Florida's welfare drug tests cost more money than state saves, data shows

Reply Fri 20 Apr, 2012 10:59 am
Apr. 20, 2012
Florida's welfare drug tests cost more money than state saves, data shows
Brittany Alana Davis | The Miami Herald

Required drug tests for people seeking welfare benefits ended up costing taxpayers more than it saved and failed to curb the number of prospective applicants, data used against the state in an ongoing legal battle shows.

The findings — that only 108 of the 4,086 people who took a drug test failed — are additional ammunition for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which sued the state and won a temporary ban on the drug-testing program in October, said ACLU spokesman Derek Newton.

Attorneys for the state immediately appealed the ban, and will face off against the ACLU again at the 11th Circuit Court in Atlanta and the U.S. District Court in Orlando in coming months.

The costs and benefits of the law — and the outcome of the court case — could reverberate nationwide. This week, Georgia passed its own drug welfare law.

Since Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill into law last year, 25 states have considered similar legislation, Newton said.

Data about the law’s cost may impact the court of public opinion, but Jenn Meale, a spokeswoman for the attorney general’s office, said it won’t play a role in the legal proceedings.

That’s because ACLU’s case rests on whether the law violates the Fourth Amendment, which protects citizens against "unreasonable searches" by the government.

"Any costs associated with the program are irrelevant to the analysis of whether the statute is constitutional," Meale said.

Of the 4,086 applicants who scheduled drug tests while the law was enforced, 108 people, or 2.6 percent, failed, most often testing positive for marijuana. About 40 people scheduled tests but canceled them, according to the Department of Children and Families, which oversees Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, known as the TANF program.

The numbers, confirming previous estimates, show that taxpayers spent $118,140 to reimburse people for drug test costs, at an average of $35 per screening.

The state’s net loss? $45,780.

"That’s not counting attorneys and court fees and the thousands of hours of staff time it took to implement this policy," Newton said.

The law also didn’t impact the number of people who applied for benefits.

The findings don’t ruffle supporters of the law, who say that its primary purpose is to make sure taxpayer money doesn’t supplement drug use.

"It’s not about money, it’s about the drug issue," said Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Lecanto, who sponsored the legislation. "It’s about using every tool we have in the toolbox to fight drugs."

Jackie Schutz, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, said the governor agreed: The drug welfare law is about protecting children and getting parents back to work.

"It is important to ensure that people who receive TANF dollars use the cash assistance appropriately and not spend it on illegal drugs," she said.

Smith said he believes the law helps keep people off drugs and that there’s undocumented savings in the form of less prison costs and fewer broken families.

He sponsored another bill in 2012, recently signed into law by Scott, to allow state agencies to drug test their employees and fire those who test positive.

That law is also expected to cost money and to yield lawsuits.
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Reply Fri 20 Apr, 2012 11:27 am
There was never any real question that the program would save any state dollars due to pilot programs that in fact showed that illegal drug use in that population was the same or even slightly less then the overall population.

Of course the shareholders like the governor until he was force to sell his stock and other stakeholders in the drug testing companies would gain many millions of tax payers funds.

You can not support pot smokers with tax funds but the rich owners of drug testing companies and whatever drugs they care to use is a fish of another kind.
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Reply Fri 20 Apr, 2012 03:30 pm
It's all about denying help to the needy anyway.
Reply Fri 20 Apr, 2012 05:08 pm
An if they must provide some help then the goal is to find ways to siphon off as must of the fundings as possible such as in drugs testings.
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Reply Fri 20 Apr, 2012 05:11 pm
edgarblythe wrote:

It's all about denying help to the needy anyway.

I truly think this is a secondary goal. The primary goal, imo, is to prey on the emotions of the taxpayers in order to pad the pockets of those who can benefit most by preying on those emotions. It's a scam. The intent is to convince the taxpayers to spend $$$$$ in order to save $. It's called redistribution of wealth, conservative style.
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