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

If the government is going to use my tax dollars to give these people money- I want to know that my money is going to good use, and is not being spent on drugs - and I would rather an increased cost for drug tests then my tax dollars going to waste. Having a welfare applicant take a drug test is not a violation of civil liberties - If I need a drug test to work, then why shouldn't those gaining the benefits off of my taxes have to do the same.

Also if anyone can clear up a question I have about these numbers here -if this law was only enacted for 4 months (1/3) of the year and this was only implemented on applicants (new to welfare and/or renewals?) and the drug problem is ~8%, and they found 2% in 4 months what would be the overall stats on a full year (including those already on welfare) .... 2*3 = 6 .... so maybe 6% maybe more?? .... I'm not a mathematician, so I welcome any clarifications :)

Anonymous

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........

An average of 8.13% for drug use of all floridians - 2.6% of welfare applicant found in 4 months - I wonder what the % would be for a full year - 7.8%?

Anonymous

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........

An average of 8.13% for drug use of all floridians - 2.6% found in 4 months - I wonder what the % would be for a full year - 7.8%?

Anonymous

I drive a truck for a living. I am required to take a drug test and have been for over 20 yrs. I have never tested positive. The Federal Government has even said the rate of violatons is below .1%. No savingshere either, but that doesnt deter the present policy. Maybe they should pay for the test by doing some work!

Anonymous

Why is there no mention of the 2,306 persons who refused the test? You can verify that number with DCF.

Anonymous

Drug testing for people IN GENERAL is the dumbest idea yet. Someone can't do their job? Let's find out why. Do I care if Walt the postman smokes a doob over the weekend? Nope. We are supposed to be a free country, yet more and more, we find ourselves being policed, spied on, abused. I am afraid to say things out loud for fear someone is sitting in a van listening to me, or maybe because I posted something on Facebook that might be considered too left-wing. STOP IT.

Steve Wright, E...

I could care less about Florida politics, Rick Scott or even how the controversy over who is performing the drug tests. I am a liberal leaning independent. I do have concerns about children going hungry, or false positives… however in principle, I think this law is a really good idea. Not just me, all of my friends agree, and most of them are democrats. I am only for this in the case of welfare/foodstamps.

First I’d like to say to anyone who says this is an invasion of privacy, or demeaning to the poor…. You’re an asshole. I had to pass several drug tests for different jobs I’ve had over the years. How is that demeaning? If I can do it to get a job, I see no problem with taking one to get free money.

Second, there is something fishy about the 2% statistic. I mean we know statistically that 1 out of 6 people abuses drugs or alcohol. We know that 8.9% of American adults participate in the use of illegal drugs. When interviewing employers, reason for denying an interviewee a job due to failing a pre employment drug test ranged from 5% – 22%. The large range is due to different businesses and fields or work. So my guess is the people who applied for welfare, was also the adult in the household capable of passing a drug test. So testing may not be totally effective due to the fact that not everyone in the household must take the drug test… however I do feel better about putting the money a person’s hands who is not on drugs… even if someone else under their roof is.

Next, I could careless about cost. I’ve heard that argument a lot. To me, I don’t care if its cost effect to drug test versus how much you would save by giving everyone benefits. My concern is…. I do not want my money going into a drug addicts hands, and have my money enable that person to do drugs. If this costs me more as a tax payer, I’d be more than happy to flip the bill. And maybe we can find this person help with their drug problem.

I already listed the statistics above about drug use and employment. It’s not just the fact that this person is using government money to fund their drug problem, but also that their drug problem prevents them from finding employment…. And keeps them perpetually dependent. Some people want to punish drug addict welfare trash. I do not. If our goal is instead is to get people off welfare by getting them back to work… it seems important to make sure these people are first off drugs so they are capable of being hired. That’s a common sense non hateful approach. I mean think about it, these are people, a lot of times with families to support… yet their drugs are more important than finding work. Our money that we entrust an adult with to take care of their kids… that money not going to the children and instead being blown on a bad habit. It is a bad problem, and a very real problem. I know many have bleeding hearts. But I personally don’t believe in enabling addicts. Sometimes tough love is the answer

Victoria

All I can say is WOW!!! All you people complaining about YOUR tax dollars being spent on people in the welfare program that truly needs help because Big Business decided they would rather spend 3 cents an hour to people in other countries and not have to worry about those peoples safety. What about the 4 trillion dollars of YOUR tax dollars on the war that has been going on for several years, what about the billions paid to government officials to sit around and talk about how they are going to mess with the general public, what about the trillions of YOUR tax dollars spent on needless research programs like how the beetle bug deals with the greenhouse affect. You people really need to learn where YOUR tax dollars really go. Do you honestly think that 45 million Americans want to be on welfare? They have no choice because all the jobs are being moved to other countries.

I am 54 yrs old and have work as a cashier for 32+ years, there was many nights that my child had to go to bed hungry because I could not afford enough food due to the high cost of rent, electric, and all the other necessary things needed to sustain a fare living, until 3 years ago when I fell down a flight of stares, now I can hardly stand. I now live on $770 dollars a month for rent, electric, heat, water, etc. and receive $270 dollars in food support for my daughter.(which I thank you for) oh, and that $770 dollars is child support not welfare or social security. The first 3 weeks of the month I am able to feed my daughter 1 meal a day, the last week of the month we are usually surviving on dry cereal and potatoes. I buy no snack foods. And you want to think YOUR taxes are making that big of a deal in my life that your supporting me! I would love to see you try to take care of your family on what I am dealing with. God knows I wish I could work. And I pray that non of you every lose your jobs to other countries, but then again maybe if you did you would understand more about what the 45 million Americans are dealing with. Also keep this in mind when you are complaining about YOUR tax dollars paying for everything, YES they are because the wealthy either don't pay taxes because they have their money in offshore accounts or they pay less then YOU the hard working Americans. And to the police officer that made a comment, remember THEIR tax dollars are what pay your salary too.

Just Me

I've stayed out of these arguments and discussions for a reason, talking in circles, by both sides really accomplishes nothing.. but having to do an essay for school, and by school I mean I am a 43 year old white female who has raised her grown son, worked as an Insurance agent, a bartender and only ask for help when I could not buy food for my son when he was very small, I work full time now and I go to school full time, with student loans that I WILL be the one paying back... so anyway... I had my thoughts on this topic too, just the basic, I pass a drug test to work they need to pass a drug test for help... and because of this essay, I have read more, investigated more and have come to my own conclusions... I won't argue with those on here who seem dedicated to arguing for arguments sake... but I believe that the system is outdated, over- burdened and this is where the problem lies.. not with those "few" out of thousands, that may or may not do some kind of "illegal" drug...The system is abused, in more ways that one... years ago in SC, they passed the go to school get a job training program for those with kids starting school... meaning, if you were a welfare/ food stamp recipient, when your child turned school age, you were to report to mandatory job training, or have your benefits cut..the thought on this was, get your kids in school and help you join the work force... guess what... those who were determined to abuse the system...went out and got pregnant... can we prove thats WHY they did it ? NO... but did it keep them out of the work training... yes ma'm... for another 6 years... Here is what I suggest everyone do... Go to your local assistant office... count the hundreds of people that stand in line that day... How many of those people are illegal aliens? How many of those people are elderly and disabled? How many are young girls standing there pregnant with a baby on their hips? The system needs HELP... but standing there as you watch the line of those in need... please point out the drug users and system abuser and those who are in true desperate need and have no one/ no where to turn too.... Overhaul the system... There are always going to be the users/ abuser and there are always going to be cracks to slip thru...but just accusing everyone that needs help of using illegal drugs is like accusing everyone that drives a red car of being a speeder... or how about accusing everyone that has a house of being a drug dealer because , of course, thats the only way they can afford that house... come-on... really!!!!

Anonymous

So many people on here, dont know what the h... they are talking about. Lets all get drug tested. I bet it will be less TANF recipients than the general public. Drugs are illegal for all, not just the poor. SMH! The people on here that are crying the loudest,probably does the most drugs. Test me any day, hour, decade. It will be negative, because I dont do drugs. What about you?

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