The myth of the welfare-receiving drug addict (5×8 – 12/16/13)

The Monday Morning Rouser:


Yesterday’s Star Tribune revelation that the new state law to drug-test people who receive welfare benefits provides a perfect case study in how the Minnesota Capitol can be a fact-free zone when setting public policy.

Citing an analysis by the state Department of Human Services, the Star Tribune reported that people in Minnesota’s welfare program for low-income families (MFIP) “are actually far less likely to have felony drug convictions than the adult population as a whole.”

The law is costing Minnesota more than it saves, reversing its publicly-stated goal.

“The whole drumbeat of accountability and welfare spending seems to be getting stronger,” Rep. Steve Drazkowski said when he called for the legislation (which he actually never filed as a bill before it already passed the Legislature in 2013). “We’re sending welfare money to people that are turning it around and pumping it into their veins.”

Except they’re not, and a financial analyst for Winona County — Drazkowki’s county — said so at the time. “Most of the people that come into this office are just like you and I,” Karen Moore told the Winona Daily News. “They don’t want to be here.”

Fast-forward to Sunday’s article in the Star Tribune:

There was little debate in the Minnesota Legislature last year when random drug testing was added as an amendment to an omnibus health and human services bill. The bill mandated sharing of information between courts and DHS to identify people with felony drug convictions who are receiving welfare and other cash benefits. And it required these individuals to submit to random drug tests under certain conditions.

A number of organizations that advocate for low-income families say they were not aware of the discussion until after Gov. Mark Dayton signed the bill.

That’s on them. While the House passage of the bill occurred late at night, the political media clearly reported the debate in both the Senate and the House. It is true, however, that when Gov. Dayton signed the large bill a month later, his press release describing the bill mentioned nothing about the drug-testing provision he’d just made law. And nobody asked him about it because it wasn’t a public signing.

Unlike a lot of faulty legislation, this law didn’t sneak into the ginormous health and human services bill. It was added late in the debate in the Minnesota House of Representatives by Rep. Drazkowski, who probably had a good idea a separate bill had no chance of passing committee and being included in an omnibus bill. It had made regular appearances in previous sessions.

And yet, the amendment passed easily in the House, by lawmakers who knew what they were doing, even though they had been told during the debate that Florida, too, tried this and found it cost more than it saved, and welfare recipients tend not to be on drugs. Minnesota’s experience shouldn’t surprise anyone, least of all the 83 House members who ended up voting for the law late on a Tuesday night in April. What we’ve learned is what the experts have told us for years we’d learn.

But the drumbeat of a stereotype was too strong for most lawmakers to challenge.

“If I may suggest a further amendment, perhaps IQ tests for legislators wouldn’t be a bad idea, either,” Francis Edstrom, who owns the Winona Post, wrote after the amendment passed. “It might weed out the cloudy thinkers who believe we are helping poor children by feeding their parents’ drug habits instead of their kids’ tummies.”

This year, at least 29 states considered the legislation, with eight ultimately passing it. Last week, the Michigan Senate approved the bill in one of its final acts of the year.

Writing in the Washington Post last week, Harold Pollack, director at the crime lab at the University of Chicago, says the evidence has existed about the reality of drug use among welfare recipients for years. But it doesn’t matter to the lawmakers who keep passing the bills:

However one runs the numbers, illicit drug use disorders are not common among welfare recipients. Other physical and mental health problems are far more prevalent. Yet these less-moralized concerns receive much less attention from legislators or the general public. Twenty-five percent of welfare recipients in the Michigan Women’s Employment Study met criteria for major depression, for example. Forty-seven percent reported transportation difficulties. Nineteen percent had a physical health problem.

I’m actually a big believer in drug testing — when done as part of a careful intervention when someone has specific drug-related concerns. Such testing can be valuable, for example, in monitoring a parent who has a drug problem that leads her to neglect her children, when someone fails to meet basic program requirements, when someone’s drug problems lead her into legal difficulties.

But let’s be real. Much of the conversation about drug testing of welfare recipients reflects nasty stereotypes with flimsy empirical validity. It strains credulity to believe that we’d demand hair or urine samples from a more influential set seeking public help. It’s tough to be a single mom living on a few hundred dollars a month, Medicaid and food stamps. These women deserve better than they are getting.

The Minnesota House did add a provision to extend drug testing to lawmakers, but it was stripped out of the Senate version of the bill, debate on which, of course, also occurred late at night.

Related poverty: Leo Grand, 36, has been homeless since losing his job at Met Life in New York in 2011. Having passed him on the streets for months, Patrick McConologue, a 23-year-old programmer, finally gave him an option: take lessons on how to code, or just take $100. He took the lessons.


NPR Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep sparked a Twitter argument yesterday by agreeing to be a panelist on NBC’s Meet the Press. In a discussion about whether Edward Snowden should be prosecuted or given some amnesty after releasing state secrets, Inskeep responded to former New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson’s assertion that Snowden deserves no quarter.

“I’m wondering if it’s possible to say two things are true simultaneously,” Inskeep said. “It may be that Snowden is wrong and ought to be prosecuted. But this is the only way we find out even though members of Congress do have information, they respond to public pressure, public pressure only comes from public debates, and you only have a debate when you have someone who did something wrong like Edward Snowden.”

Not exactly taking a stand, which upset media critic Jay Rosen.

Inskeep is a show host whose job is to ask difficult questions. Being a panelist on a Sunday talk show is a minefield for NPR employees since Juan Williams once offered an opinion.

More NPR: A huge shift in public broadcasting is at hand. Today, NPR is announcing it’s received $17 million in grants to complete development of an app that will do for public radio content what Pandora did for music. Six stations nationwide, including Minnesota Public Radio, have been working on the app, reports.

More journalism: Fargo TV reporter faces additional investigation after school security story (Duluth News Tribune)


How Nick Wormley, who runs the Eccentric Aspects blog, got this “ride” on a light rail line — in this case, the Green Line — is a pretty neat story in itself…

Wormley, a railroad historian, walked the entire line, stopping every few slaps of concrete to take another picture, he writes.

Fewer than a handful of people interacted with me over the whole day.
The first was a guy who pulled up in his car about a block from where I started, rolled down his window, and said,
“Hey, what kind of lens is that?”
“Canon 24 to 70, f 2 point 8″
“What kinda camera is that?”
“Canon Five D Mark Two”
“Oh, that’s a nice camera!”
“Yeah, I like it!”
“What are you shooting?”
“Well, the whole line actually. I’m walking from here to the Metrodome.”

I needed to make that statement out loud, because at the time, I wasn’t sure whether or not I’d actually be able to walk the entire eleven miles, especially in the rather stiff wind that was blowing.

His reply was wonderfully Minnesotan:
“Oh! Well I better letcha go, den!”


Last Tuesday, Erica Clark found an envelope in the parking lot of the Moorhead McDonald’s with $2,800 in $100 bills. She turned it into police, who found the owner — a man who had withdrawn the money to buy a truck.

Clark is an assistant coach for the Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton boys’ basketball team, so before the game on Friday night, she was given a box. Inside: $2,800 from an anonymous donor.


Scott Hoy, a Sioux Falls, S.D., laywer, is becoming quite the hit on the Internet because he’s urging people to stop. Please stop. There have been too many rollover accidents in Sioux Falls, he says. So stop whatever it is he wants you to stop.

“His name is Scott Hoy, and it’s got to be one of the most confusing commercials I’ve ever seen. I loved it,” Jimmy Fallon said on his show last week.

Hoy tells the Argus Leader that he’s taken the ad off local TV. He says the problem is he wrote a 39 second commercial that got edited to 30.

Bonus I: “Seinfeld” Writer Takes on Conservative Outrage Over Holiday Festivus Pole Protests (Mother Jones).

Bonus II: Langston Patterson is making quite a difference in Los Angeles. He’s Santa Claus. And he’s black (Los Angeles Times).

Bonus III: This may be the most compelling blog post you’ll read today. Brandon Warne is the Twins beat writer for ESPN 1500, the all-sports radio station in the Twin Cities. That’s a fairly prestigious position for anyone to have, but his story is … as Gary Eichten used to say… a heck of a deal. Take the time to read it if you can.


Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: Native American education.

Second hour: Synthetic food.

Third hour: Women and work attitudes.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm) – Live broadcast from the National Press Club, featuring the CEO of GM Dan Akerson.

The Takeaway (1-2 p.m.) – Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who is working with leaker Edward Snowden to reveal the cache of classified NSA documents.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) – The Diocese of Winona will release the list of 13 credibly accused priests today. The diocese will provide each priest’s name, DOB, year of ordination, whether the priest is alive or dead, most current address, all parishes where the priest served within the diocese, and current ministerial status. MPR’s Elizabeth Baier will have reaction from the community, victims, advocates, etc.

For centuries, Britain has been a seafaring nation, an archipelago surrounded by ocean currents and winds. Seas and storms are still part of the British psyche. And they echo across the country through a radio broadcast described as soothing, poetic, and symbolic. NPR reports on Britain’s Shipping Forecast, listened to by countless numbers of Brits both near and far from the sea.