Just as We Suspected: Florida Saved Nothing by Drug Testing Welfare Applicants

Last year Florida became the first state to pass and fully implement a bill mandating suspicionless drug testing of all applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). The law mandated that all applicants pay for the cost of the drug test themselves, and that they be reimbursed if their test came back negative. The law was in effect for a mere four months before the ACLU of Florida filed a lawsuit and a federal court blocked the law, saying it was unconstitutional.

Today the New York Times released the most comprehensive data yet on how the law fared during the short period of time it was in effect. We already knew that the law was a failure; what we didn't know was just how much of a failure it was.

In the four months that Florida's law was in place, the state drug tested 4,086 TANF applicants. A mere 108 individuals tested positive. To put it another way, only 2.6 percent of applicants tested positive for illegal drugs — a rate more than three times lower than the 8.13 percent of all Floridians, age 12 and up, estimated by the federal government to use illegaldrugs. Now might be a good time to remind folks that in the debate over the bill, Gov. Rick Scott argued that this law was necessary because, he said, welfare recipients used drugs at a higher rate than the general population.

The utter absurdity of this law is magnified when you realize how much it cost the state of Florida to run this program. The data released today shows that Florida spent $118,140 reimbursing the overwhelming number of Florida TANF applicants — 3,938 to be exact — who tested negative for drugs. That is far more than any money saved by the program, at a net cost to the State of over $45,000. And that's only part of the cost to the state to run this program. There are also the administrative costs, staff costs, and, of course, the litigation costs. Furthermore, the testing program didn't deter individuals from applying for help — an internal document about TANF caseloads revealed that, at least from July through September, the policy did not lead to fewer cases.

Despite the complete failure of this program to unearth anything other than the fact that there is no overwhelming drug problem amongst welfare applicants, the state of Florida continues to defend this law. And unfortunately, other states have followed Florida's ill-informed lead. Over 25 states introduced welfare drug testing legislation this year. You'd think that the court rulings and high costs might have logically stopped these bills, but they have not. In fact, just this Monday, Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal signed a bill into law that is very similar to Florida's, mandating all TANF applicants in Georgia be drug tested before being eligible to receive benefits.

As long as states keep fighting to pass and keep these unconstitutional and costly programs in place, the ACLU will be there to keep fighting back.

(Originally posted on Huffington Post.)

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post stated that TANF recipients were reimbursed for the cost of the drug test if the result was positive. That was incorrect. They are reimbursed if the result is negative. Thanks to @smirish for pointing this out on Twitter!

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Maybe in Florida.

That doesn't mean that everywhere in the United States that more people are not on drugs that apply for welfare. The point is valid. People have to take a drug test to be able to work, they should be drug tested if the government is going to pay them money to live on. They shouldn't have been charged the drug test charge though. If the government really wants to drug test welfare applicants they need to take the hit for it all out.

If it is not unconstitutional to drug test someone prior to getting a job it sure as hell isn't unconstitutional to drug test someone that he is being paid by the government to live on in place of a job. It is the same thing. Technically welfare is a job. The same rules should apply to both and not in 25 states they do. Oh boo hoo. But if I was Florida I wouldn't get rid of the law and let the people know. Because then you will get more people using drugs on welfare knowing its not being tested anymore so they won't care. Of course the numbers were lower than they expected. They announced the law and all the people that were doing drugs got it out of their system before they applied again so it wouldn't come up. Come on people. Do you really think that this is a really valid statistic. We don't know how many people were on drugs on welfare in the State of Florida before the law was enacted. So how do we possibly know what the real number is of people whom are really on drugs. And also the people that were on drugs got it out of their system so they could apply again and then once they passed the drug test they went back to the drugs. Is this really so hard to comprehend?

Anonymous

I wonder how much money Rick Scott's Wife made on this law. You know, from the medical labs that Rick Scott bought and gave his wife a while back? The ones that also do drug testing? Is anyone making the connection here, or do I need to keep typing?

Pj

So should we force all retired people on Social Security to be tested. All of the people in nursing homes which the government helps pay for should be tested? Does anyone remember the concept of "Innocent until proven guilty"? Should we test everyone on unemployment? Should we test disabled children? Where do you draw the line? Or is there a line. Why don't we test everybody even if they don't get any money from the government - drugs are still illegal. We also should drug test all Senators and Representatives since they get paid by the government.

Anonymous

@ maybe in FLorida.....Im sure you know more about the law than federal court system...thanks for your input though!

Floridian

Re: Maybe in Florida:

You said
"People have to take a drug test to be able to work, they should be drug tested if the government is going to pay them money to live on."
and
"If it is not unconstitutional to drug test someone prior to getting a job it sure as hell isn't unconstitutional to drug test someone that he is being paid by the government to live on in place of a job."

I suggest you look up the Supreme Court case Chandler v. Miller. It deals explicitly with this topic.

Specifically, it says that the state cannot perform a warrantless drug test on any citizen, with certain public safety exceptions.

Welfare isn't a job, it's temporary financial assistance provided by the state. Your private sector job doesn't have to comply with the constitution, because that document protects you from the Government, not from other private citizens.

Furthermore, the numbers of applicants didn't significantly decrease after the law passed, meaning your entire scenario suggesting that drug addicts simply stopped asking for welfare is ridiculous.

Finally, I'd like you to actually think about what you're suggesting is true: someone who was laid off and has depleted their entire savings on such luxuries as electricity and water now has to go beg the state for help while they look for another job. They still need to pay the bills and feed the kids, and the first thing they're going to do is go out and spend that money on drugs? Really? In what universe does that even make sense?

No, drug use is positively correlated with wealth, because people with money can afford to waste it on drugs.

Please, use that nice 3 pound organ called a brain and think about what you're saying.

Mudpucker

More proof that Floridians are morons.

Maybe NOT

Maybe you should read and understand the Constitution of the United States of America before pronouncing something is constitutional because employers do it. The Bill of Rights limits the actions of the government. In fact, one of the arguments as to why employer drug tests were constitutional was that employers are not the government.

The claim that people stopped using drugs, got tested, then went back to drugs, IF TRUE, only shows how stupid the law is. If it is that easy to get around the law, then Florida should not even bother. Is this really so hard to comprehend????

I don't know why some people seem to hate the Constitution so much.

Anonymous

maybe in florida, you are so incredibly wrong and out of place ... most of the people on welfare are trying to better the situation they are in, and most do not have enough money for food and shelter let alone drugs, stop being so ignorant to the fact that "governor" rick scott is nothing more than a liar and a crook who does most everything out of personal gain.

get your head out of the sand

Anonymous

The Constitution doesn't cover private employers. Private employers are not government.

Welfare is not a job, but it is government and therefore covered by the Constitution.

One part of that Constitution is the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment states: "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

The Supreme Court ruled that this included "suspicionless searches". In other words, we are assuming that people are innocent until they are proven guilty. Random drug testing assumes that people are guilty and was thus ruled an unreasonable search.

Anonymous

The Constitution doesn't cover private employers. Private employers are not government.

Welfare is not a job, but it is government and therefore covered by the Constitution.

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