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“Drug-Test Policies End In Failure”: An Offensive Republican Argument, Discredited By Reality

Remember Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) idea of mandating drug tests for welfare applicants? As we’ve discussed before, the Republican governor had a theory: the state could save money by forcing drug users to withdraw from the public-assistance system.

At least, that was the idea. In practice, the policy failed spectacularly – only about 2 percent of applicants tested positive, and Florida lost money when it was forced to reimburse everyone else for the cost of the drug test, plus pay for staff and administrative costs for the program.

Adding insult to injury, Scott’s policy fared even worse in the courts.

A federal judge on Tuesday struck down as unconstitutional a Florida law that required welfare applicants to undergo mandatory drug testing, setting the stage for a legal battle that could affect similar efforts nationwide.

Judge Mary S. Scriven of the United States District Court in Orlando held that the testing requirement, the signature legislation of Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican who campaigned on the issue, violated the protection against unreasonable searches.

“The court finds there is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied,” she wrote.

If this sounds familiar, the same federal court blocked further implementation of the Florida law last February, but this week’s ruling makes permanent what had been a temporary injunction.

Also note, the failures of the policy extend beyond the Sunshine State. In Minnesota, state officials reported last week that the drug-testing policy is a flop: participants in Minnesota’s welfare program for low-income families “are actually far less likely to have felony drug convictions than the adult population as a whole.”

What’s more, as Jamelle Bouie added, “One of the biggest failures is in Missouri, where the state spent $493,000 on drug testing for this fiscal year. It received 32,511 welfare applications and referred 636 for drug testing. Only twenty came back positive, although nearly two hundred people refused to comply. But even if all 200 were drug users, that still comes to more than $2,200 per positive result, which is more expensive than the median benefit in the state.”

The underlying motivation for these policies seems to be an unwarranted assumption: if you’re struggling during difficult economic times, and relying on the safety net to keep your head above water, you’re probably abusing illegal drugs. If not, the theory goes, you’d find a job.

It’s an offensive argument, discredited by reality.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 2, 2013

January 3, 2014 Posted by | Rick Scott, Welfare Recipients | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Job One, Helping The Jobless”: Can Congress Pass An Unemployment Insurance Extension?

When extended Unemployment Insurance benefits expired late last month, 1.3 million jobless Americans immediately lost that bit of safety net; if Congress fails to act, another 3.6 million Americans will lose this support by the end of 2014. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid recently said that on Monday the Senate will take up a temporary extension. Getting it done would not only be smart economics but it’s also simply the right thing to do.

Many on the right oppose extending benefits under the deeply dubious theory that too much unemployment compensation makes the social safety net a comfy hammock, to borrow Paul Ryan’s evocative simile. Why would people work, the theory goes, when they can get paid to not work? So people like Kentucky Sen. Rand Paul paint opposition to extended benefits as being rooted in concern for the jobless who suffer under the seductive yolk of big government’s helping hand – never mind that the study he cites doesn’t say what he says it says. And never mind that in order to receive jobless benefits, you have to be actively seeking a job, meaning that cutting benefits could actually discourage people from continuing to look for work. And never mind the paltry nature of support. As I wrote in my column last month:

The National Employment Law Project notes that “while the average American family spends $1,407 per month on housing alone, the average monthly extension benefit is only $1,166.” Still the modest sums help: According to the Council of Economic Advisers, in 2012 alone unemployment insurance benefits “lifted an estimated 2.5 million people out of poverty.” Further, the National Employment Law Project estimates, 446,000 of those people were children.

If members of Congress (and for that matter the yammering class) need any further evidence of the importance of extending benefits, the state of North Carolina has been unkind enough to conduct an experiment in punishing the unemployed. Last February the state enacted a law which not only slashed the duration (from 26 weeks to 12-20 weeks) and amount (from a maximum of $535 to $350 per week) of unemployment benefits, but also managed to run afoul of the federal jobless program, disqualifying North Carolinians from receiving those benefits.

So what happened when the lazy parasites were forced to stop suckling at the governmental teet? BloombergBusinessweek’s Joshua Green has a good piece today answering that question:

At first glance, the effect appears to be positive. North Carolina’s unemployment rate dropped dramatically, from 8.8 percent to 7.4 percent between July and November. By comparison, the national unemployment rate fell by 0.6 percent over the same period. A closer look, however, suggests that North Carolina’s unemployment numbers have fallen not because the long-term jobless have found work but because they’ve quit looking altogether. As a result, the state no longer counts them as unemployed.

As John Quinterno of the economic research firm South by North Strategies tells Green, while the number of unemployed in the state fell by nearly 102,000 year over year, 95,000 of those people aren’t counted as jobless not because they found jobs but because they stopped looking. Meanwhile, North Carolina’s food banks are getting overwhelmed, reports Bloomberg’s Evan Soltas, who quotes one food bank director who oversees seven counties and 230 organizations as saying that “some of our member agencies have been able to meet that need, but many have not.”

So what are the odds of Congress doing the right thing? As with many prominent issues these days, Democrats have the public on their side – according to a poll by the Democratic firm Hart Research, 55 percent of voters want the benefits extended. In order to pass an extension through the Senate, Reid will need to peel off at least a handful of Republicans (he already has one – Nevada Sen. Dean Heller, who is co-sponsoring the three month extension Reid is pushing). The Washington Post’s Greg Sargent has a good run-down of Republicans from either blue or purple states or from high unemployment red states who might vote with Reid. But, Sargent concludes:

The campaign to pressure Republicans into agreeing to extend UI has essentially amounted to an effort to shame them into it, by highlighting the huge numbers of their own constituents who stand to lose lifelines if they don’t act. Local press coverage has dramatically spotlighted the issue within states, as press compilations by Dems show.

But this doesn’t appear to be working with too many Republicans.

And even if the Senate passes the bill, odds remain long that House Republicans – who refused to include an extension when they cleared last year’s budget deal – will suddenly do the right thing.

If the GOP does block the extension, 2014 is off to a grim start for millions of Americans.


By: Robert Schlesinger, U. S. News and World Report, January 2, 2013

January 3, 2014 Posted by | Congress, Unemployment Benefits | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Three Stages Of Obamacare Acceptance”: It’s Increasingly Difficult To See How Repeal Would Work, Even With Full GOP Control

Now that Obamacare is clearly moving forward, Republicans are adjusting to a new reality: it may no longer be a realistic option to simply wait until the law collapses under its own weight and vanishes entirely. GOP lawmakers are increasingly discussing a range of responses, from proposing profound changes to finally embracing a comprehensive alternative.

Which raises a question: Is it possible to envision a future in which Republicans and Democrats do enter into real negotiations over the future of the law and the health system, in which each side gets some changes it wants, in exchange for accepting some of the other’s proposed changes?

Yes, it is. But to get there, Republicans will first have to pass through what might be called the Three Stages of Obamacare Acceptance.

Right now, Republicans entertaining changes or alternatives are still proceeding from the premise that no outcome is acceptable unless it fatally cripples the law or eliminates it entirely. Republicans don’t believe the law can be fixed, since they think that even if it does work according to its own lights, it will still amount to a colossal policy failure. If Republicans want to hold that position indefinitely, there’s not much Dems can do about it.

But if Republicans do get to a point where crippling or eliminating the law is not the only acceptable outcome, there are scenarios under which they might negotiate for certain types of changes to the law, in exchange for changes Dems or liberals want.

Larry Levitt of the Kaiser Family Foundation laid out the types of incremental changes Republicans might pursue. He suggested Republicans might propose various ways of relaxing Obamacare’s regulations, in keeping with conservative policy ideas, that wouldn’t destroy the law. For instance, they could propose allowing insurance sales across state lines so competition drives down prices, something liberals might be willing to accept under certain circumstances if the law’s uniform federal minimum coverage standards are kept (which could theoretically prevent the “race to the bottom” liberals fear).

Or Republicans could propose to make tax deductions available to those over 400 percent of the poverty line who do not qualify for Obamacare subsidies, helping those who see premiums go up (which Republicans have turned into a major issue) and mitigating Obamacare’s redistributive elements a bit. Or Republicans could propose relaxing the limitations on age ratings, allowing insurance companies to charge more than the current three-to-one ratio the law mandates between older and younger people.

In exchange, liberals might ask for subsidies to be expanded to those who fall into the Medicaid gap — making too little to qualify for subsidies but too much to qualify for Medicaid in states that haven’t opted in to the expansion. Or they might ask for more in subsidies for those who currently qualify.

The point is, there are scenarios under which real negotiations over the future of the law could take place. But Republicans would have to be willing to accept something less than its complete destruction. (As Jonathan Bernstein has detailed, a general unwillingness by Republicans to try to get some of what they want on multiple issues has made the GOP into a kind of dysfunctional “post policy” opposition.)

Let’s be clear: It is certainly still possible that over the long term, Obamacare could fail, if, say, the demographic mix is bad, insurers pull out, and the exchanges collapse. If so, Republicans would theoretically be able to simply wait for the law to fall apart in a few years. But some experts are cautiously optimistic that the latest enrollment numbers suggest the law could be on track to work.

And that’s where the Three Stages of Obamacare Acceptance come in — presuming, again, that the law works at least moderately well over the long term:

* Stage One: A dim awareness that there might be some good elements in the law, and that the public might not support returning to the old system. GOP Rep. Jack Kingston, for instance, recently suggested that it might not be “responsible” to simply let the law fall apart, and that lawmakers should be open to anything in it that would help people get coverage. Kingston was immediately slapped down by his primary opponent and quickly reiterated his zeal to get rid of it entirely. Something similar happened to a GOP Senate candidate in Michigan.

* Stage Two: A genuine recognition that large numbers of people are already benefitting from the law, and that this reality needs to be reckoned with — such as by proposing alternatives or changes that purport to accomplish similar goals, even as the elimination or crippling of it remains a paramount aim. GOP Rep. Tom Price has proposed an alternative designed, in part, to cover people with preexisting conditions, but it would probably cover far fewer people, and Price continues to insist on Obamacare’s repeal, maintaining its demise is a certainty.

Meanwhile, Senator Ron Johnson has admitted that “we have to deal with the people who are currently covered under Obamacare,” and to do this, he has proposed keeping the exchanges while getting rid of the individual mandate. The latter, experts say, would fatally undermine the law, and as such this isn’t a serious proposal.

* Stage Three: Republicans accept Obamacare is likely here to stay, abandon the premise that the only acceptable outcome is crippling or eliminating the law, and negotiate to achieve incremental changes they want. This is the scenario outlined by Levitt above. It’s hard to know when this might happen in earnest – certainly not in 2014, and GOP presidential primary politics could also make this difficult next year. But you’re already seeing this a bit with GOP governors who are negotiating with the feds to create their own versions of the Medicaid expansion.

It’s always possible Republicans could win the presidency and both houses of Congress in 2016 and pass legislation repealing the law. And again, if the law fails over time, the above stages could be moot. But it’s increasingly difficult to see how repeal would work in practical terms, even with full GOP control. What’s more, as Jonathan Cohn has detailed, experts think early returns suggest the law is likely to work out. Which means you can begin to imagine Stage Three kicking in. At some point.

“If Republicans were to accept that the law is in place for the foreseeable future, then one could envision tweaks that could move it in a more conservative direction without undermining its goals, while also providing improvements to the law that liberals are looking for,” Levitt says.


By: Greg Sargent, The Plum Line, The Washington Post, January 2, 2014

January 3, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, GOP | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Two Americas Will Be The Defining Trend Of 2014”: Conservative States Will Become Hellholes Of Exploitation And Cruelty

This morning, one of my editors suggested that I might comment on what I thought the big issues of the coming year are going to be. When it comes to the things that will dominate political discussion, most of it we can’t predict. There could be unforeseen crises, natural disasters, war breaking out somewhere, or the emergence of previously unknown yet charismatic political figures. A baby might fall down a well, or a little boy could pretend to float up in a balloon, or a young singer might stick out her tongue and move her hips in a sexually suggestive manner, precipitating a national freakout.

One trend I do think will shape people’s lives this year and in years to come is the increasing divergence between the places where lots of Democrats live and the places where lots of Republicans live. Yes, it sounds trite and overdone to talk about Two Americas, but it is true, and it’s becoming more true all the time. And one question I’m curious about is whether we’ll see an increase in people picking up and moving to places where public policy either accords better with their values or offers them important benefits they need to live their lives (or both).

The new year always sees a whole raft of state laws taking effect, but the ideological implications of some of them this year are particularly stark. And liberal states are showing some of the aggressiveness we’ve come to associate with conservative states. The minimum wage is going up in places like Connecticut and California. Same-sex marriage is now legal in 18 states plus D.C. In Colorado you can walk down to a store on the corner and buy cannabis, and you’ll be able to do the same in Washington in a few months. There are new restrictions on guns in blue states, and new laws making guns more ubiquitous in red states. There are also new laws in conservative states aimed at making abortions all but impossible for women to get, and making it as hard as possible for certain kinds of people to vote. And in one of the most critical changes, as of yesterday millions of Americans are getting health coverage through Medicaid—if they live in the right place. Approximately 5 million Americans are missing out because of the refusal of Republican states to allow the Medicaid expansion, in what Ed Kilgore has evocatively termed the “wingnut hole.”

Obviously, the underlying divisions that drive this policy divergence are as old as the nation itself. But there are more reasons than ever for people to get up and move to the states where the political leadership is working to make it the kind of place where people like them would want to live. The more we talk about it, the more conscious people become of it, and the closer a conservative in Maryland or a liberal in Mississippi gets to saying, “That’s it—I’m finally getting the hell out of here.”

There are limits to how far this can go. Even though getting up and moving to a new state is a common part of many people’s lives at one time or another, and we tend to associate it with something fundamental in the American spirit—taking a risk, striking out for new horizons, the wind in your hair as you hurtle down the highway toward a brighter future—there are a lot of forces that keep people in place, too. Even if your state’s public policy makes your life more difficult, if you grew up there chances are you’ve got family, friends, and the general familiarity with your surroundings that makes leaving it all behind very daunting. But if the number of people moving not just for a new job but for ideological reasons increases, then that will feed a cycle in which more states become even more ideologically homogenized, which leads to public policy even more ideologically one-sided.

Since I’m a liberal, I believe that the liberal states will become models of freedom, justice, and prosperity, while the conservative states will become hellholes of exploitation and cruelty. Conservatives will naturally see things differently. But watch what’s on the ballot in states in 2014, and what state laws get passed in the coming months. State-by-state divergence is my guess for the key political/social trend of the coming year.


By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, January, 2, 2013

January 3, 2014 Posted by | Politics | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“No Defense For Nonsense”: How Not To Argue Against Medicaid Expansion

Medicaid expansion is a sensible move for literally every state, but Mississippi, with more than its share of residents who lack insurance, live near the poverty line, and suffer from poor health, needs the policy more than most. Even Mississippi’s insurance commissioner, a conservative Republican, has urged Gov. Phil Bryant (R) to put aside ideology and embrace the provisions of “Obamacare” for the good of the state.

But Bryant has refused. Last March, the governor said he wouldn’t accept Medicaid expansion in part because the Affordable Care Act is not “the law of the land.” By any standard, the argument was gibberish.

This week, the Republican governor came up with a new argument.

“For us to enter into an expansion program would be a fool’s errand. I mean, here we would be saying to 300,000 Mississippians, ‘We’re going to provide Medicaid coverage to you,’ and then the federal government through Congress or through the Senate, would do away with or alter the Affordable Care Act, and then we have no way to pay that. We have no way to continue the coverage.”

Let’s think about this for a minute. There are, by everyone’s estimation, several hundred thousand folks in Mississippi who would benefit from Medicaid expansion. According to Bryant, the state could help them, but he doesn’t want to – because in his mind, Congress might repeal the health care law at some point in the future, and the state wouldn’t be able to afford to pick up the slack.

But even by GOP standards, it’s impossible to take this seriously. For one thing, it’s pretty obvious Congress isn’t going to repeal the law, as even the most right-wing lawmakers on Capitol Hill are grudgingly conceding.

For another, even in the extraordinarily unlikely event that the law is repealed sometime after 2017, Mississippi could simply revert back to its current policy once the federal well runs dry. In other words, Bryant is effectively telling struggling families, “We’ll refuse to help you now because of the remote possibility we may no longer be able to help you later. It’s better to leave you with nothing now and for the foreseeable future than risk helping you and your family for the next several years.”

There is simply no defense for such nonsense.

Postscript: In the same interview, the governor was asked about drug testing, and why it’s limited to welfare recipients, as opposed to corporate leaders whose companies get state tax money and/or public employees like himself.

“If I was receiving any federal or state benefits to help raise my family, I’d be glad to take a drug test,” he replied.

Bryant receives $122,160 a year in taxpayer money as his salary. He also has the people of the state of Mississippi to thank for his health care benefits.


By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, January 2, 2014

January 3, 2014 Posted by | Affordable Care Act, Health Insurance | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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