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Few Florida Welfare Applicants Fail Drug Tests So Far

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #698)

During his election campaign last year, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) campaigned on, among other things, cutting government spending by reducing the welfare rolls through drug testing. Welfare recipients were more likely than average citizens to be drug users, he claimed.

drug testing paraphernalia
Scott successfully pushed his welfare drug testing bill through the legislature, and the program went into effect July 1. But preliminary results undercut his claims of high drug use rates among people seeking welfare benefits and they suggest that the vaunted savings to taxpayers will not be very significant.

According to the Tampa Tribune, the state Department of Children and Families is reporting some preliminary numbers. So far, at least 1,000 applicants have undergone drug testing, and only 2% have failed their drug tests. Another 2% have, for reasons unknown, failed to complete the application process.

These numbers suggest that not only are Florida welfare recipients not a bunch of lazy junkies getting high on the backs of taxpayers, but that they actually use drugs at a significantly lower rate than the population as a whole. [Ed: Drug testing proponents might argue that the program is causing applicants to stop using drugs in order to quality for benefits. But that ideas squares neither with the "addict" characterization commonly made about welfare recipients nor the weeks that marijuana remains detectable in the bloodstream after its last use.]

According to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, 8.7% of the population nationally over age 12 used an illicit drug in the previous month. The rate was 6.3% for those ages 26 and up. The 2006 national survey disaggregated usage rates by state and found a figure of 7.69% of people 12 and over using within the past month in Florida.

The ACLU of Florida, which is studying a lawsuit to challenge the constitutionality of the warrantless, suspicionless mandatory drug tests, told the Tampa Tribune the Florida law is based on stereotypes of poor people.

"This is just punishing people for being poor, which is one of our main points," said ACLU of Florida spokesman Dan Newton. "We're not testing the population at-large that receives government money; we're not testing people on scholarships, or state contractors. So why these people? It's obvious -- because they're poor."

These initial numbers also suggest that the welfare drug testing program will not be a big money saver for the state. Under the law, while welfare applicants and recipients must pay for the drug tests out of their own pockets, the state must reimburse those who test negative. At an estimated $30 a pop for the drug tests, that creates significant expenditures for the state.

Those expenditures are canceled out by the savings the state makes by not making welfare payments to those who test positive. If the current 2% positive test result rate holds true, the Tampa Tribune calculates, the state could save somewhere between $40,000 and $60,000 a year.

But that's a drop in the bucket in a program that is predicted to cost $178 million this year, and it doesn't include staff costs and other resources the state has expended to implement the program -- nor the cost if even one person testing positive ends up in an emergency room or courtroom as a result. And even the small savings projected by the Tribune could be wiped out by the cost of defending what is likely to be found an unconstitutional infringement on the rights of Florida welfare applicants and recipients to be free of unwarranted searches.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.


Anonymous421 (not verified)

2% was the rate of drug use, wait for it, in 1900.  So, billions and billions spent, millions upon millions arrested and absolutely no change whatsoever.  Selective drug enforcement doesn't work.

Thu, 08/25/2011 - 12:18am Permalink
Anonymous999 (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous421 (not verified)

Sweet, so you compare apples to oranges and talk about illicit drug use at a time when you could get heroin and cocaine at your local macy's. What makes you think those numbers are correct or account for what was "legal?" Why not compare 2% to numbers of illicit drug users and addicts in the 60's, 70's, and 80's? I'm sorry but as someone trying to make a point, you fail miserably.

Thu, 08/25/2011 - 12:58pm Permalink
Le' Anonymous (not verified)

In reply to by Anonymous999 (not verified)

Actually, he makes a great point. It is unclear what exactly your trying to rebuke, but what he is saying, that the addiction or usage rates of various drugs, including alcohol, remains fairly steady with or without prohibition. So it begs the question; what have the trillions of dollars spent gotten us? What about the ever increasing crime and homicide rate we (some of us...) impose on ourselves by strengthening the violent black market? Then there's the moral judgment we must face as a society for ruining the lives of so many of our own citizens who have DONE NOTHING WRONG! Drug warriors really need a smack in the face to bring them back to reality... I'd love to be the one to do it. 

Thu, 08/25/2011 - 3:01pm Permalink
undrgrndgirl (not verified)

i see the need for YOUR drug testing as punishment, as a form of search without probable cause or as a form of presumed guilt without the benefit of trial...there is no evidence that work place drug testing improves performance or has any bearing on ones ability to perform his/her job (SOME jobs, like surgeon not withstanding, but most surgeons are not drug tested)...

secondly, there is no across the board drug testing  for those who are paid by the government so your argument there falls short, too. (essentially any government employee is also given tax dollars to survive)...

third, there, again, is no correlation between using drugs and wanting to/working toward getting off welfare...MOST drug users (including caffeine junkies and alcohol imbibers) are gainfully employed tax paying citizens...for most people it is humiliating enough to have to ask for what little help is out there, drug testing is just salt in the wounds.

i hope this targeted drug testing turns out to be a COSTLY, COSTLY colossal waste of money for the state of florida.

Fri, 08/26/2011 - 2:54am Permalink
sicntired (not verified)

Where's the ACLU?This is a violation of a person's basic right to privacy.Why are Americans bending over and letting these right wing zealots rule as they will?These people are being asked to pay for the tests as well.That is a clear violation of a persons right to basic sustenance without cost over and above.These people are asking for help because they have NOTHING.This just adds further stress and further devalues a person's humanity.Lets drug test all the people from the horn of Africa too.They will just have to scrounge up $300 to apply for aid.Sound crazy?So does this law.

Mon, 08/29/2011 - 11:35pm Permalink
Professionals … (not verified)

At $30 per test and 1,000 test administered, we have another $30,000 of tax payers money wasted.

Nice going, Rick Scott. 

Sun, 09/04/2011 - 8:45pm Permalink
robb (not verified)

The key point is not even mentioned in the article.  The article mentions that there were 4% the got off the program, and that's only during a 3 month period.  But the real point not even mentioned is that total applications for the program are way down.  While other states have been increasing their welfare programs, Florida has found a way to decrease their programs.  Isn't that really the goal anyway?

Fri, 02/10/2012 - 9:33pm Permalink

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