Tax the Poor and Take Their Urine

Reporting on Politics and Policy.
Aug. 25 2011 2:48 PM

Tax the Poor and Take Their Urine

Mike Riggs checks back in with Rick Scott's controversial-yet-bold plan: To prevent drug users from going on welfare. Surely you remember this:

David Weigel David Weigel

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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So what happened?

Since the state began testing welfare applicants for drugs in July, about 2 percent have tested positive, preliminary data shows. Ninety-six percent proved to be drug free -- leaving the state on the hook to reimburse the cost of their tests.
... Cost of the tests averages about $30. Assuming that 1,000 to 1,500 applicants take the test every month, the state will owe about $28,800-$43,200 monthly in reimbursements to those who test drug-free. That compares with roughly $32,200-$48,200 the state may save on one month's worth of rejected applicants.

There's more here from an investigative report in central Florida. None of it answers the one question that might be mitigating for Scott: What's happening to overall welfare applications in 2011? Are they falling? Are pillheads getting spooked about the new law and deciding not to apply for that welfare after all? I've put a call in to Florida's Department of Children and Families to get that spin, but I notice that neither the Tampa Tribune nor the TV station nor anyone else has a response from the Scott administration yet. Hey, I just wrote it: "We have reason to believe that some wild-eyed junkies, slack-jawed with reefer madness, are no longer defrauding the people of Florida thanks to the well-publicized threat of this new law." Why not say that? Is it not true?

UPDATE: Joe Follick, communications director for Florida's Department of Children and Families, got back to this afternoon to explain. It turns out that, yes, the number of people applying for welfare has gone down.

"The number of people receiving welfare was at 107,000 statewide in December 2010," he says. "It's now at 91,000. But the reason for the decline is hard to determine. It could be that more people found jobs. It could be that they ran out of time to be eligible to collect. Are there fewer people not applying because of the drug tests? It could be. It could be one of a whole host of reasons. The program started on July 1, but no drug testing occurred until mid-July. There's a 45-day window to report the information. We don't have full numbers yet, but the ones we do have do indicate that only 2 percent of people have failed the test so far."

Continued reading: Ed Kilgore on how Republican rhetoric about the indigent has moved from welfare recipients to poor people who don't make enough to pay much in taxes. Scott's drug test idea was Coke Classic: Tax-the-poor is Coke Zero, or perhaps Crystal Pepsi.

David Weigel is a Slate political reporter. 

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