Clouds of Diversion


“The Storm” © R.L. Herron

Recently, while visiting my grandchildren in Florida, I came across an interesting article in the local paper. Actually, interesting isn’t the right word. Disgusting is more like it.

The Republican governor of Florida, Rick Scott, pushed through an initiative in that state’s legislature to require drug testing for welfare applicants. It took effect in July.

It mandates that all new welfare applicants must go to a state-approved list of screening companies when they apply for assistance and pay money they can ill afford, up front, for a drug test. If the test comes back negative, they receive the assistance they applied for and the state reimburses them the testing cost.

I know a lot of you are saying, so what?

Well, given the condition of the economy, the mandate is churning out 2,000 urine tests for new applicants each month. The State of Florida maintains this won’t increase their budget, because they’re “absorbing those reimbursement costs in the block grant.”

In other words, they’re using Federal tax money, allocated to them to provide real assistance to the poor, to pay a testing company.

“The program was designed,” said Florida State Representative Jimmie Smith (also a Republican) who sponsored the bill in the Florida State House, “to keep public money from being wasted on people using it to buy drugs.”

This is for a program that pays a maximum of $180 per month per family of four.

By the way, have you tried recently to feed, cloth and house a family, of any size, for $180 a month? I’m sure the meager assistance helps, but it doesn’t go far.

The interesting thing? They have discovered the “scourge” of poor people using drugs is far from a scourge.

In fact, the numbers show that people on government assistance don’t use drugs any more than anyone else. They may even be using them less. Almost 98% of all tests are negative.

So, the net effect of those transfer payments is a very large chunk of Federal money (nearly three-quarters of a million dollars, so far) which is supposed to provide much-needed assistance to the poor, has now been diverted to the coffers of private for-profit companies.

This is where “disgusting” comes in.

When asked about this, Rep. Smith replied, “My goal is to make sure our tax dollars go where they’re supposed to go.”

I see. Let me make certain I have this straight:

  • The Republican-led government of Florida believes poor people, simply because they are poor, are very likely to use drugs;
  • Therefore, the Florida government takes Federal funds intended to help the poorest of the poor and gives those funds instead to for-profit businesses;
  • Florida legislators have taken almost $750,000 – so far – that could, and rightfully should, provide assistance for a whole year to almost 350 families living far below the poverty level;
  • They spend it instead to catch the two percent of welfare assistance applicants who might be using drugs;
  • By their own statistics, they are thereby saving the taxpayers of Florida a whopping total of $14,000 annually.

Spend $750,000 to save $14,000? This is helping?

Gosh, Representative Smith and Governor Scott must be so proud. The sound bites on TV make them seem so concerned about the misuse and fraud perpetrated by the poor.

Unfortunately, their rhetoric is a diversion from the real issue, their own gross mismanagement. It sounds like the typical mantra of prejudice and bigotry we hear all too often lately from our public officials on the conservative side of the aisle.

Their words are meant to disguise their own ill-conceived, crude and sterotyped perceptions, as well as mask their inept handling of our tax dollars.

I can almost hear them: Take it from the poor, baby, they can’t fight back. Don’t worry about the “cattle” in the general populace, they’ll believe anything if you tell it to them long enough.

I’m almost sorry I read the paper.


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