Another failed drug-test experiment

Another failed drug-test experiment
Another failed drug-test experiment

Remember Florida Gov. Rick Scott's (R) idea of mandating drug tests for welfare applicants? The idea was to save Florida taxpayers' money by forcing drug users to withdraw from the public-assistance system.

The results, however, were a fiasco -- only about 2 percent of applicants tested positive, and Florida lost money when it was forced to reimburse everyone else for the cost of the drug test, plus pay for staff and administrative costs for the program. Making matters worse, the courts rejected the law, forcing its demise.

Naturally, after seeing Rick Scott's experiment fail, other Republican officials elsewhere were eager to follow Florida's example of intrusive, big-government conservatism. Take Utah, for example.

Utah has spent more than $30,000 to screen welfare applicants for drug use since a new law went into effect a year ago, but only 12 people have tested positive, state figures show.The preliminary data from August 2012 through July 2013 indicates the state spent almost $6,000 to give 4,730 applicants a written test. After 466 showed a likelihood of drug use, they were given drug tests at a total cost of more than $25,000, according to the Utah Department of Workforce Services, which administers welfare benefits and the tests.

Henry Decker added, "[T]he Beehive State spent more than 30 grand to weed out 0.25 percent of those seeking benefits."

In case it's not already obvious, if Utah officials had instead spent that money on job creation and job training, no one would be making fun of them now.

I understand the underlying point of these efforts. For the right, there's an ongoing desire to punish and shame the poor, working from the assumption that if someone is struggling during weak economic times, it's very likely their own fault. Indeed, we've seen a few examples of late of prominent Republican officials suggesting too many jobless Americans are lazy addicts.

But the idea is nevertheless ridiculous. Forcing those who are relying on the safety net to give the government bodily fluids in exchange for benefits is not only legally dubious; it's also ineffective and a waste of money.

And yet, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 29 other states this year have considered similar proposals.