By law, DUI offenders in Utah must complete an assessment to determine whether they need substance abuse treatment. In many cases, Assessment & Referral Services (ARS) at the University of Utah provides this evaluation free of charge, at a cost of $220 to Utah taxpayers. Should government cover this fee even though the average alcoholic spends as much as $100 per week on alcohol?
Watch this brief report and decide for yourself:
Here’s the script for the video:
STAND UP: Should you be paying for a drunken driver to receive treatment for his or her drinking problem? Well, that’s EXACTLY what’s happening with YOUR tax dollars. Assessment and Referral Services, housed at the University of Utah, receives county and federal tax money to help fund assessment for DUI offenders.
VOICE-OVER: By law, in the state of Utah if you have a DUI arrest you must get an assessment to determine whether you need substance abuse treatment. Assessment and Referral Services, also known as ARS, provides such assessments. ARS Director, Dr. Kelly Lundberg, explains the primary role of ARS.
DR. KELLY LUNDBERG: “We assess people who are in need of county-funded substance abuse treatment. And they could be in need of substance abuse treatment either because the court has indicated that they need to or because they want to and have no court involvement.”
VOICE-OVER: ARS was created because Salt Lake County judges were aiming to get more objective assessments of those cited with drunken driving. In 2003, ARS began operating on a five-year contract from the Utah State Legislature worth $1.3 million, which was handed out by the Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health. Today, ARS receives taxpayer money from both the federal and county governments to pay the assessment fees of DUI offenders.
DR. LUNDBERG: “The county gets money through tax dollars and through block grants; federal money also. So the federal government allocates money for substance abuse treatment services to each state, and it’s done by population. State gets that and they funnel it through different counties or different local authorities.”
VOICE-OVER: Being “eligible” for county-funded treatment requires a few things. If you are a Salt Lake County resident, you will be charged for the assessment based on a sliding pay scale; however, if you cannot afford the treatment or if you are under 21 and drinking illegally, it’s FREE. If you are not a Salt Lake County resident, you must pay the entire fee of $220. Dr. Lundberg explains why Utah taxpayers are paying the bill for drunken drivers.
DR. LUNDBERG: “But these are individuals who are indigent; they can’t afford insurance, so we are set up so we can see those individuals and assess them and then plug them into the right place that will provide them with the right treatment.”
VOICE-OVER: For someone who is indigent, a $220 bill may sound difficult to pay. But according to the American Medical Association, the average alcoholic spends $10-$15 per day on alcohol. In other words, the $220 assessment fee for ARS services represents about 2-3 weeks of drinking for the average alcoholic. Taxpayers should not pay when drunken drivers clearly have the ability to. Dr. Lundberg says she is in favor of finding ways to get drunken drivers off the taxpayers’ tab.
DR. LUNDBERG: “Whenever we can look at some other means where people can go and get the same services and they don’t have to use taxpayer money, we are all for that.”
STAND UP: But is ARS really motivated to find other ways to fund alcohol assessment? Only time will tell. But for now, taxpayers are stuck with the tab.