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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Delphinus13

So workers who pay taxes, and hence pay for welfare benefits are required to pass a drug test as a requirement for their employment, but it's somehow "unconstitutional" to require the welfare beneficiaries to meet that same standard? Sounds like a double standard to me.

Delphinus13

How is this unconstitutional? Workers who pay taxes have to pass drug tests.

Anonymous

Of course there is a lower percentage that tested positive. Many that knew they would not pass the test did not take the test. Would any of you that know you would not pass the test still take the test, especially if you had to spend your drug money for it?

Anonymous

The lyrics from "1st of tha month" by Bone Thugs n Harmony say it best:

"Wake up, wake up, wake up it's the 1st of the month
To get up, get up, get up so cash your checks and get up

Hey my ni_ _ _ we havin' a wonderful day and I won't f_ _ _ with me. Why? 'Cause it's the 1st of the month and now we smokin', chokin', rollin' blunts And sippin' on 40 ounces thuggin' come come we got the blessed rum

Yeah we havin' a celebration, I love to stay high
And you better believe when it's time to grind
I'm down for mine crime after crime

Wake up and I see that my sister is already dressed
She said "I'm gonna run and go get my stamps
Watch and make sure no one snatches my check" ni_ _ _ that's the mailman
Sort through the mail and put it up in-a me pocket"

And on and on and on it goes... Art imitates life...

Anonymous

I say get rid of the law. Just when someone I'd arrested and convicted got drug use or possession or found to be allowing someone to reside with them caught for the same....permantly revoke their assistance

tomc

I live in california. I have a great job as an instructors assistant. I don't make enough money to support my families needs. I also receive welfare.everytime I go to the office to meet with our worker, I noticed I have the oldest most beat up car in the parking lot. And there is always people outside smoking cigarettes and other stuff. I know from personal experience that some of theses people just use the government assistance programs for drug money. I used to!!! And several of my drug friends are the people who told me I could. I have no problem testing now. I think it could save some of that money I pay in taxes every year!

Gem

Perhaps they should test the receipients of corporate welfare.

Anonymous

If I were using drugs and had to test to receive a check I would not show up in your statistics because I would not test. So whatk does that do to your stats?

Anonymous

The ACLU iks a disgrace to this once great nation. No wonder this country is coming apart at the seams. At some poin t the "silent majority" will have enough and put them out of business.

Anonymous

What drugs did they consider illegal? Did they test for hydrocodone, oxycodone, dilaudid? All legal drugs. If they tested positive did they ask for their prescriptions? If they didn't have a prescription then those drugs should be considered illegal. I think this study is interesting but I think everyone should keep in mind statistics can always be manipulated to say what people want them to say.

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