Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday…

David Sneed //March 12, 2012//

I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday…

David Sneed //March 12, 2012//

There have been a great many articles written about Colorado’s House Bill 1046, and most have been against it. This one is too, but for a different reason.

In case you don’t know, HB 1046, sponsored by Republican Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg, attempts to require those seeking public assistance to pass a drug test before they can receive benefits.

Most arguments against have to do with the 4th Amendment protections against warrantless searches, or the opening of a door that could lead to every recipient of government funds to stand in line with a cup. Can you imagine grandma having to pass a drug test before she gets her Social Security check? That’s bad, but not why I dislike this proposal.

The bill requires the recipient to pay for the drug test himself prior to receiving benefits. Pass and you are reimbursed, fail and you aren’t.

Have you ever heard of The Spanish Prisoner? It’s a 19th Century confidence trick that has come back into fashion as the notorious 419 Nigerian Scam. Pay an upfront fee in exchange for a significantly larger sum.

Basically, a wealthy person has a fortune trapped by a repressive regime and they need your help to get him and it out of the country. If you just put up some money to secure his release, he will handsomely reward you when he gets to safety.

Here’s a less obvious scam: How do you know if the modeling agency courting your daughter is legitimate? Answer: They don’t charge an audition fee, or require you to buy photographs from them.

Paying to get a benefit is not what a benefit is. To the Better Business Bureau and attorneys general, this is known as “Up-Front Fee Fraud.” Here’s what they both say about paying an upfront ‘fee’ to be eligible for a benefit: DON’T!

Now I understand that assistance isn’t a scam, but I’m guessing that those who need help the most don’t have the cash on hand to pay $45 today for $200 next Tuesday. Some will end up turning a trick or pawning a child to come up with the cash – and I think that’s wrong. On top of that, they’ll have to take the time and expense to get God-knows-where to take the test. If Rep. Sonnenberg can assure me that getting tested won’t require a car, and that all potential recipients have $45 lying around, I’ll happily support his bill.

Until then, I will believe the studies that show the rate of drug use among those on assistance is lower than the average rate, and accept that some of my tax dollars are paying for someone else to get high. Is it a surprise that some people who want assistance do drugs? I’m not happy about it, but I don’t believe in punishing the innocent to catch the guilty.

So should the state foot the bill for the test? With more than 200,000 Coloradans on assistance, that would mean at least $9 million welfare dollars not helping anyone – unless you consider testing companies people. I wonder if they support the bill. No matter who pays, there is about to be a nice chunk of change being spent on drug testing. For a share of $9 million, I’d support testing all raccoons whenever a bald eagle nest is raided.