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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Anonymous

airline workers drug tested, faa goverment, truck drivers drug tested dot goverment

Anonymous

Does this study show how many people did not apply for help because ther were drug users? You are trying to compare apples and oranges. You need all the facts. I don't see them here.

Chuck

The VA requires a drug test to continue to receive benefits, why the hell shouldn't these people?

Anonymous

The VA requires all veterans to be drug tested on a regular basis, to continue to receive benefits. Why are these people so special that it is unconstitutional, just another example of Veterans getting the shaft and having to adhere to higher laws while others get to skate through life not having to obey any laws, but if you say anything you are a racist. Shame on you ACLU

HELLO!

All this crap about spending money to drug test is crazy. The answer to everyone’s dilemma is make welfare a JOB. A lot of the people on government assistance are very capable and some are willing to work. There are so many illegal’s working in our country and so many citizens that do not have jobs. The State pays for so many odd jobs to be done (picking up trash ect.) by contractors that employ illegal immigrants. KEEP our money in the USA when people apply for government assistance we need to put them to work.... This way we are not paying for people on welfare to sit around, or pay them while they are looking for a job, we will give them a job... This saves everybody money and takes care of the less fortunate. If only the people who get elected were as smart as the people who elect them….

Anonymous

ALL STATES need to do it! If I have to take a test to work they can take a test to get my money!!!

Anonymous

I find it interesting that there are so many people who are focused on the semantics (mincing words) of this whole thing when the real problem is in the overall picture. How is Welfare in any way an acceptable way to live life? Disability is available for people that CAN'T work, Welfare is for temporary assistance. If someone needs temp assistance, then, logically, why is it considered "bad" to expect them to explain themselves and also show proof that they are truly in need of help and not just abusing the system? Come on people, screw the little wording that allows people to squeeze through the cracks, how about just making some sense?? As for the manipulation of the numbers (which of course there is, what political group doesn't?) and aside from the MANY ways that the testing can be circumvented (who wants to bet they didn't test for blockers?) there is the simple math problems.

If the people that tested positive (108) were to receive benefits, how much would they have gotten in total? I assume it would have been far more than the $1093.89 per person that the government "wasted". How did I get that number? Easy...

$118,140.00 (amount spent reimbursing the people that passed)divided by the number of people that failed (108) gives us $1093.89 per person. If the normal recipient receives $5000.00 (just a random number and I would bet low anyway) a year in TANF, that would be a $3906.11 savings PER PERSON and that would mean that the government actually saved the taxpayers $540,000.00 dollars. How is this a problem???

Anonymous

Imagine that... the site here doesn't like my post and is trying to block me from posting it claiming that it is "SPAM"... going to try to post it again.

I find it interesting that there are so many people who are focused on the semantics (mincing words) of this whole thing when the real problem is in the overall picture. How is Welfare in any way an acceptable way to live life? Disability is available for people that CAN'T work, Welfare is for temporary assistance. If someone needs temp assistance, then, logically, why is it considered "bad" to expect them to explain themselves and also show proof that they are truly in need of help and not just abusing the system? Come on people, screw the little wording that allows people to squeeze through the cracks, how about just making some sense?? As for the manipulation of the numbers (which of course there is, what political group doesn't?) and aside from the MANY ways that the testing can be circumvented (who wants to bet they didn't test for blockers?) there is the simple math problems.

If the people that tested positive (108) were to receive benefits, how much would they have gotten in total? I assume it would have been far more than the $1093.89 per person that the government "wasted". How did I get that number? Easy...

$118,140.00 (amount spent reimbursing the people that passed)divided by the number of people that failed (108) gives us $1093.89 per person. If the normal recipient receives $5000.00 (just a random number and I would bet low anyway) a year in TANF, that would be a $3906.11 savings PER PERSON and that would mean that the government actually saved the taxpayers $540,000.00 dollars. How is this a problem???

Anonymous

Welfare is not a job, correct. It is supposed to be a temporary source of income while the recipient looks for employment. But if the recipient is using drugs they are going to have a difficult time gaining employment due to drug testing of employee candidates. This keeps the person on welfare longer. In addition, where are the rights of the taxpayer in all of this. Shouldn't they expect that their hard earned dollars aren't feeding somebody's drug habit?
Someone mentioned Social Security benefits. Retired people on SS are just getting some of the money back they had paid in for years and years. This is not the same situation as welfare. So let's not make that comparison.
I don't like big brother anymore than the next guy but all these handout programs need to be scrutinized more than they are now. The country is broke and can't afford to hand out free money to people that are going to spend it on drugs.

Delphinus13

How is it "unconstitutional" to require drug testing for welfare recipients when it's perfectly okay to require drug testing for workers/taxpayers who actually PAY for those welfare benefits!?!?

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