere in which is a drug testing clause. It isn't the same when a government does it.

ccmanuals
10-01-2011, 10:34 AM
Ian..Explain why so many companies require drug testing and FLA shouldn't to send out welfare checks.Is it just the money?I mean this sounds like a lib thing to get help for those who test positive.

The companies chose to do this and pay for it. The State passes this law and all the citizens of Florida pay for it. A better question is was this law passed to achieve an outcome that would benefit and/or protect the citizens of Florida or was it passed based sorely on political ideology or for someone's personal financial gain?

S.V. Airlie
10-01-2011, 10:34 AM
Why not. Ish....They sign up for unemplyment don't they?

Mrleft8
10-01-2011, 10:36 AM
Sure.....You buying? Or just paying for the plane ticket to get there?.....Hell It's cheaper than the train... :D

S.V. Airlie
10-01-2011, 10:38 AM
Yup it is..Doug. Itwill come out of our pockets eventually won't it. Healthcare etc. for treatment etc.

ishmael
10-01-2011, 10:39 AM
So what are you going to do, cut off their benefits because they blew a little weed last weekend?

S.V. Airlie
10-01-2011, 10:41 AM
No, nip a potential issue/problem in the bud actually.So much for humor..Ish...
Those who scream the loudest have something to hide. Otherwise such a test wouldbe no biggie.

ishmael
10-01-2011, 11:36 AM
I'd wager, granted from limited experience, that the rate of substance abuse amongst the homeless is a lot higher than 2%. I'm guessing more like 30% or higher.

Mrleft8
10-01-2011, 12:03 PM
CEOs and executives have more money to "Blow" on drugs than the people on social welfare.
Corporate welfare.... Another story...

Horace
10-01-2011, 12:05 PM
I can't think of a better way to advance the class war against the middle and lower class than this stunt. The intention is obviously to demonize welfare recipients, and the demonstrated proof is that it simply doesn't work, yield useful results, or save any money.... it just casts desperate poor people in the worst imaginable light, intentionally to diminish support for the social safety net. The fact that they are being tested will unquestionably lead poorly informed people to presume that the entire class consists of drug users.... rather than the 2% or so who are.
The intention is obviously to demonize welfare recipients... Why is this obvious to you, Norman? I would think that it's obviously an attempt to ensure that funds expended by government on behalf of society are more likely to be used for the purposes intended.
...rather than the 2% or so who are...More correctly: rather than the 2.5% who have taken the test and failed despite being forewarned of the consequences of a positive result.

By the way, can you actually relate to us the provisions of the law as enacted?

ccmanuals
10-01-2011, 12:05 PM
2% - where did you get this number?



most if not all government contractors do test empolyees for drugs




how many companies do you think want to chance losing a government contract because of drug use among employees? they prevent it by testing


not true Dutch. Contractors are required to only comply with the "policy." The only ones tested are people who have been convicted of a felony. You probably won't find too many convicted felons with gov't contracts. Anecdotal y, we have about 100 BAH contractors working in our agency and not a single one has been drug tested. Not even all military or civil service are drug tested. It's done by random checks of an extremely small percentage which are very infrequent.

PhaseLockedLoop
10-01-2011, 12:51 PM
We should make sure these no-goods have no boats or boating paraphernalia. Also, no spending on pear nectar, or solid-gold hats.

Nicholas Carey
10-01-2011, 01:01 PM
An offer legislators can’t refuse — or can they?
*
BY CARL HIAASEN

Gov. Rick Scott’s crusade to drug-test cash welfare applicants is turning out to be another thick-headed scheme that’s backfiring on Florida taxpayers.

The biggest beneficiaries are the testing companies that collect $10 to $25 for urine, blood or hair screening, a fee being paid by the state (you and me) whenever the applicant tests clean — currently about 97 percent of the cases.

The law, which easily passed the Legislature this year, was based on the misinformed and condescending premise that welfare recipients are more prone to use illegal drugs than people who are fortunate enough to have jobs.

Statistically, the opposite is true, despite the claims of Scott and Republican legislators who cheered this unnecessary and intrusive law.

The Department of Children and Families reports that since July, when the drug-testing program started, only 2.5 percent of welfare applicants have failed.

By contrast, about 8.9 percent of the general population illegally uses some kind of drug, according to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health.That disparity in drug use between income classes should have been apparent to anybody, even without benefit of a study to back it up. Dope is expensive. The dole doesn't pay that well: you need all the cash you've got just to get by.

I seem to remember a few other studies that found that while drug dealing tends to be centered in poor neighborhoods...drug buyers tend to come from more affluent neighborhoods. They cruise down to the 'hood in their Beemers to score their recreational pharmaceutical of choice.

Call it another "feature" of the underground economy: if you're at the end of your leash, you take the jobs you can get.

Might want to re-visits Steven Levitt's economic analysis of drug dealing in Chicago. One of their findings is that street dealers don't make much better than minimum wage: they could do better working at McDonald's:




AN ECONOMIC ANALYSIS OF A DRUG-SELLING GANG’S FINANCES
STEVEN D. LEVITT AND SUDHIR ALLADI VENKATESH
We use a unique data set detailing the ��nancial activities of a drug-selling street gang to analyze gang economics. On average, earnings in the gang are somewhat above the legitimate labor market alternative. The enormous risks of drug selling, however, more than offset this small wage premium. Compensation within the gang is highly skewed, and the prospect of future riches, not current wages, is the primary economic motivation. The gang engages in repeated gang wars and sometimes prices below marginal cost. Our results suggest that economic factors alone are unlikely to adequately explain individual participation in the gang or gang behavior.



Here's his paper on it: www.sociology.columbia.edu/pdf-files/sv0707a.pdf (http://www.sociology.columbia.edu/pdf-files/sv0707a.pdf)

Here he is at TED, talking about it: http://www.ted.com/talks/steven_levitt_analyzes_crack_economics.html

pipefitter
10-01-2011, 01:33 PM
When you are a working person and out of a job and you do drugs, most that I (weed smokers) know will quit the drugs to make sure they pass the test. Most will remain drug free for the duration if their company does random testing and it is a job worth having. If your livelihood depends on welfare, I can see why so few would test positive. I bet it's about the same rate with those testing positive for the work place as well.

Perhaps it's not so much that the perpetual recipients of welfare are not drug users, but that many quit for knowing they could lose their benefits if they tested positive. Many people hate working more than they like using drugs. To many, laziness is their real addiction.