Hypcritical Scott is Reverse Robin Hood

August 10, 2010 | Palm Beach Post |  Link to article

For a guy in the irony business like me, it's hard to beat Rick Scott's new TV ad, the one claiming that he would protect taxpayers from the ravenous scourge of welfare recipients.

The ad claims that Scott will "drug test welfare recipients" in Florida if he is elected governor. This will save taxpayers $77 million, his website claims.

So for those of you keeping score, a guy who made a fortune running a hospital company that paid a $1.7 billion fine for looting taxpayers through Medicare fraud has plunked down $2.1 million of his tainted fortune to buy an ad pledging to look out for taxpayers by going after the real scoundrels among us: the poor.

This sort of reverse-Robin Hood ploy is aimed at the people who imagine a world in which welfare cheats pull up in their Cadillacs to get their government checks that pay for their drug habits.

But it ignores the real world.

Courts reject mandatory drug tests

For starters, mandatory drug testing of welfare recipients has been found to be an unconstitutional violation of the Fourth Amendment's right to privacy.

Michigan, the first state to institute mandatory testing of welfare recipients, was challenged in federal court seven years ago by a variety of civil rights groups, doctors, public health officials, substance abuse treatment professionals and social workers.

The judge in that case cited a U.S. Supreme Court case from Georgia, in which the court struck down a law that required anybody seeking public office in that state to pass a drug test.

The court standard is that mandatory drug testing must be used only when "special needs" exist - needs of public safety that outweigh an individual's privacy rights.

There's no special need to test welfare recipients, the Michigan court found, saying welfare recipients are basically no different from anybody else who receives "Medicaid, state emergency relief, education grants or loans, public education or any other benefit from the state."

And research has shown that the perception of drug abuse among welfare recipients is often overstated.

"Proportions of welfare recipients using, abusing or dependent on alcohol or illicit drugs are consistent with proportions of both the adult U.S. population and adults who do not receive welfare," a National Institutes of Health study found.

A wasteful, 'perverse' idea

Researchers at Florida State University conducted a demonstration project to examine how drug use affected recipients of the state's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

"The data did show very small differences in employment, earnings, and use of government services between individuals who tested positively and those who tested negatively for substance abuse," that project found.

Tests are also expensive, and less efficient than other methods for identifying drug abusers in the program, others argue.

"Few substance abusers are identified in tests, but many are tested. As a result, the cost of catching a drug abuser may run between $20,000 and $75,000 per person, as businesses and government employers have found when they have done testing," said a report from the Center for Law and Social Policy, an advocacy group for low-income families.

"In a time of tight state budgets, it is perverse to spend limited funds in pursuit of a small number of substance abusers who are not identified through screening processes, rather than on providing actual services," the report said.

Yes, it's perverse. And almost beyond parody.

With all due respect, if you think of Scott as a crusader against scoundrels who abuse government programs, shouldn't you be the one peeing in the cup?

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