The first has to do with Congress jumping back onto the drug war bandwagon by adopting a law to force states to require that many people seeking unemployment compensation first pass a urine drug test. The Fiscal Times reported on Feb. 19, 2012:
Drug testing for some unemployed: The legislation encourages states to enact legislation to require applicants for unemployment insurance to pass a drug test under the following conditions: 1) the individual was fired from his or her most recent job because of the unlawful use of controlled substances, or 2) the individual’s only suitable work involves employment in an occupation that regularly conducts drug testing.from 8 Things You Didn't Know About Payroll Tax Cut Deal, by ERIC PIANIN, The Fiscal Times, Feb. 19, 2012.
Such programs have been shown to be a waste of time and taxpayer money. In spite of this, three states have enacted or are trying to enact such a testing program, as noted by AP on Feb. 15:
Those who failed drug tests would face a series of progressively strict penalties. A welfare applicant would be ineligible for financial assistance for one month after failing a first drug test. A second failed test would cut off funding for three months, while a third failed test would eliminate an applicant's welfare funding for three years.
Similar legislation was filed in 36 states last year, but passed only in Arizona, Florida and Missouri. A federal judge blocked Florida's program pending a lawsuit there. Tarren Bragdon, chief executive officer of the Foundation for Government Accountability, backed Spencer's bill, saying that Florida saw a nearly 50 percent drop in approvals during the brief period when the tests were allowed.
From AP: Bill on Testing Welfare Recipients Slowed, Feb. 15, 2012.
If the FGA's mouthpiece quoted above was correct, that's a very scary number because the testing program itself, as the Tampa Tribune reported on Aug. 24, 2011:
Since the state began testing welfare applicants for drugs in July, about 2 percent have tested positive, preliminary data shows.
Ninety-six percent proved to be drug free -- leaving the state on the hook to reimburse the cost of their tests.
The initiative may save the state a few dollars anyway, bearing out one of Gov. Rick Scott's arguments for implementing it. But the low test fail-rate undercuts another of his arguments: that people on welfare are more likely to use drugs.
And oops, looks like the mouthpiece from the FGA was wrong after all - surprise surprise:
Having begun the drug testing in mid-July, the state Department of Children and Families is still tabulating the results. But at least 1,000 welfare applicants took the drug tests through mid-August, according to the department, which expects at least 1,500 applicants to take the tests monthly.
So far, they say, about 2 percent of applicants are failing the test; another 2 percent are not completing the application process, for reasons unspecified.
Cost of the tests averages about $30. Assuming that 1,000 to 1,500 applicants take the test every month, the state will owe about $28,800-$43,200 monthly in reimbursements to those who test drug-free.
That compares with roughly $32,200-$48,200 the state may save on one month's worth of rejected applicants.
The savings assume that 20 to 30 people -- 2 percent of 1,000 to 1,500 tested -- fail the drug test every month. On average, a welfare recipient costs the state $134 in monthly benefits, which the rejected applicants won't get, saving the state $2,680-$3,350 per month.
But since one failed test disqualifies an applicant for a full year's worth of benefits, the state could save $32,200-$48,200 annually on the applicants rejected in a single month.
Net savings to the state -- $3,400 to $8,200 annually on one month's worth of rejected applicants. Over 12 months, the money saved on all rejected applicants would add up to $40,800-$98,400 for the cash assistance program that state analysts have predicted will cost $178 million this fiscal year.
From Welfare drug-testing yields 2% positive results By CATHERINE WHITTENBURG, The Tampa Tribune, Aug. 24, 2011.
Another testing story probably passed below the radar for most folks, which is too bad because this one will affect a lot more people and could have some very serious repercussions. AP's Garance Burke reported on Feb. 19, 2012:
The budget plan the president sent to Congress Monday would ax the Agriculture Department’s tiny Microbiological Data Program, which extensively screens high-risk fresh produce throughout the year for bacteria including salmonella, E. coli and listeria.
If samples are positive, they can trigger nationwide recalls, and keep tainted produce from reaching consumers or grocery store shelves.
Food safety advocates and a top-ranking U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official said the information also can help pinpoint foods tied to illness outbreaks, and would not easily be replaced by companies’ internal tests or more modest federal sampling programs.
Yet how serious a problem is contaminated food in this, our 21st century America?
Last year, for instance, California firms recalled pre-packaged fresh cilantro and bagged spinach from the marketplace after MDP tests of random samples detected salmonella.
According to the CDC, nearly one-third of the major, multistate foodborne illness outbreaks in 2011 were caused by contaminated fruits and vegetables.
The 120,000 food samples the program has collected in the last decade have offered public health officials important clues when they are probing the source of food poisoning outbreaks, Dr. Robert Tauxe, the CDC’s top food-germ investigator, said in an interview in October when the agency began offering the program’s employees early retirement packages.
Last year, the program found lettuce and spinach contaminated with E. coli O157:H7, the strain most commonly responsible for food poisoning, and also started aggressively testing for listeria in cantaloupes in response to the nation’s most deadly foodborne illness outbreak, in which 30 people died after eating listeria-tainted melons. In one instance in the last several years, a contaminated produce sample the program identified was later tied to an illness cluster, Tauxe said.
FDA Produce Safety Staff Director Samir Assar said in an October interview that while his agency also conducts targeted tests of certain high-risk fresh fruits and vegetables each year, cutting MDP would leave the regular testing of sprouts, tomatoes, cantaloupe and cilantro to industry and more modest state and federal efforts.
But surely there are other agencies at the federal level, or in the states? WRONG.
FDA spokeswoman Siobhan DeLancey, however, said she could not speculate on whether FDA would set up a parallel program, or had the money to do so.
“We don’t test produce,” said Lola Russell, a CDC spokeswoman. “That’s just not part of our mission.”
State health departments are already facing tough choices as they try to come up with enough dollars to keep food safe after tens thousands of employees have been laid off in recent years. And the FDA has always been crunched for food safety dollars, receiving so little money for food inspections that some facilities are only inspected every five to 10 years. A new food safety law President Obama signed last year aims to increase the number of inspections in the United States and abroad, but emphasizes prevention rather than increased testing of foods.
From Obama's Budget Cuts Bacteria Testing in Produce, by GARANCE BURKE, AP, Feb. 19, 2012.