#nerdland, I hope that during the holidays you had time to spend with your family and loved ones. Maybe you even found a way to celebrate by giving more than gifts to those in your household, but also giving back to the people in your community who are in need.
You know — those with less money, not enough to eat, and with few ways to provide the "little extras" so many of us take for granted. Because I noticed that one elected official had a very different approach this holiday season to those in his community who are living in poverty.
That's why my letter this week is to Michigan Governor Rick Snyder.
Dear Governor Snyder,
It's me, Melissa.
You were busy in the last days of 2014 — right back to bill signing the day after Christmas! Including one bill establishing a "pilot program intended to remove barriers to employment." At least, that is how your press release described it.
Unfortunately, it turns out that the bill has little to do with the barriers to employment and much more to do with stigmatizing poor people.
Because the bill you signed on December 26 establishes a program that allows individuals receiving food benefits in your state to be drug-tested. Individuals in three counties who rely on your Family Independence Program to help feed themselves and their families will be subject to "a suspicion-based screening and testing program." Individuals who fail the test twice lose their benefits. Individuals who refuse the test? They too, lose their benefits.
Let me get this straight — the day after Christmas, you made it to the office to sign a bill that would subject people in your state who are living in poverty to a personal privacy-invading test based on whether they to appear "suspicious" to the person whose job it is to help them access benefits to help them feed their family?
Presumably this pilot program is based on some kind of evidence that poor people are more likely to be drug users? But, Governor, we know that isn't true. In fact, there is compelling evidence from some of your colleagues in the Republican Governor's Association who have tried this same type of program.
Like Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam, who signed a similar bill in 2012 that went into effect in 2014. One month into the program, more than 800 individuals were screened, and only one person tested positive for drug use. During the first 11 months of a similar program in Utah, only 12 out of nearly 5,000 individuals tested positive for drug use.
Just last month, a federal appeals court struck a similar 2011 law down in Florida, writing:
"The state has not demonstrated a more prevalent, unique or different drug problem among TANF applicants than in the general population."
In 1999, your state tried a pilot program of mandatory drug tests for all benefit recipients. The program lasted one month — and then was halted by a federal court ruling for violating the Fourth Amendment.
Governor Snyder, you said this bill is intended to "remove the barriers that are keeping people from … supporting their families" and to "ensure recipients get the wrap-around services they need." But helping people feed their families did not seem to be a top priority in September when you opted not to take action that could have avoided a harsh reduction in federal SNAP money for Michigan residents — a cut of about $76 for more than 150,000 Michigan families. Which makes me wonder what your real intentions are with this pilot program that targets the poor and has proven ineffective and unconstitutional in other states.
Because, Gov. Snyder, the political classes have been doing a lot of chattering about you in recent weeks — wondering if maybe you are just the kind of moderate Republican governor who could have national appeal and deliver a White House win for the GOP in 2016. But, of course you know your biggest problem as well as anyone. All that moderate reasonableness may be good stuff in a general election, but to make it through the Republican primaries you will have to point to some freshly polished Conservative bonafides. And drug testing poor people who need help buying food just might help you look a little palatable to conservative primary voters.
Who cares if the program is not necessary, does not work, and has been deemed unconstitutional? Who cares if people in greatest need are subjected to an invasion of their privacy and stigmatized as likely drug users? If it helps you look a little more conservative, I suppose it is worth coming into the office during the holidays to make sure your signature is on it.