Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The legislature wants to drug test grandparents who are raising their own grandchildren. Shame on them.

In 2003, Governor Dave Freudenthal appointed me director of the Department of Family Services. At the press conference announcing the appointment, Bob Beck of Wyoming Public Radio asked, “What happened to all the people who were kicked off the rolls after welfare reform?” I didn’t know but said I’d find out. I did.

Wyoming welfare rolls dropped by 90% when Congress reformed welfare in 1996. The state received national recognition, but no one knew what happened to all those children and families. Who cared?

I learned they went to work. Welfare reform promised that as you were denied public benefits, there would be jobs with livable wages. Ever heard of bait and switch? It’s when a salesman tells you one thing in order to make a sale but doesn’t deliver. The folks who left the welfare rolls were victims of bait and switch.

They became a forced labor supply for employers who wouldn’t or couldn’t pay a livable wage. They went to work for low wages in jobs with no benefits. Conservatives who said women should stay home and take care of their kids were only talking about upper class women. Poor women, they dictated, needed to get a job. But one job didn’t pay the bills. Many got two, some three.

Heroism in my mind but still, after all those sacrifices, they are subjected to the same old stereotyping and scapegoating. Last spring my successor, Steve Corsi, current director of the Department of Family Services, told legislators 30% to 40% of people who enroll in Wyoming Medicaid come dressed like him, in a suit and tie, driving an Escalade. Corsi said, “There is nothing we can do about it.” The argument had great political appeal. Legislators frothed at the mouth and vowed revenge. Few politicians lose votes beating up the poor. 

But Mr. Corsi’s argument has a big disadvantage. It is not true.

Yet it’s the same kind of uneducated view leading legislators to introduce bills like HB82. The bill’s sponsors include Representatives Lorraine Quarberg and Matt Teeters. They receive thousands in agricultural subsidies while arguing that if you are receiving benefits for the poor, you should not object to having to pee in a cup so that that state can test your urine. Quarberg and Teeters are among the legislators receiving many times more public dollars in public funds than a welfare recipient could dream of.
The real question is whether legislators who think this a good idea, or a DFS director who believes they all drive Cadillac SUV’s, have ever met one of the people they want to drug test. I have. As DFS director I wanted to know who they were, how they lived. I drove across the state, sat with some of them, and heard their stories. BTW, I never saw an Escalade in the driveway. Not one.
But I did meet a lot of grandparents raising their grandchildren, struggling to put food on the table and buy school clothes. Two-thirds of the people who’ll be drug tested under this bill are those grandparents. The other third are mostly disabled. Most, if not all, cannot work and they certainly can’t afford drugs. That’s why when Florida passed this law, they found only 2% of those tested to be using. Their program cost the state far more than it saved.
If those legislators met these people, they’d be ashamed of sponsoring this legislation. The law is probably unconstitutional. A federal judge in Florida ruled the U.S. Constitution protects even poor people from politicians who get traction by requiring them to take drug tests in order to receive federal benefits.
But we shouldn’t have to rely on federal judges. The people voted for all of these legislators because they parroted the magic words. Government was too big. Government, they said, should get out of our lives. What they apparently meant is that government is too big when it regulates business or protects the environment.
But, for some legislators, a government that can’t drug test grandparents is apparently just too small.


  1. I am sad with the current currents of hate, division and derision. People love and work hard to pursue the fruits of their loving, some more successful than others. I don't understand the emergence of the dark side of life - the hate, the naming, the blaming. Government, (yes, like corporations) is people. Never give up if you love and have compassion. Goodness will then prevail.

  2. Last week several legislators introduced a bill to require drug testing of needy families participating in the POWER program. The bill was introduced by the sponsor as a state budget concern.

    Of the 47 legislators who voted to introduce this bill, 14 voted against mandatory testing of DUI suspects last year. They are willing to force those with extreme financial need to undergo drug testing, but oppose testing drivers who exhibit behavior extreme enough to qualify as probable cause to a trained law enforcement officer.

    Rep. Frank Peasley of Douglas, speaking against the DUI bill last year, called it "a pretty intrusive concept ... something right out of a good ol' vampire movie." Rep. Bunky Loucks of Casper told a reporter, "What are you going to do? Are you going to strap people down [to test them]? To me that's a scary visual."

    But apparently, mandating testing for the poor doesn't bother these representatives a bit.

    The bill targets the Personal Opportunities With Employment Responsibilities -- a work program, not a handout. Recipients are assigned jobs in order to learn skills that will make them self-sufficient. Many suffer from social disabilities or lack basic work skills. Most are assigned a job for a full 40-hour week, but in return for their work they receive a maximum benefit of just $577 per month (for a family of three).

    A Wyoming legislator receives $150 per day in salary from the state. Most receive an additional $109 per day for expenses. That means they receive more in just four days than a struggling family of three will receive in an entire month with this subsidy.

    Rep. Miller says the bill is necessary to control state costs, but the program does not receive any funding from state revenue. The POWER program is funded 100 percent by a federal block grant and does not impact the state budget at all. But the drug testing would be paid for by the state when the recipient passes the test.

    If the Legislature is seriously concerned about paying state resources to someone who might be under the influence, I'd suggest morning and afternoon alcohol testing of its own members. This bill and the supporting votes clearly shows we have members who are impaired.

    Ken McCauley


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  4. I totally agree with this legislature which wants to drug test grandparents who are raising their own grandchildren. Shame on them. Thanks for spreading awareness among the users by doing such a posting.

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