Drug Testing Those Applying For Welfare Benefits
As of May 31st 2011 a new law was passed in Florida requiring all those applying for welfare benefits to pass a drug test in order to receive these benefits. Rick Scott, the governor of Florida, and others strongly promote this new law despite controversy from others, most prominent of who are the American Civil Liberties Union. Rick Scott promotes this bill as it gives peace of mind to taxpayers who are currently paying up to 30% of their incomes. Tax payers should be able to pay this in knowledge that they are not simply paying for those unemployed to fuel drug usage. Rick Scott is hoping that in the long-run this new law will give both peace and mind to tax payers while also creating savings from all those who fail the test and don’t receive benefits.
The law works by drug testing all those applying for welfare benefits. If the applicant tests negative then the state pays for the test. If however the applicant tests positive then they may not apply again for a year unless they can prove they have attended a self-paid treatment center. Then they may re-apply after 6 months. If an applicant fails a drug test for the second time they are made ineligible to apply for welfare benefits for three years.
The American Civil Liberties Union strongly opposes the new law; it claims that the bill is a violation of the recipient’s constitutional rights against unreasonable search and seizure. On June 1st the ACLU sued to stop the implementation of this new law which now also requires all applicants for state jobs to be tested for drugs and all existing employees can be randomly tested. Applying for welfare benefits is optional and so there can be no debate as to the violation of recipient’s rights as the application itself is not mandatory. Alongside this all employers are allowed to drug test their employees at random so how is this any different?
The new law only affects actual money benefits not food stamps so those who fail the test are not completely cut off by the state. The Bill also has a ‘protective payee’ system aimed to help children with drug-abusing parents. This happens when an adult supporting children fails to pass the drug test. In this instance then another adult can be drug tested, usually another family member, and if test negative can obtain the money for the welfare of the child.
There are some concerns about the potential financial consequences of this new law. 13 years ago Florida ran a pilot drug testing project targeted at poor residents on temporary cash benefits from the state. Less than 4% of the 8,800 applicants tested positive for drugs. All in all, this venture cost the state and tax payers almost $2.7 million.
According to the Department of Children and Families report since July 1st when this law was implemented only 2.5% of the welfare applicants have tested positive and failed the test. In contrast to this it is estimated that 8.9% of the general population illegally use drugs according to the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health. With drug testing companies charging $10 to $25 per drug test, making them the biggest beneficiaries of this law, it is estimated that this new law could create $515,000 to $1.27 million costs to tax payers annually.
Oklahoma in fact had proposed a similar bill to that of the one Florida has now passed. Oklahoma however withdrew the bill as it was believed it would end up costing more money that it would save.