July 30, 2007

Knock Knock

This story is stunning: In San Diego, welfare recipients must submit to unannounced home inspections before they are allowed to receive benefits. From the sound of things, the investigators tend to rifle through drawers and medicine cabinets looking to see if single mothers really are single--or if there's evidence of a man living in the house. Of course, if those investigators come across anything suspicious--signs of drug use, say--they can pass that along to the police. The courts, for their part, aren't much interested in the possible Fourth Amendment violations here.

On one key metric San Diego's program "works" as intended: The denial rate for welfare applicants has risen significantly, from 41 percent to 48 percent, and what's more, a lot of people are now choosing to withdraw their applications altogether rather than allow investigators to show up, without warning, to rummage through their dirty laundry. So San Diego gets to claim "success" in paring its welfare rolls, and if a few deserving applicants are turned away or deterred from applying, well, that's life.

Oh, and needless to say, farmers receiving agriculture subsidies or companies getting tax breaks don't have to subject themselves to unannounced raids. That would be going too far.

Update: Scott Lemieux discusses the constitutional questions here. Suffice to say, if we had a Supreme Court with five Thurgood Marshall clones, this policy might get overturned. But that's... nowhere near the case. (Speaking of which, I still find it striking--even if it's a banal point--whenever anyone points out that, compared to the Supreme Court liberals of old, folks like Breyer and Ginsburg are extremely moderate.)
-- Brad Plumer 7:33 PM || ||