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August 22, 2014

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J. Patrick Coolican:

If goal is recovery, why stop drug testing at welfare recipients?

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

Sen. James Settelmeyer speaks during the first day of the 2011 legislative session Monday, February 7, 2011 in Carson City.

J. Patrick Coolican

J. Patrick Coolican

Here is what happened when Florida started drug-testing its welfare applicants:

Of 4,086 applicants between July and October 2011, 108 tested positive, or 2.6 percent, with an additional 40 canceling the test. That rate is less than one-third the estimated drug use among Floridians overall.

Got that? Welfare applicants were far less likely to use drugs than the rest of the population.

And despite the few who canceled their test, overall, the threat of a drug test had no appreciable effect on the number of applicants, according to an internal state government document obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union when it sued the state, challenging the constitutionality of the law.

Because the tests cost $30 each, and because Florida reimbursed applicants who tested negative, the law wound up actually costing the state money. Plus, a federal judge temporarily halted the law because it was in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures.

So, all in all, an embarrassing failure.

But ideas can be zombies, especially in Nevada. So here’s Sen. James Settelmeyer, R-Minden, offering up our own welfare drug-test bill, Senate Bill 89, which would deny welfare benefits as well as food stamps and Medicaid.

Settelmeyer told my colleague Cy Ryan that his intention is to help people get straight, which is why he included a provision that would allow an applicant who failed the test to enter drug rehab and receive public assistance while there, with another test scheduled 30 days later.

Good plan, if rather patronizing. Except there’s a severe and chronic shortage of treatment beds, which would have been worsened if Settelmeyer had his way last session — he voted against renewing more than $600 million in taxes that were set to expire. Where do you suppose they would have found the money? I’m guessing drug treatment beds would have been on the chopping block.

There’s a false idea I sometimes hear from readers and the occasional politician that some significant portion of the population is welfare-dependent. (Some seem to think it might even be as high as 47 percent!)

In fact, since President Bill Clinton signed the big welfare reform bill in 1996 that placed limits on how long you could remain on welfare, the national caseload dropped 50 percent from 3.94 million families in an average month to 1.95 million by 2011, according to Pamela J. Loprest of the Urban Institute.

With 310 million people living in America, you can see the percentage of people on welfare is quite small. In Nevada, fewer than 30,000 adults and children get welfare, or what’s officially called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. That’s 1 percent of us.

There’s also a belief the numbers have surged since we elected a foreign-born Muslim socialist president whose goal is to make everyone dependent on government because he’s a secret anti-colonial Maoist, or something.

Welfare rolls have gone up since the recession but still remain below 2005 levels, before the recession.

It’s true that food stamp enrollment and Medicaid and unemployment recipients have increased significantly in Nevada, but that’s because in 2007 we entered the worst recession since the Great Depression. Food stamp enrollment increased 128 percent in Nevada between 2007 and 2010, but that's largely due to the fact that the unemployment rate tripled. Historically, food stamp and other anti-poverty enrollments increase during recessions and decrease during expansions. Go figure.

If Settelmeyer’s real goal is to help people get straight, why stop at welfare recipients? What about farm subsidy recipients, sometimes known as “welfare cowboys"? Why not test Medicare and Social Security moochers? Or state employees?

Or legislators?

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  1. A Republican member of the Indiana General Assembly withdrew his bill to create a pilot program for drug testing welfare applicants Friday after one of his Democratic colleagues amended the measure to require drug testing for lawmakers.

    If we're going to impose standards on drug testing, then it should apply to everybody who receives government money.

  2. Interesting idea to drug test legislators. Ink Blot and IQ tests might also be in order.

  3. As a long-time participant [employee, volunteer, lobbyist] in the legislatures of several western states I have often thought that members should be regularly tested for both legal and illegal substances which impair judgement. Any reporter involved with the leg knows which reps are routinely drunk, high, on scrips legal or "borrowed". There is, unfortunately, a conspiracy of silence so that members with problems are never confronted let alone exposed.

  4. Having been employed in the social welfare system, I can assure you there is a significant number of people who have no plans to move towards self sufficiency. These people often do the pregnant-teen-in high school thing. We even give benies to their boyfriends by offering up to $1,000 for car repairs if he says he'll drive her to work if we find her a job she likes. Eventually the same people wind up on medicaid/nursing home thing--while the rest of us get those massive (sarcasm intended) SS checks and pay for our own housing. During the intervening years the teen mom and dad find various programs to participate in--usually including any and every "job training" idea any politico has. We should focus our efforts on those who respond well by moving towards sufficiency. Pointless to keep dumping money on those who refuse to work, refuse to keep the jobs we find them, refuse to parent their kids...

    JPC might consider that Florida's drug test did NOT test for everything, just a couple of "commonly" abused drugs. It's not just a numbers game. I'd be for AUTHORIZING drug tests when social workers deem useful AND for LONG-TIME CLIENTS.

  5. So then we shouldn't test welfare applicants at all for drugs? Is just the conclusion of this article?

    I don't care what percentage of people are on welfare if it's small or insignificant. The question is:

    Should anyone who is on a controlled substance be allowed to receive welfare?

  6. Patrick, are we talking about national welfare rolls or state?

    Because the TANF stats from NV DWSS indicate that 2012 YTD tanf grants (which is just cash assistance) is actually higher than 2005 YTD.

  7. In 2005, NV DWSS reported that for the Child Health Assurance Program (CHAP) the number of recipients were:

    26,752

    For 2012 that number is:

    85,552

  8. Based on data from NV DWSS the total number of medicaid recipients in 2005:

    174,289

    In 2012:

    303,214

    I like to break down the numbers and not lump them all together like some people do. I don't consider medicaid to be a good indicator of welfare but it is interesting to note the increase.

  9. but more importantly what does Chunky think LOL

  10. It's a huge money funnel to out of state pharmaceutical companies that do drug testing. It's obvious that Settlemeyers "goal" is to tap into those millions of campaign donation dollars available from ALEC, the organization that wrote this bill, and big pharma. Why say that? Because Settlemeyers bill is word for word the same "drug test the poor" bill that ALEC has been pushing across the nation.
    [Roberta Anderson LOVES corporate giveaways too!!!]

  11. The huge level of resentment people have for the less fortunate is disturbing. It appears many believe that they have worked harder, been smarter, and suffered more, while others are reaping undeserved rewards. The fear that someone is getting a privilege or benefit that they are not seems to be inciting people's frustrations.

    This proposed law needs to be dropped. Its only real purpose is to provide disgruntled citizens a reason to feel superior to the disadvantaged.

  12. Brooke: I don't see anyone with "resentment" to less fortunate. I do see people fed up with paying endless taxes to provide for unwanted kids, moms who refuse to support themselves let alone their kids, absent fathers, adults both young and old who make poor decisions. Let us legislate and AUTHORIZE our agents (government employees) to have tools to weed out those who milk the system so there is enough funding to do something for those who NEED the help. Authority to compel drug testing does not mean everyone has to be tested. But if you keep losing jobs while collecting benefits, we need to know more about your problem. Can you be cured or not? And to those who THINK that few stay on benefits for very long: TANF is limited to 2 years consecutive so the welfare agencies cut them off after 24 months. The clients often move to another state and stay on--our stats don't track that. Most to all other programs are NOT TRACKED for how long you're collecting. And many many programs, grants, options, payments are "one of a kind". For example, each year you reapply for LIHEA (free utilities) and year after year Nevada gives the money (often over $1,000) to households of illegals--if one or more is an anchor baby. This while American seniors are cold and hungry. The LIHEA is NOT tracked from year to year so JPC and others might think the same people aren't getting the free money but they are.

  13. Roberta Anderson is probably the best correspondent at using anecdotes and sophistry to make her [many, many, many]points. "The clients often move to another state and stay on...". Any proof? Studies? Documentation? She repeats every cliche about folk on public assistance, immigrants, teachers, public employees, politicians. To read Ms. Anderson one would think that the United States is crushed under the weight of illegal moms birthing hordes of anchor babies all growing up on welfare and popping out more inadequately taught by socialistic union teachers to believe in lifetime entitlement programs cradle to grave. Must be tough to go through life desperately miserable.

  14. VegasGuy78: yes, national numbers. State numbers are out of whack because of our significant population increase and because the recession was so much worse here.

  15. Whoever gets a government check should take a drug test. That would put more people back to work and get rid of the lossers that are dead beats living off of the taxpayer. That will be a dream come true but it will never happen. Why????? because it makes sense.

  16. DO military personal have to take a drug test?

    I would be more in favor of some kind of 1 child policy for those who do not have income outside of the welfare system. In other words you must have the money earned to support the babies you want to have whether you are single or married..
    Any babies born would be taken away permanently and put up for adoption or the checks stop, mothers choice. In China they take you to a clinic for the abortion but I am guessing THAT won't fly here...
    Now some will say this is not right not to allow poor people to have big families, nonsense, my grandparents had 7 kids and they were poor, but they never thought of getting government money. Responsibility of the parent is what this idea is all about. And how will a single mother ever get a decent job if she has 4 or 5 kids to look after at a young age?

  17. wharfrat: trouble reading? I have been employed in social welfare in Nevada. I have experience with those who claim and claim. When TANF dumps them, they ask government employees (local, state and federal) to refer them to other programs. They also network among themselves per the employees and volunteers at the food banks who see them share their info. There is a lot of money, benefits from local housing approvals--ever notice the people who lived in HUD projects stayed for years and years and years. My point is that there is NO TRACKING of those who get on programs with the birth of their first kid and stay on by surfing the various programs. TANF is the only one that limits time on. 2 years consecutive, 5 years lifetime under any ONE SSN--see the weakness in that? Rat: If you bother to read more than one of my posts you might notice that I've suggested that we have a temporary safety net. For those clients who remain on the taking end for a length of time, we should step up verification--drug testing perhaps. We should not be expected to cover Mom from the time of birth of first baby through geriatric care in nursing homes. p.s. Suggest you read some of the other posts from people with EXPERIENCE.

  18. Triple 10:34: The only problem with that is ALL the federal programs, even those for which the State matches funding, insist than anchor babies be fully covered--and that frequently means covering the entire household. So if an illegal Mom simply claims her child was born here perhaps using another's birth certificate or for a very young child claiming birth outside of a hospital.... Yes, that's right, we PAY WELFARE FOR ILLEGALS. The feds are even advertising to illegals before they cross the border--as mentioned by other posters. They "need to know" how to get free EBT SNAP food stamps.... Roughly half of the 15-20 million illegals (ICE data on the 20 mil) are on one or more welfare programs.

  19. "...a federal judge temporarily halted the law because it was in violation of the Fourth Amendment's prohibition of unreasonable searches and seizures. So, all in all, an embarrassing failure. But ideas can be zombies..."

    Coolican -- I suspect Settelmeyer and his ilk do this kind of thing because it makes them appear relevant, and because there are no negative consequences for violating their oaths. You know, that pesky Constitutional thing nobody at all seems to care about anymore.

    "It is the eternal struggle between these two principles -- right and wrong -- throughout the world ... It is the same spirit that says, 'You toil and earn the bread, and I'll eat it.'" -- Abraham Lincoln, from Reply, Seventh and Last Joint Debate with Judge Douglas, 1858

  20. Sebring & BrookeLogan...

    EGGS ZACT LEE!!!
    At least not EVERYONE here can be labeled a knee-jerk reactionary.

  21. Sebring,

    "It's a huge money funnel to out of state pharmaceutical companies that do drug testing. It's obvious that Settlemeyers "goal" is to tap into those millions of campaign donation dollars available from ALEC, the organization that wrote this bill, and big pharma."

    Interesting point, Sebring. ALEC is the powerful lobby organization of the Koch Bros., which tries to firmly establish control of our morality, society, politics and religious beliefs for the benefit and power of the top 1 percent.

    Some people have clearly fallen for their subversive brainwashing.

    They start with drug testing of welfare recipients, but how long before they move that to everyone who disagrees with them, one disagreement at a time? Fascism on the march!

    The only legitimate reason for testing any group of citizens, is to avail them of real treatment and rehabilitation options. It should therefore include everyone. I bet we would hear screams of injustice over that, but if we cleared up the insatiable need for drugs by our nation as a whole, it would go a long way in drying up the drug cartels, and the violence that accompanies them.

    Denying people assistance for essential needs is to leave many with the option of crime or death. That is an indictment on society permitting such action as immoral.

    I feel really sorry for those who have experienced such sad, unfulfilled lives in their work in social services. Like in anything, it is up to the individual to look for and celebrate the beauty, the successes, and to minimize the losses with compassion.

    If one cannot do that, they need to move to some other profession, as they don't do much good for anyone with such an unhealthy attitude.

  22. Bob, I've seen your plan and have no issues with it. Not sure how you'd get it enacted but we can hope. No the Dems have no interest in jobs. They seem fixated with importing more welfare clients and those with such limited means they "have to" turn to crime. About half the 20 million illegals (ICE data) are on some form of welfare. Now let's add in all the anchor babies on assistance from before birth, the moms and siblings added to the welfare rolls by programs that cover the "household" of each anchor baby.... Repeal Regan amnesty when 3 million were given a free ride. Now another 20 million are here to take it all.

  23. I don't want more of my money wasted testing for drugs. It's not effective. Better yet, use the money for education. Or maybe decriminalize marijuana and save all that money we currently waste putting people in jail.

    Of course a person who works in social services is going to witness abuse of the system but that doesn't make all recipients welfare abusers or drug users. None of my acquaintances receive welfare so I guess by Roberta's logic I can presume that there aren't any people on welfare.

  24. Carolyn: Some "conservatives" say we should eliminate the programs because there is fraud and the government is incapable of administering any social welfare program. I don't suggest that. I am for a TEMPORARY safety net for AMERICANS. No one is looking for ABUSE, waste, fraud. Let's look and see what we find. Let's start with those who've been collecting for a long time, maybe under several SSN's to keep collecting.

  25. The World Atlas website lists the 2012 estimated populations by country. Here are the top 11, to include Mexico.

    China 1,339,190,000
    India 1,184,639,000
    USA 309,975,000
    Indonesia 234,181,400
    Brazil 193,364,000
    Pakistan 170,260,000
    Bangladesh 164,425,000
    Nigeria 158,259,000
    Russia 141,927,297
    Japan 127,380,000
    Mexico 108,396,211

    The USA does an extraordinary job in trying to care for its poor and elderly given its population, 50 independent state governments, and that the USA provides more foreign aid than any country in the world.

    Do we need improvment? Yes!

    Have we been hit HARD by the mistakes of those at the top of the economic food chain to the detriment of our economic welfare? Damn straight!

    Did two unnecessary wars bankrupt our government, kill, wound, and cause mental anguish for our soldiers giving "for their country" and make other people very wealthy? Yes, sadly yes!

    Has this "recession" (a politically correct word for depression) put more of our people in need of the necessitites of life? Without a doubt.

    Have the natural disasters of climate change (which was laughed at) caused pain and suffering to many of our citizens? Undoubtedly.

    Tell me, how would, or do, the other countries in the list above handle the needs of their poor and downtrodden?

    Why all of the complaining over so few compared to so many with means taking advantage of every possible loophole to avoid supporting the government they use and abuse for profit, even if it means harming fellow countrymen?

    I believe that the growing ranks of those in need are veterans, the unemployed, weather victims, the elderly who lost their retirement incomes, all through no fault of their own.

    I don't want to minimize the need for reforms at all levels of government services. In fact, I feel we should start with the TOP 1% and work our way down the economic food chain to end abuse of resources and government.

    I feel we need to do MORE for about 80% of our citizens whose means are limited by their dependence on the top 1-20% and the laws they create to stifle advancement and take away what we have. Big business, big money, big power over government. Our veterans, our elderly, our shrinking middle class are on a downward spiral mostly through no fault of their own.

    Step back and get a grip...there are bigger fish to fry than worrying about how a few at the bottom are abusing the system, when the top 1% inevitably cause the majority of their problems --you know, trickle down economics.

    Having said ALL of this, in the global world of humanity in which we live, we have little to complain about and yet a long way to go as a society to achieve a stronger moral compass and compassion for each other.

  26. transplanted
    (AJ Kircher).....I wholeheartedly agree!

    People have been blaming the "weaker" elements of society for the problems of the whole society throughout history. The scapegoat is almost always less powerful and more marginalized for they are the easiest target. There is a propensity to blame the poor for their poverty. Many believe they are undeserving of our compassion and brand them as lazy, weak and to blame for their situation. This toxic narrative provides a reason for people to feel morally superior to the less fortunate.

    Indeed, we have a long way to go as a society.

  27. When you do broad range drug testing only the functional addicts get in the program. They build their lives around functioning with the addiction. I worked for a major warehouse in Patrick, NV. We did drug testing at hiring and very few blew the test because they knew it was coming. The same would happen with any test for public funds.

    Yet when we had an on site accident nearly 80% of the time drugs usually marijuana showed up in the test and the worker then faced refusal of their workers comp claim. No wonder so many give up on working when the "chumps" who work get fired for small errors that could be made without anything in your system. Then you are worse off than if you had ever worked at all.

    Someone who drank alcohol all night the night before until they blacked out is more dangerous to the work site than the guy who smoke a joint last weekend.

    I see it as a system where we have set up the poor to fail in the workplace. At-will means they can be fired at anytime for anything. I was well trained by my corporate employer how to welcome in with open arms while we get half their salary paid by welfare to work, and find ways that they would quit through suggesting that after Christmas we would be drug testing. Or work them in the same job until 90 days then pull their criminal history so they can be cut for lying on their application about having a misdemeanor. We will see more people working when work is a place where all workers are treated with a basic level of human decency.

    We have workplaces that treat the employees of last resort in ways that work gives them no sense of pride as they see how disposable they are to the company. Why leave the house for that? In the end wages are subsistence enough that their standard of living never improves anyway and there is no promise of stability with any job. Our poor can either ride the roller coaster up and down on and off of the system or stay the steady course on it because we have done nothing to create permanent jobs. Humans are creatures of habit. I have watched "deadbeats" get to work every day 5am for 6 months thinking what great consistent on time workers they are then be told by my employer that just in time manufacturing and fulfillment (what business has moved to) requires you cut and trim with demand. I had to cut people for crap not one middle class person would have to put up with such as your employee badge accessed the bathroom 1 extra time during your shift 4 times in the past 90 days. Then they don't get unemployment because it's "for cause." How easy it it to find another job after getting flushed? A small business owner is not going to touch someone who only worked 6 months and when they call for a reference is not eligible for re-hire.

  28. Welfare, drugs and lawyers. isn't that the name of a song?...it should be

  29. On some issues I can see both sides, but on this one I don't. I fail to see how it is the role of government to transfer money from people who work to people who don't work but have available funds to buy drugs.

    I think we can agree that most Americans are fine with helping the needy while they try to get their life in order. Where we differ, I think, is on helping people who take advantage of the benefits the government provides but don't take personal responsibility for improving their lives. For me, drug users fall into this category.

    Many posters feel that it's the compassionate thing to do to provide financial support for welfare recipients who test positive for drugs. My view is that there are many compassionate ways that our tax money could be used: early childhood education, books/computers for students, job training, student loans, mental health, health care, retirement, etc. The list of needs is long.

    I personally would rather see the money the government spends on welfare recipients who are drug users go to one of society's other needs. Or the government could decide to not spend that money, reduce taxes, and allow people who work to spend the money they've earned as they wish -- as they feel it would best benefit themselves, their families, their community.

    This would allow those of you who feel that providing support for drug users is the compassionate thing to do to have the choice of giving your money to them, while allowing others the freedom to have a choice on how to spend the money they've earned.