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article imageOp-Ed: Wisconsin to begin drug testing welfare recipients next week

By Megan Hamilton     Nov 6, 2015 in Politics
Milwaukee - No doubt about it, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker's dismal attempt at running for president was a spectacular failure, so perhaps now he's taking it out on those unlucky enough to need welfare assistance.
That's almost the way it seems, since hating on the poor is an apparent hobby of Walker's.
Now, Walker has approved an agency rule that allows Wisconsin to implement a program of drug-testing some applicants for a variety of services, including food stamps, job training or unemployment insurance, Policy.Mic reports. The drug-testing policy is part of the state's budget and became law earlier this year. It will begin on Nov. 9.
In a press release, Walker's office reported that as part of the program, "individuals who test positive for a controlled substance without a prescription would be eligible for a drug treatment plan." His office did not provide specifics about this plan.
This policy is evidently a big deal to Walker. When he launched his ill-fated campaign, he listed drug-testing for those receiving public assistance as one of his accomplishments during his kickoff speech in front of a national audience.
Walker and his cronies have a history of treating the poor callously, and nowhere is this clearer than this article written by Joan Walsh in Salon.
His distaste for those on welfare came out when numerous racist jokes and emails were uncovered during a probe of his 2010 campaign.
One "joke" in particular stood out: A woman tries to sign up her dogs for welfare, because "my Dogs are mixed in color, unemployed, lazy, can't speak English and have no frigging clue who the r [sic] Daddys are. They expect me to feed them, provide them with housing and medical care, and feel guilty."
And the punch line?
"My Dogs get their first checks Friday."
To which Walker's deputy chief of staff Kelly Rindfleisch remarked: "That is hilarious. And so true."
This is sickening, but what's even worse is that when Walker was an executive for Milwaukee county, and Rindfleisch was a top aide, he was an absolute horror at managing the county's welfare programs. It got so bad that after lawsuits by local clients, the state was forced to take over.
"They didn't just call people dogs, they treated them like dogs," one elected official fumed.
In a 2009 letter to Walker that announced the takeover, state health services director Karen Timberlake noted "Milwaukee County has demonstrated a sustained inability to successfully provide services to its (poor) customers." Milwaukee wound up being one of 72 Wisconsin counties in which the state took control of its programs for poor people.
As could be expected, during the worst part of the recession in 2008 and 2009, requests for aid in Wisconsin, as well as the rest of the country, went through the roof. However, in Milwaukee, a disproportionately large percentage of African-Americans--41 percent, to be exact, live below the poverty line, and it was pretty close to impossible for people to get help. About 95 percent of the calls to the county's client-intake call center went unanswered in 2008, according to a state probe, Walsh reports.
It's worth noting that the social services department had a nice, comfy budget that funded 25 positions at the intake center, but when a journalist for the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel checked out the situation, he found only seven staffers working in a maze of empty cubicles, Walsh reports. Advocates and the county workers' union made themselves known, but Walker stalled. And we all know how much Walker loves unions, right? In the ensuing outcry, Walker argued that the social services intake unit should be privatized.
"He was managing it to fail," said Dave Eisner, contract administrator for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME).
So now, this proposal, Walker's baby to begin with as part of the state budget, has been approved. It establishes a process to screen and test for the use of controlled substances by people applying for state work experience programs, The Capital Times reports. The rule would also refer anyone determined to be using drugs to a treatment program.
While this may sound good, several states have enacted programs to drug-test people on welfare or the Temporary Assistance for Needy Family (TANF) program, so far spending hundreds of thousands of dollars in what is pretty much a gigantic waste of time, Think Progress notes, after having collected data from seven states with existing programs.
Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah are pouring in vast sums of money into this, and have only uncovered a paltry few drug users. Statistics show that applicants usually test positive at a lower rate than the drug use in the general population. Nationwide, the drug use rate stands at 9.4 percent. However, in the states mentioned above, positive drug tests have a rate that's very low, with applicants ranging from 0.0002 percent to 8.3 percent, and all of these states except one have a rate that is lower than one percent. Yet, collectively these states have spent nearly $1 million on this effort, and many more millions may be spent in the next few years.
Here's a rundown of the seven states and the number of people tested vs. the number of positive drug-tests:
Drug-testing in Missouri has cost $336,297. Out of 38,970, only 48 drug tests were positive. Oklahoma has spent $385,872. About 3,342 people were tested, with only 297 positive drug tests. Utah has spent $64,566, and out of that, 9,552 recipients were tested, resulting in 29 positive drug tests. Kansas has tossed in $40,000 and tested 2,783 people, and out of that number, only 11 tested positive. Follow that up with Mississippi, where only about $5,290 was spent and out of 3,656 applicants tested, only two people tested positive. Then there's Tennessee, which spent $5,295 to test 16,017 applicants. Only 37 drug tests were positive. Lastly, there's Arizona, which spent a mere $499 to test 142,424 people. Amazingly, there were only three positive drug tests.
Perhaps the biggest hornswoggle of them all comes from Florida, where taxpayers in the state are now stuck with more than $1.5 million in legal fees — with most of that going to civil rights lawyers — due to Gov. Rick Scott's misguided attempt to force welfare applicants and thousands of state workers to submit to drug tests, The Miami Herald reports.
In December, a federal appeals court ruled that the state's mandatory, suspicionless drug testing of applicants on the TANF program was unconstitutional and a violation of Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizure practices by the government. After the ruling, Scott walked away from the lawsuit.
So what can we ascertain from this? It's a safe bet that programs like this do little except waste time and money, something that Scott Walker is an expert on. Imagine if Scott Walker had become president; would we have to worry that he would "manage the U.S. to fail?"
Poor people can be glad that this man will probably never become president.
Perhaps we should regard Scott Walker as little more than a racist joke.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of DigitalJournal.com
More about Wisconsin, Scott walker, Welfare, welfare recipients, Nov 9
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