Sinking public standards

Posted on June 10, 2011. Filed under: Arkansas Democrat-Gazette Columns |

The cascade of protests about Florida’s new law requiring drug testing of welfare recipients started up like cicadas on crack when Gov. Rick Scott signed the legislation June 1, and it hasn’t let up yet.

As usual, the biggest casualty in a politically-charged firestorm like this is facts and common sense, which have been abandoned like molted cicada husks.

The shout-downs have been such that Scott can hardly get a word in. One of the tastiest ironies is watching liberal editorialists and special interest spokesmen call the governor mean—in the meanest of language.

Honestly, to judge from the vitriol, you’d think Scott had proposed a Pharaoh’s edict demanding a welfare recipient’s firstborn.

Instead, all he did was affirm the people’s will, through their representatives, that individuals applying for welfare undergo the same ritual that millions of others applying for jobs do.

Drug testing in the workplace is now as common as health insurance benefits. Recent studies indicate that as many as eight out of ten companies require pre-employment drug testing. In organizations with 10,000 employees or more, the number increases to 100 percent.

In other words, to the vast majority of working folks, drug tests are a prerequisite to getting paid. Now Florida says if citizens want to make welfare bank, it’s just as important to the government as it is to employers that the cash doesn’t feed an addiction.

Why are those fighting words? Perhaps more pertinently, why are welfare recipients held to a lower standard than the working class?

The ruse complaint is that Florida’s law stereotypes welfare recipients as drug abusers. That may stir the pot, but it hardly holds water. Employers aren’t stereotyping when they screen new hires for drugs. What they’re doing is sending a message: get straight before you try to get a job here.

The reasoning is simple enough. Drug abusers have problems. Employers have responsibilities. In many instances, employers have a legal obligation to protect the safety of other employees, customers and the public from drug-abusing workers.

Even when safety isn’t an issue, money always is. Employers have fiduciary obligations, too, and drug abuse pours money down the drain. The Research Triangle Institute places the estimated cost of losses attributable to drug abuse at $26 billion a year in the U.S.

It doesn’t take a research project to demonstrate how druggies flush cash down the toilet. Anybody who has volunteered at a church or shelter or most any charitable organization has seen firsthand how cash can enable, and exacerbate, a drug habit.

Many times drug abusers show up claiming to be homeless or hungry, but the last thing they really want is a place to stay or a meal. What they want is money to buy more drugs. Churches, charities and businesses all understand very well that funding a drug problem doesn’t help the abuser.

But as soon as a state government wises up to the idea, there’s a tempest of outrage, as if welfare recipients should be exempt from the norms of the real, working world.

Underlying the whole matter is a festering sore of sinking standards in the public funding realm.

Government 101 teaches that the government has no money. Its money is generated from taxes, which means that its money is essentially the citizens’ money. Whatever standard you or I might have about our own money, including an inclination to foolishly squander it, is lower than the standard we ought to apply to entrusted taxpayer’s money.

Government ought to set a higher bar when it comes to ensuring the proper use of public funds for their intended purposes—which is exactly what drug-testing welfare cash recipients does.

It focuses on solving a problem, rather than financially supporting it. It also re-introduces the long-lost concept of accountability into entitlement programs.

The Florida chapter of the ACLU is threatening to sue, if it hasn’t already, claiming the state is unconstitutionally “searching the bodily fluids of those in need.” What a drug abuser down on his luck and out of work needs is treatment, not a handout to fund his next fix.

Besides, it is the recipient who is seeking something (assistance); the law merely establishes a qualification that he or she be drug-free.

The ACLU and others appear to be making the absurd argument that government should make it easier for a drug addict to get cash from welfare than to get a paying job.

Subsidizing addiction is exactly what Scott says Florida shouldn’t be doing. That’s precisely what keeps a drug abuser unemployable and on welfare.

“Accountability” shouldn’t be a bad word that ACLU lawyers sneer at and drug abusers hide behind. It should be restored as the cornerstone to effective public assistance programs of all types. After all, people who defraud or game the system aren’t cheating the government—they are cheating others who are truly in need.

Most Floridians on welfare aren’t drug abusers. My guess is that, just like most employees, they’ll be fine with the test.

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