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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Randy Y. in Ten...

I have read all these comments and heard arguments for both sides and I would like to add my input as someone who has worked and paid my taxes for over 30 years and never drawn any sort of government assistance. Some people argue that private companies can drug test because they are not the government, well apply for any government position, even as a garbage man and you WILL take a drug test. I agree with drug testing welfare recipients for the following reasons:
1. I am paying their salary and I am not the government!
2. The drug testing should be random.
3. The 4th and 5th generation welfare bums should be tested also, not just new applicants.
4. Alcoholism and drug addiction is not something my hard earned tax dollars should go for.
5. How many people do any of you personally know that have worked their way off welfare? I'll bet the percentage is lower than the positive rates the Florida tests exposed.
I could go on all day. What are these poor indigents going to do when we the taxpayer finally get fed up with over 50% of every tax dollar going to their well being. We won't have to worry about that though because our idiotic government will be in total economic collapse long before then.

Anonymous

Floridian Says:

Apr 18th, 2012 at 9:02pm

Re: Maybe in Florida:

You said
"People have to take a drug test to be able to work, they should be dr ug 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 d rug test on any citizen, with certain public safety exceptions.

Welfare isn't a job, it's temporary financial assistance provided b y the state. Your private sector job doesn't have to comply with the c onstitution, because that document protects you from the Government, n ot from other private citizens."

I suggest you apply for any Local, State, or Federal job and you WILL be drug tested. How is that constitutional? How many people do you personally know that worked their way off welfare. Florida's only mistake was announcing the law and not testing current 4th and 5th generation welfare abusers. I'll bet the positive test results would have been much different.

Right winger

If you don't like the idea of having to take a drug test to get your "check" then don't get one that simple. It's a law and u have to follow it. ACLU is a huge waste of time because they are pulling America apart instead of putting it back together.

Anonymous

I don't understand how the ACLU can be on the side of stoner parents misusing tax-payer money that should be used for raising their children and instead putting it up their nose. I don't care if it costs more money to make sure children are being well cared for. I am on the side of the children. The ACLU does not seem to be on the side of strengthening families only weakening them.

Did you read it all?

It seems like most of the commenters on here only read 2/3 of the article before making up their minds. It clearly states that there was no reduction in applications after the law was passed. That means that people didn't avoid applying simply because they would be drug tested. And to those of you who think its easy to just get clean, take the test, pass, and go back to using let me ask you this.....if it's so easy then why is it so hard for drug users to get clean? Why are there clinics, rehab facilities, and special medications to get people off drugs if all it takes is to just stop doing it? It is NOT easy. It's not like quitting caffeine or even as easy as quitting smoking. It is hard, makes you sick, and takes more than a day or two to get clean. It just doesn't work that way.

Anonymous

try to help me understand, ACLU...you say this law is 'unconstitutional'?? where the hell were you when these welfare programs were set up!? THEY ARE UNCONSTITUTIONAL AND SHOULD NEVER HAVE BEEN ENACTED!

Anonymous

I don't understand how ACLU claims This law is unconstitutional, but don't complain that all welfare programs are unconstitutional?!

Anonymous

Is the fact saving money from these drug tests the only concern people have?

What about screening everyone to ensure those that are receiving help; do not abuse or take this benefit as a joke.

Like everything else; there should be checks and balances and maybe we all can be more compassionate and show empathy. Today, we can't the system is being severly abused.

I am apauled of why the drug screening or other screenings have not been implemented years ago. What happened to investigations and through checks when someone applies? If one has nothing to hide or is honest and don't intend to abuse the system; than like applying for a job; or applying to rent somewhere; are we going to lie and falsify information? No; than why would we get all worked up over additional checks and balances for the welfare system.

Anonymous

How many of those recipients that were tested used their child's urine rather than their own??? That's a trick every druggie in the country knows, but apparently it's still a secret from those doing the testing.

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