• Kansas Bans Poor People from Spending Welfare on Cruise Ships

    October 3, 2015 // 17 Comments »

    child

    There is a myth that welfare is a good deal, money for nothing.

    Maybe to some it works that way, but in Kansas a family of three gets a maximum of $429 a money in cash, about $35 bucks a person a week. I don’t know, I guess that is one way to live, but not a way too many people want to live.

    But if you are one of the people who thinks that is still too generous, boy has Kansas got some new laws for you.


    Haters Gonna Hate Once Elected

    Kansas welfare recipients will be unable to withdraw more than $25 per day in benefits under a new law sent this week to Governor Sam Brownback by the state legislature. Like most states, Kansas distributes benefits via a debit card.

    The bill also prohibits welfare recipients from spending their benefits at certain types of businesses, including liquor stores, fortune tellers, swimming pools and cruise ships.

    “We’re trying to make sure those benefits are used the way they were intended,” one state representative said. “This is about prosperity. This is about having a great life.”

    Under the new rule, a family receiving the maximum benefit would have to go to the ATM more than a dozen times to get the full benefit, which would be whittled away by an 85 cent fee for each withdrawal after the first one. And since many recipients do not have bank accounts, they will pay an ATM fee on top of that for each withdrawal. If you figure $3 (+.85) a transaction, times 12 pulls, that’s about $46 a month, a de facto reduction of benefits of more than ten percent for no real reason whatsoever.

    The federal welfare reform law of 1996 gave states significant leeway to design their own programs. Missouri, for example, is considering a bill to forbid food stamps from being spent on steak or seafood. No more cheap fish heads for you! But even welfare advocates were taken aback by the $25 daily limit in Kansas, something that has not been implemented in any other state.

    “This provision makes it nearly impossible for a recipient who does not have a checking account to pay rent,” said Liz Schott of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. The Kansas provision originally would have limited daily benefits to $60, but that was reduced through an amendment.


    The Questions

    We’re left with some questions.

    I’m pretty sure no one thinks it would be right for welfare recipients to spend benefits designed to feed hungry people at liquor stores, fortune tellers, swimming pools or cruise ships. One wonders, however, at the codification of that into law. Do the Kansas benefit cards even know they are in an ATM on the Love Boat versus one at the grocery store? Is there in fact even one case of a welfare receipt spending his money on a cruise? At a maximum of $429 a month, it seems hard to save up the thousands of dollars cruises cost, especially given the airfare from Kansas to the nearest ocean. And since you can withdraw cash and then spend it on booze or fortune telling if you really want to, isn’t the whole thing pointless?

    The $25 daily limit is also a bit unclear. That amount of money doesn’t get you very far at the grocery store, so it translates into little more than multiple trips each week plus the costs of ATM fees. That alone is at variance with trying to find or work a job, and child care. It does not seem to benefit anyone.

    So what is the point? Well, politics for sure. Nothing says Republican in Kansas apparently like being needlessly mean to poor people. A lot of votes in that hater demographic. Right along side that is the idea that poor people deserve to suffer somehow.

    So, Kansas, why not go for it? Why not just have welfare recipients publicly have to beg for money? Maybe something on TV, like American Idol, where the best beggar as voted on by the home audience gets an extra jar of peanut butter, or, as a special reward, a quick trip to the fortune teller?

    “The magic cards tell me your future looks… very bleak…”



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    Arizona Spent Over $1.7 Million Drug Testing Welfare Recipients to Catch 1 Person in 3 years

    August 12, 2015 // 3 Comments »

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    Somehow in America if you are poor and in need of food, you better not take drugs, or no public assistance for you! You deserve to die of hunger because you spend your money on ‘da dope.

    Just don’t die in the street where we have to step over your body on the way to the nail salon.

    Oh, and by the way, this is a wholly made up problem created by frightened politicians. According to a study by the National Institute of Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, differences between the proportion of welfare and non-welfare recipients using illegal drugs are statistically insignificant.


    But that did not stop Arizona.

    Arizona proudly claims it spent $1.7 million dollars to test 87,000 people on public assistance for drug use. The total number of drug cheats caught in the first three years of the program, 2009-2012, was exactly onea single positive result, which saved the state precisely $560, minus the $42 cost of the drug test itself. But oh my, since 2012, they got two more of the danged varmints.

    Luckily, the Arizona drug testing is being done in a scientific way. The state asks new welfare recipients whether they’ve used drugs in the past 30 days, and only those who answer yes are tested.

    Now the goody-goodest news of all is that Arizona apparently has got them some cheap drug testing. The ACLU estimates that an average drug test costs $42, bringing the total cost as high as $3.65 million if all of the Arizona welfare recipients were subjected to the full-price tests. But who knows,maybe there was GroupOn.

    And luckily the money being spent on these drug tests is not going to feed hungry people, so it’s not being wasted on American who are wasted.


    It is not just Arizona who wastes taxpayer money to solve a non-problem. Have a look:


    Missouri
    Applicants for benefits that required drug screening, March 2013–September 2014: 69,587
    Total required to take follow-up drug test at additional cost: 1,646
    Disqualified due to a positive drug test: 69

    Utah
    Applicants for benefits that required drug screening, August 2012–July 2014: 9,253
    Total required to take follow-up drug test at additional cost: 1,878
    Disqualified due to a positive drug test: 29

    Tennessee
    Applicants for benefits that required drug screening, July 2014–December 2014: 11,300
    Total required to take follow-up drug test at additional cost: 273
    Disqualified due to a positive drug test: 24

    Florida
    Applicants for benefits that required drug screening, July 2014–December 2014: 4,044
    Total required to take follow-up drug test: Unknown
    Disqualified due to a positive drug test: 108

    The neat thing is that Florida used to (they were stopped by court order) requires welfare applicants, who have little money hence the application, to pay for their own drug tests up front. If they passed the test, they eventually had their money refunded.


    Note that if you can afford your own food, take all the drugs you want. Smoke up, Arizonians, and order that pizza delivered when you get the munchies. Damn hippies.




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    Good News: Supreme Court Rules Against Sweeping Drug Tests

    June 25, 2014 // 5 Comments »

    You don’t win them all, but once in awhile you win one. And in this case, it really matters.

    The U.S. Supreme Court refused to hear an appeal by Florida Governor, Republican and presidential-candidate wannabe Rick Scott. Scott, since 2011, has been trying to mandate random drug tests for some 85,000 state workers because, yeah, drugs are bad or something. Scott’s executive order did not apply only to employees, such as drivers or pilots, whose duties might in fact be severely affected by drug use. Everybody, from receptionists to scuba divers, would be subject. By refusing to reopen the case, the Supreme Court agreed that Scott’s order was so broad as to violate Constitutional protections against unwarranted search and seizure.

    Scott issued a statement saying state employees “should have the right to work in a safe and drug free environment, just like in any other business.” The governor noted that portions of the case are still being debated in Miami federal court and that he would “continue to fight” for expanded employee drug testing despite the Supreme Court’s decision not to take up the case.

    How Did the Supreme Court Get Involved Anyway?

    The interesting thing is that this issue was put on the Supreme Court’s doorstep at all. A lower court already conclusively said no, sweeping random drug tests are not Constitutional. Done, next issue please. The state of Florida didn’t want to let the tests go, and sought to appeal to the Supreme Court, hoping they might say yes when all the lower courts had already said no. The thing is that lots of people want their cases heard by the Supremes, and so there is a weeding out process. Basically, you have to first ask the Court to take your case. Such asking is done quite formally, via a petition, called a writ of certiorari, or simply a cert. Through the cert process, the court sets its own agenda. Some 10,000 certs are submitted in a typical year.

    Typically, fewer than 100 of those 10,000 petitions are chosen to move forward for a possibly precedent-setting decision. However, only a tiny number of all the certs filed are initiated by the government; on average, just 15 in a Supreme Court term. Tough odds. The bottom line is if the Supreme Court chooses not to hear from case, the lower court decision stands. That’s what happened with Florida, and Scott lost. Again.

    It’s undoubtedly a measure of the importance the Scott administration gives to random drug testing above all else that it chose to take such an aggressive stance, especially given the desperately low odds of success. In fact, Scott pressed the appeal despite a warning from U.S. District Judge Ursula Ungaro — who first ruled against the program in April 2012 — that there was “probably about zero” chance of success.

    Keep in mind that putting together an appeal isn’t cheap, but Scott won’t say how much taxpayer money it cost. So, the ACLU has filed a public records request seeking how much the state has been spending on the case. Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida, said it’s likely to run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars of taxpayer money.

    You may thus not be surprised to learn Scott is up for re-election this fall.

    You’ll be equally not surprised that of all the state employees Scott wanted to randomly drug test, he did not include the Florida legislature or any Florida judges. He also did not include himself. You think if Floridians might want one employee to have a clear head at work, it’d be the top guy.

    Money

    Small world, huh? Rick Scott, the guy who just can’t seem to find enough excuses to try and drug test more people in Florida, owned a $62 million stake in the Soltanic Corporation, a chain of urgent care centers that, among other things, specializes in confidential drug testing. He transferred the shares of the company to his wife in January of 2011 just three months before both mandating that state employees would be tested and signing another law (below) for welfare testing into effect. Scott in fact founded the company himself in 2001, but claims due to the transferrance of shares to his wife he no longer as any connection to its business.

    Interestingly, during the brief period of time the random testing program was actually in force in Florida, the state actually lost money on the deal. Florida required people to pay upfront for their own tests, and then reimbursed those who passed. Since such a small number of people did indeed test positive, the state actually lost $45,780 because of the program.


    Welfare and Drugs

    This isn’t the first time that a federal court has had to step in against Scott’s drug test fetish. A judge in December refused to hear an appeal to overturn a previous ruling requiring applicants for welfare benefits to undergo mandatory drug testing. That decision made it clear that Florida could not require drug tests as a precondition for public benefits someone was otherwise entitled to receive. Scott also seeks to appeal that case, and has until a May 5 deadline to file with the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Scott does love him some random drug testing, yes he does.

    In the decision to stay the drug testing, Judge Mary Scriven issued a 37-page order saying the law could violate the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment ban on illegal search and seizure. Scriven issued a scathing assessment of the state’s argument in favor of the drug tests, saying the state failed to prove “special needs” as to why it should conduct such searches without probable cause or reasonable suspicion, as the law requires.

    “If invoking an interest in preventing public funds from potentially being used to fund drug use were the only requirement to establish a special need,” Scriven wrote, “the state could impose drug testing as an eligibility requirement for every beneficiary of every government program. Such blanket intrusions cannot be countenanced under the Fourth Amendment.”

    The judge went on to say “there is nothing inherent in the condition of being impoverished that supports the conclusion that there is a concrete danger that impoverished individuals are prone to drug use.”

    During the time the law was in effect, only 2.6 percent of recipients tested positive for illegal drugs, mostly marijuana. The failure rate was well below that of the general population. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found in a 2009 survey that about 8.7 percent of the population had used illicit drugs in the previous month.

    But Should My Tax Money Go to Dope Heads?

    Now about this point in these discussions, someone (I see a hand in the back there, you sir) asks: Why should my tax dollars go to giving welfare to drug users? Shouldn’t state employees not be using drugs?

    So let’s figure out why people who say those things are dumbasses.

    Welfare to Drug Users. Sure, nobody wants to encourage illegal drug use. But benefits go to people who are hungry (yes of course there are welfare cheats, maybe not as many as tax cheaters on Wall Street, but there are indeed always cheats no matter what.) 73 percent of enrollments in America’s major public benefits programs are from working men and women. They work in jobs that pay wages so low that their paychecks do not generate enough income to provide for life’s basic necessities.

    An awful lot of people who receive benefits are also children, who are dependents of the adult claiming the need. Cut off the (drug using) adult and you cut off the kid. Indeed, about 45 percent of food stamp benefits go to children. Maybe cutting them out is what Governor Scott wants. Many public benefits recipients are elderly. Anyone want to take food from them? Anybody want to mandate they travel for drug tests? Anybody want to tangle with the range of medicines they may take that can trigger false positives? Oh, don’t want to test the elderly? Not much random in that is there, just profiling.

    Drugged out state employees are bad. Sure. But does Rick Scott have any stats to even suggest there is a drug problem among his employees he needs to solve with a complex and expensive random testing program? Isn’t random drug testing just a politically-neat solution to a problem that may not exist? Doesn’t it matter that some of the employees who may do drugs do them on their own time in a way that has no effect whatsoever on their day jobs? Isn’t Rick Scott equally worried about drunk employees? Nope, apparently not. No testing for booze. Nothing in Scott’s plans that mentions mandatory breathalyzer tests.

    Why It Matters

    Since Supreme Court rulings create precedent for lower courts to follow throughout the United States, the Florida decisions are very important. The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which challenged both drug-testing plans as unconstitutional, said federal courts have clearly rejected blanket mandatory drug testing by the state.

    “The question of whether the state has the power to compel all employees to submit to suspicionless searches without good reason is settled and the answer is no,” said the lead ACLU attorney in the state employees case.

    But the most important reason sweeping drug testing (or sweeping electronic surveillance) is wrong is because we have a Constitution. The Fourth Amendment of that beautiful document assures Americans that they have a right to privacy that excludes unwarranted searches. You don’t have to decide if you want the right, it is the default and the government can’t just take it away from you simply because you happen to live in Florida.

    That’s what really is at stake here, and why efforts like that of Florida Governor Rick Scott are so wrong. They are, in fact, un-American.



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