Jun 212011
Authors: Jesse Benn

On July 1, a new Florida law will require all recipients of welfare to pass a drug test. 

Maybe you’ve heard about it in a Facebook post — and maybe you’ve even “re-posted” it, giving it your social media stamp-of-approval.

People shouldn’t spend their welfare checks on drugs; I think most of us agree here.

And many of us, including myself, have needed to take a drug test to get a job. So why not apply this same standard to people who get welfare checks? I mean, that is my tax money they’re giving away.

And so I pitch this: “Since we must take a drug test for a job, welfare recipients should take one too.” Feels fair, right?

Plus, according to Florida’s governor, Rick Scott, “Studies show that people on welfare are using drugs much higher than other people in the population.” 

That’s interesting, governor. It sounds dangerously stereotypical, but still interesting.

What study are you referencing? Was it one about your own state’s pilot program that was shut down in 2001, “after it showed no significant difference in drug use among aid recipients?”

Or could you not find that particularly specific tidbit of info before signing this bill into law? You really should get some interns to look into that stuff for you; in the age of Google, it’s surprisingly easy.

OK, so maybe the law is a little stereotypical, big deal. I still had to take a drug test to get my job, so they should too before getting my tax dollars.

Unfortunately, this aspect of the argument has a pretty big problem: The U.S. Constitution.

You see — and of course all of you staunch Conservative Constitutionalists already know this — private companies don’t have to follow the Constitution the same way the government does.

So while the government can’t impose, say, unreasonable search and seizure on its citizens, you might have to give up that right to get hired at a private company by submitting to a drug test.

But, federal law allows testing, doesn’t it?

Well, yes. And many states do test, but not in a random or blanket manner; they test based on behavior and past abuse (the only cost-effective and constitutional way to do so).

In Michigan — the only state that’s tried random drug testing for welfare recipients — the practice was stopped and ruled unconstitutional.

And now, Florida is in danger of suffering the same fate.

By the way, the testing in Michigan found a 10 percent use rate among recipients, with only three percent testing positive for “hard drugs” like cocaine.

But I digress….

OK, so the law is based on stereotypes and it probably violates the Constitution — yeah, yeah. I still don’t want my tax dollars spent on drugs, and this program will save money.


Well, no. Let’s consider it in the simplest terms (I’m terrible at math anyway).

If one in every 10 people test positive — never mind the person caught likely only tested positive for marijuana — that one person will lose their benefits for a year and pay for that test.

The other nine tests are on the taxpayer, who will reimburse the recipients after they pass.

(You know, since those people receiving the whopping $100 to $300 in monthly benefits can easily afford the $10 to $25 tests and wait for reimbursement. Diapers can wait.)

If only the governor had some empirical evidence demonstrating how cost effective this tactic will be … Ah, that’s right; how did that pilot program in the distant land of Florida go?

“In the pilot program, it cost almost $90 per test, which resulted in a $2.7 million expense,” the Orlando Sentinel reported. “Those numbers will only go up if drug testing goes statewide, and the costs could exceed tens of millions if food stamp recipients are included.”

If someone at the governor’s office had read the local paper, it could have saved the taxpayers millions.

The last part of the Sentinel’s quote accidently brings us to another point: Why not include food stamp recipients in the testing?

And while we’re at it, why not include anyone who uses any government subsidized benefits like roads and bridges? Hell, why not include everyone who eats subsidized corn? It makes me sick to think about all the people out there saving money using taxpayer subsidies — they could spend that extra money on drugs!

So I say test them, test them all. Test everyone who uses any taxpayer subsidy. It’s the only way to be sure that nobody is using my tax dollars on drugs.

But what do you think? Let’s meet and discuss, drinks are on me — I just got my student loans.

Jesse Benn is a senior political science major who does not have a favorite color and doesn’t really want to have a drink with you. Letters and feedback can be sent to letters@collegian.com.

 Posted by at 12:35 pm

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