Gov. Rick Scott Wants to Drug-Test Welfare Recipients, Including His Little Brother -- UPDATE: Scott still won't talk
When Gov. Rick Scott, a rising star of the Tea Party movement, signed into law a bill May 31 requiring that Florida's welfare recipients pass drug tests, he didn't mention how close to home the issue hits.
Scott has a brother in Texas who gets welfare -- and might also have a history of drug use.
That brother, 54-year-old Roger Scott, lives in Dallas. Public records indicate that a Roger Scott with the same date of birth -- and other identifying information -- has a criminal history that includes drug possession, assault, and resisting arrest.
Rick Scott's office wouldn't answer specifics about his brother. But a spokeswoman issued a statement to the Pulp that said: "The governor believes
that everyone who applies for welfare benefits should be drug-tested."
Roger Scott, though, did talk about his older sibling to two reporters from the Dallas Observer, a sister paper of New Times.
At his modest two-bedroom apartment in the heart of Dallas, Roger said that he's "very close to his brother" but doesn't get to spend a lot of time with him.
"He's very busy, and I don't see him as much as I'd like," Roger said. "Plus, because of my financial situation, I don't have a chance to visit him as much as I'd like."
Roger has lived in Dallas for more than 20 years. When asked whether he works near his apartment, he said: "I'm on social security."
Less than a month ago, Scott signed a law that requires welfare recipients to turn in blood, hair, or urine samples before getting cash from the state.
Scott told the media at the time that the law would "increase personal responsibility" and "personal accountability" by having 50,000 to 100,000 welfare recipients tested a year.
"The goal of this is to make sure we don't waste taxpayers' money," Scott said. "And hopefully, more people will focus on not using illegal drugs."
If a welfare applicant fails, he or she will be barred from receiving state benefits for six months. If that applicant fails a drug test a second time, he or she won't be able to get benefits for three years.
Critics of Scott's plan pointed out that the governor owned $62 million shares in Solantic, a walk-in clinic chain that performs drug tests for $35 each. In response, Scott transferred the shares to his wife, and when that didn't work to silence conflict-of-interest claims, he sold his stake in the company in April.
Scott also wanted to randomly drug-test state employees but has since backed down after receiving flak from civil liberties groups.
Rick Scott's political campaign touted his family values by using his mother, Esther, in campaign ads. Esther's videos also cast the onetime health-care magnate as a rags-to-riches Everyman, an all-American Midwesterner who rose from Illinois public housing to run the nation's largest private hospital corporation, Columbia/HCA Healthcare Corp.
Scott resigned from his position as CEO in 1997 after the company came under fire for Medicare fraud. Columbia/HCA has since been fined $1.7 billion for Medicare fraud, much of which took place during Scott's tenure.
Scott's wife, Ann, and other brothers, Steve and Bill, also spoke glowingly on Rick's behalf. The Scott family, however, did not have much to say about Roger.
"Why do you want to get a hold of Rick's brother?" Esther said from her home in Kansas City, Missouri. "I don't think that's really necessary."
Esther then listed her other children, saying that she'd be willing to provide their contact information rather than Roger's phone number, which she refused to share. Scott's other siblings did not return calls for comment. Esther, however, was willing to talk about Scott's early life -- about which little is still known.
"They were all down there for his inauguration and the primary and the general election," she said of his brothers. "All except Roger."
"He goes in for treatments, but he doesn't take care of himself," she said. "My son Rick has tried to help Roger for years; the whole family has."
Esther soon ended the conversation about her estranged son.
"I really don't think that's anything that you need to put in the newspaper," she said. "If you want scandal on my son, then say you want scandal on my son."
At his Dallas apartment, Roger reads two newspapers daily and used to post every article about his brother on the walls. He recently stopped, he said, because there just wasn't enough space.
"I'll put it this way," he said. "I'm usually in a one bedroom, and this is a two bedroom. I thought this was a one bedroom. It looked like a small house. He's at least helping me with some of the utilities, which, I mean, how many brothers or how many family members would do that? He's followed me and helped me all my life. He's financed hospital visits that I've had to do."
Roger says that he "couldn't ask for a better brother."
"Rick, he used to keep a file on me to pay him back, and I'm talking about each hospital visit that he would finance," he said. "I'm telling you, he helped me way beyond the call of duty."
At a Silver Alert bill signing at the Palm Beach Sheriff's Office around noon Friday, the Pulp asked Gov. Rick Scott again whether Roger had any impact on his policymaking.
Scott refused to answer any questions directly, choosing instead to speak generally about his fight for fiscal responsibility and drug regulation.
"Drugs are a real problem all around the country," he said. "That's why I put in the pill mill legislation."
Scott said that he wanted to make sure that welfare recipients use their cash to get themselves on their feet rather than spend the money on drugs.
When this Pulp reporter later asked Scott to answer on a personal, specific level, she was scooted out of the way by a Scott spokeswoman.
"We already answered all your questions," said the staffer, before she and the governor walked out of the Sheriff's Office.
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