Sen. Hatch's drug testing proposal smells like whacky weed

Jun 24 2010 - 8:23pm

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Last week, Sen. Orrin Hatch introduced a bill into Congress that would require drug testing for all people who get unemployment benefits and "welfare."

Does Sen. Hatch not know increased federal intervention into local affairs is evil?

Does he not know that new costly government programs will bring down the scorn of the Tea Party?

Must not. He is asking for both.

I put the word "welfare" in quotes up there because what most thought of as welfare, where you signed up and got relatively free money for life, disappeared during the Clinton administration.

In Utah it's now called the Family Employment Program, funded through federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

TANF requires work or school for those who can do them and has a three-year lifetime limit. Yes, you must be in this country legally, too.

Whatever they're called, Sen. Hatch wants everyone on these programs to pee into a cup.

"Too many Americans are locked into a life of a dangerous dependency not only on drugs, but the federal assistance that serves to enable their addiction," he said.

Implying that everyone on public assistance is a potential drug user is pretty mean, and the level of federal intervention Sen. Hatch wants in state-administered aid programs is legally iffy. When Michigan tried to require drug testing for public assistance clients in 2003, it was struck down in federal district court for violating the 4th Amendment provision against unlawful search and seizure.

Just from a cost standpoint, it's insane.

The OHS Health & Safety Service Inc., Costa Mesa, Calif., advertises as one of the largest employee drug-testing companies in the nation. It says the average bulk cost per test for large corporations is $44.

Utah's Department of Workforce Services has 57,411 people getting unemployment benefits. To test them all for $44 a shot will cost $2.5 million.

Is that enough? Any substance abuse counselor can tell Sen. Hatch of the many ways drug users can pee clean once.

Let's get tough and test them monthly, for $30 million a year.

The public assistance business is booming. Utah's food stamp caseload bloomed from 57,000 to 101,000 households between 2008 and now. Food stamps can be converted to cash for drugs, so better test those people. That's an additional one-time $4.4 million, or $52.2 million a year.

TANF helps 17,120 Utah families. Testing every one of those heads of household, which includes grandmothers caring for grandchildren, will cost $752,000, or $9 million a year.

Should we stop there?

If Sen. Hatch wants to drug test every one of 240,000 Utahns that Workforce Services helps in some manner, the numbers get scary, but why not? The only limit is how much you want to spend.

Clearly Sen. Hatch has no problem with spending money. Just the numbers I've listed here add up to $91 million a year, and remember, government programs always cost more, not less, as they go on.

Sen. Hatch says his real desire is to get people into drug rehab.

Terrific. Utah's substance abuse budget, which is where county drug programs get their funds, is dropping like a rock.

It was $135 million in FY 2009, $129 million this year, and will be $126 million next year.

So Sen. Hatch wants the federal government to force Utah to unconstitutionally spend $91 million to find an unknown number of drug users to go to overcrowded and underfunded treatment programs that Utah might have to cut even more to pay for this drug testing.

If Sen. Hatch really thinks this makes sense, he should test himself.

He's been smoking something.

"Wasatch Rambler" is the opinion of Charles Trentelman. You can call him at 801-625-4232 or e-mail ctrentelman@standard.net. He also blogs at www.standard.net.

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