Proposal discriminatory to poor
June 7, 2011
The eighth season of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” is still a month away, but I think it’s appropriate to trot out at least one Larry David quote for what’s on my mind today.
Quote David, “A good compromise is when both parties are dissatisfied, and I think that's what we have here.”
This is me when I consider the news from Florida, where the state is requiring drug screening for welfare applicants.
“It’s not right for taxpayer money to be paying for somebody's drug addiction," Florida Gov. Rick Scott said on CNN on Sunday. "On top of that, this is going to increase personal responsibility, personal accountability. We shouldn't be subsidizing people's addiction.”
Friends of mine focused on austerity call it a victory. I could dedicate the rest of this space labeling Florida as the newest expensive battleground in our perpetual “War on Drugs.”
But I’ll settle for calling it a compromise between going too far and not going far enough, and neither side should be happy.
Michigan tried random screening in the 1990s, before courts reiterated that the Fourth Amendment bars unreasonable searches. To paraphrase the judges: “I’m poor and I need help” isn’t probable cause.
While it lasted, 268 were tested; 21 tested positive for drugs and all but three were for marijuana. With or without marijuana counted, there was no evidence to suggest welfare applicants used drugs more than other subsets of Americans — and they had to pay for 247 to 265 clean tests to do it.
That’s why if something like this is suggested for New Mexico, I hope one of our elected officials doesn’t think it’s too much to require an independent cost-benefit analysis once the program has taken off. It seemed perfectly reasonable when the state took on such measures for the film tax credit.
But that lack of a provable connection between poverty and drug use is why Florida maybe doesn’t go far enough.
Look at Scott’s quote again. Apply it to farmers who want crop subsidies.
Or people who want FEMA checks after a natural disaster hits.
Or students who want Pell grants.
Or Wall Street firms and banks that were “too big to fail.”
It’s the same logic; we shouldn’t use tax dollars to pay people’s bills so they can use their own money on something illegal. But why use logic when you have stereotypes? With stereotypes, we can conclude the conversation begins and ends with poor people — even though the Fourth Amendment doesn’t say, “unless you’re poor.”
It seems as if we can hope to save money, or we can hope to honor our Constitution.
Maybe 1800s theologian Tryon Edwards said it better: “Compromise is but the sacrifice of one right or good in the hope of retaining another — too often ending in the loss of both.”
I wonder what his HBO show would have been like.