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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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.

As for your statistics:

You only state one fact (as far as I know): "We don't know how many people were on drugs on welfare in the State of Florida before the law was enacted."

Do you know?

Or do you merely hold the opinion that the people who apply for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families are drug users and are stating it as if is a fact?

Are you suggesting that drugs are so easy to quit they can just be stopped at any time and then abstained from long enough to be untraceble in a test?

You then suggest that after they got the drugs out of their system they went back to the drugs. Again, do you have any evidence to support this?


"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." --Maybe in Florida

Umm what?! I think you need to understand that private corporations are not governed by the same laws that the government is. Private corporations can do whatever the hell they want. There is no notion of "unconstitutionality" in this context.


Drug testing should be done on people who want to live on govt money! Drug testing for people that are willing to WORK for their money is absolutely normal, so why not make people who don't want to work take drug tests? Obviously knowing you are going to have a drug test you know to wait til it is out of your system, you pass the test then go back to the drugs right after. I have seen way too many people who "can't" pay for their food and receive food stamps, but then they have brand new cars, have enough money to gamble and enough money for cigarettes and beer and blunt wraps. All 50 states should do drug testing on anyone that applies for govt help, and it should be random testing so they don't have time to prepare for it. They should also have to pass tests randomly through the yr to be sure they stay off drugs.


The law was never meant to save money, it was meant to fuel the flames of hate toward the victims of this incredible theft by these thugs running our state and federal governments.
If they were truely concerned about folks getting back to work and being drug free, it would seem there would be a better method.


You know what, maybe only 2.6% of people were caught, but that's 2.6% less people mooching off hard working people in order to get money which they invariably use towards drugs.

This is a win, and to spin it otherwise is simply ridiculous.

If you want or need help, that is fine, and I'm willing to help. But if you are spending it on drugs, then you don't deserve it.

And to those who say they don't necessarily use it on drugs, it doesn't matter. Whatever money they ARE spending on drugs should be going towards improving their conditions via housing, clothing, food, whatever.


Organizations like the ACLU are the reason we have the problems in this country we have. Our sympathy for everyone has over ridden our common sense as a society. Absolutely drug test these people. Dont think its fair? Come live in my town for a while and see how you feel. Survival of the fittest has been ling sense tossed into the wind by the little american pity-parties and organizations. All these free give-me's need to stop. If cant be a valuable or supportive part of society, then you just shouldn't be.


I'm guessing the brilliant politicians who supported this were projecting, and are themselves drug users.... Maybe they should be randomly tested....

Definitely not ...

Maybe, did you come up with that logic exposition by yourself, or was it maybe inspired by meth chased with a goofball?

Anonymous, you probably should keep typing. So few people seem to understand the whole scheme of drug testing for every conceivable situation is another part of corporate welfare, and generally benefits drug-testing suppliers and labs, and yields little benefit to society.


It's not unconstitutional if you get your money back....oh...but Obamacare isn't unconstitutional....oh no...no way...they want you and every American to pay and pay a fine if you don't want it....but nooooo, that's not unconstitutional....give me a break....and btw...your math sucks and is wrong

To #16

You'd think the social darwinists openly advocating for the extermination of the poor would dissuade people from supporting stuff like this.


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