Last night, The Daily Show featured an interview with ACLU of Florida client Luis Lebron, a single father and full-time student who cares for his disabled mother. Luis, a Navy veteran, took a stand for his constitutional rights after learning the state of Florida wanted to force him to take a drug test before he could receive temporary cash assistance from the state. Fortunately, Florida’s drug testing program for welfare applicants has since been put on hold. Last night’s show highlighted the hypocrisy and unfairness of forcing people in need of assistance to submit to such an invasive search, but not Florida politicians whose salaries also rely on taxpayer dollars.
When Luis found out that in order to qualify for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) he would need to take a drug test, he reached out to the ACLU of Florida for help. He refused to take the test because, as he said, Florida’s drug testing program is “casting a cloud over a population of people with no factual evidence.”
In fact, there is some evidence — but unfortunately for Gov. Rick Scott and other Florida lawmakers pushing this legislation, the evidence flies in the face of their rationale for the program, which was in place for several months before being enjoined by a federal court last October. During that time,only two percent of Florida TANF applicants tested positive for drug use — compared to nine percent of Floridians in the general population that are estimated to use drugs. So not only did Florida pass and implement an unconstitutional law, it passed a law that was a solution in search of a problem, cost the state more money than it saved, and violated the privacy of Floridians who had done nothing wrong. As the Daily Show’s Aasif Mandvi quipped last night, “humiliation for the 98 percent that pass is a small price to pay for a program that has saved Floridians negative $200,000.”
State legislatures around the country are now debating similar laws that would require people to pass a drug test before receiving benefits. They would all do well to take a tip from Luis Lebron and the state of Florida: poor people are not criminals, and treating them as such is unconstitutional, unfair and a waste of money.