Friday, January 27, 2012

Dickie Bell proposes drug tests for needy ... is it really needed?

When the Staunton News Leader starts sounding more conservative than our Republican elected officials, it gets my attention. I'm talking about Del. Dickie Bell's proposal to require drug testing of recipients of the Virginia Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program in order to receive benefits.

The News Leader's editorial "Bill panders to prejudice" asked, "Because poor people use illegal drugs? And 'needy families' is a euphemism for addicts?"

On the surface, this sounds like a good idea but in the end it could cost Virginia taxpayers more money, specifically to the tune of $1.3 million.

Florida has a similar program that uses more than $1 million on drug testing but only 2% of the recipients fail the drug test.

In these hard economic times when the state is holding back money from localities that could be used to fund law enforcement, wouldn't it be wiser to spend that money to put more deputies on the streets to catch drug dealers rather than fishing for offenders among those who have fallen on hard times?

The News Leader wondered about the money, too:
In just about every political campaign, the candidate says he or she must cut the waste out of the budget. As funds get tighter, services are slashed and more people are left hurting, you hear about cutting waste. Then something like this comes along and those same leaders find $1.3 million to drug test poor people?
As history has shown us regarding bills like the one Dickie Bell is promoting, it passes with funding from the state but then after a few years the program is thrown onto the localities as an unfunded mandate, and the state takes credit for saving $1.3 million in the budget at the expense of those localities.

Perhaps the spending for new programs needs to stop.

UPDATE 2/12/12: The Richmond Times-Dispatch editorial agreed that drug testing would use money that could be used elsewhere:
Drug-testing welfare recipients, a proposal that was running full steam ahead, slammed into a wall when its high cost became apparent. Good. Florida adopted this reform, only to find out the vast majority of those on public assistance are clean. If the Assembly is going to test those on welfare for drugs, then it should include corporate welfare recipients as well as the poor.
Cross-posted at Bearing Drift

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