Dennis is in his usual ensemble: a white, long-sleeved button up shirts and pleated pants. We’re talking about the insurance system and affordable health care when he says, 

“I was on food stamps.”

I almost ignore it, wanting to ask a loaded question about insurance coverage being predicated on morality–the idea that Viagra is covered but birth control isn’t–but my brain finally registers what was said. No one would guess that Dennis took government assistance at one point. Or at least, I wouldn’t because in the Midwest, a “food stamp recipient” is a black woman with five kids that’s too lazy even to work the drive-thru.

“The scamming of the food stamp program is a false narrative,” Dennis says. Fraud is negligible.

During graduate school in Pittsburgh, his wife got pregnant. Graduate research income isn’t much. So they took applied and received food stamps.

“I could have gone out at any time and gotten a ‘real’ job,” he says. “But we believed in this degree and what we were doing, and knew we’d make a difference later.”

The evidence for fraud in the welfare system is most often anecdotal. The idea of Welfare Queens, women that scam and manipulate the system to collect excessive welfare payments, dates back to Ronald Reagan’s 1976 presidential campaign. Reagan chronicled the life of a woman in the south side of Chicago abusing the welfare system.

The folklore of the social parasite is a core tenet of the conservative mindset.

But combating the fraud is often more harmful than the fraud itself.

Several years ago, conservatives brought what I had thought was a valuable initiative to the floor: drug testing of welfare applicants.

Here’s the problems…

Florida passed a law for the drug testing of people seeking welfare benefits in 2011. Not only did the law fail to snag many drug offenders–when it did, marijuana, which is on it’s way to being legalized throughout the country, was the culprit–but it also didn’t save taxpayers any money. In fact, because applicants that pass the test must be reimbursed for the test, and most people passed the test, the cost to the state was actually higher than what would have been paid out in benefits.

And it wasn’t just a couple pennies. The additional cost was more than $45,000.

For conservatives that spend a lot of time talking about outrageous government spending and the national deficit, this should be the nail in the coffin for the initiative.

In case not, there’s more. A welfare recipient could have children, and I doubt anyone would want a child to starve just because their mother smokes a little pot or a lot of pot, or for that matter, even injects heroin daily.

And if we’re going to drug test people before they get government aid, in my mind, it should be more than a targeted attack on the poor. If welfare recipients must get tested, shouldn’t Congressmen and women as well? It’d be interesting to see what neurotoxins course through the veins of the elite.

Dennis and I digress.