Pubdate: Tue, 30 Aug 2011 Source: USA Today (US) Copyright: 2011 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc Contact: http://mapinc.org/url/625HdBMl Website: http://www.usatoday.com/printedition/news/index.htm Details: http://www.mapinc.org/media/466 Author: DeWayne Wickham DRUG TESTING OF WELFARE APPLICANTS A GOP FISHING EXPEDITION During his 2010 gubernatorial campaign, Rick Scott promised to keep drug abusers off Florida's welfare rolls. Scott, who called for drug testing of welfare applicants with Elmer Gantry-like fervor and credibility while on the stump, got his way earlier this year when the state's GOP-dominated legislature passed a law requiring such examinations. "Studies show that people that are on welfare are higher users of (illegal) drugs than people not on welfare," the Florida governor said on CNN shortly before the law took effect in July. While there are also studies that dispute Scott's contention, his push for drug testing has inspired copycat efforts in at least 26 other states. His scheme has also hit an unexpected snag. So far, just 2% of Florida's welfare applicants have tested positive for illegal drug use; another 2% failed to complete the application process; and 96% were found to be drug-free. While every applicant is required to pay for their drug test, the state must reimburse those who pass. Takes the Fifth Even so, Scott -- who invoked his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination 75 times during a 2000 civil suit brought against him and Columbia/HCA, the troubled company he led -- has shown no misgivings about treating poor Floridians like criminals. That's what happens when ideology overtakes good sense. Scott's drug-testing program, like those championed in other states, is part of a right-wing effort to reduce the size and role of government. It is a fishing expedition to find a reason to cut the welfare rolls. It is premised on the hunch that women with children who are destitute enough to ask a state for temporary cash assistance are more inclined than others to abuse drugs. Ironically, as unemployment rose during the current economic downturn, the number of people receiving welfare was "at or near the lowest in more than 40 years," The New York Timesreported in 2009. Florida's law offers poor mothers with needy children no "Fifth Amendment" opportunity to avoid being tested for illegal drug use. It gives those found to be drug users no chance to enter a drug treatment program to keep from being denied the financial assistance they need for their children. So, in essence, Florida's law punishes children for the sins of their parent. What about the children? Scott says his law is meant to prevent the misuse of taxpayers' money. But he makes no allowance for the fate of those needy children to whom it denies welfare assistance. Drug testing not based on reasonable suspicion smacks of an unconstitutional search, the kind of government intrusion upon an individual's rights that conservatives ought to rail against. But Scott's assault on welfare mothers plays to the right-wing argument that big government is the playground of left-wing radicals -- and a crutch for shiftless people. Scott rode this position to victory in the governor's race in the Sunshine State, which will be a key battleground in next year's presidential election. By treating mothers who apply for welfare benefits as a criminal class who must disprove a suspicion of drug abuse before obtaining badly needed support, Scott panders to the soft bigotry of class warfare. And he becomes an integral part of the rot that is eating away at this nation's body politic. - --- MAP posted-by: Richard R Smith Jr.