Latest numbers show what welfare drug testing is costing the state

By | 10.11.11 | 11:50 am

According to the latest numbers from Florida’s new welfare drug testing requirements, the state is currently spending more money on drug testing welfare applicants than it is saving money by denying benefits to those applicants who fail the test.

The New York Times reports:

The law in Florida, where the average recipient receives $253 a month for less than five months, is more expansive. It requires applicants to pay for their own drug tests, which the state says costs up to $40, and the state will reimburse those who pass. People who fail the test are disqualified for one year — six months if they receive treatment — and are reported to the Florida abuse hot line. Payments to children can continue through another person, like a grandparent.

Since July, 7,030 passed, 32 failed and 1,597 did not provide results, according to the state. The state said it does not track what drugs caused failures, but elsewhere the vast majority of cases involved marijuana.

A spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida says these new numbers show there is currently only a 0.4 percent failure rate among applicants.

The ACLU’s Derek Newton says in a statement today that “based on the NYT estimate that the average temporary assistance applicant receives $253 monthly for less than five months, the state has saved $40,480 in denied benefits due to drug testing.”

“With an average test cost of about $35,” he writes, “the state reimbursed $246,050 for the tests of those who passed. The net loss to the state of $200,000 since July does not include substantial administrative or legal costs.”

According to the Times, opponents “suggest the number of drug users among people who receive public benefits is lower than the general population, and proponents say that it suggests that drug users are being deterred from taking the test.”

Newton adds that “since the state requires applicants to pay for tests in advance and testing facilities are not available in every community, it’s impossible to know how many of the 1,597 applicants who did not take the test would have passed or failed or would have lost eligibility otherwise.”

“There are at least 13 reasons other than fear of failure why someone who is eligible for temporary assistance may not complete a drug test,” he says.

Former White House Drug Policy Coordinator Barry McCaffrey told a crowd of former and recovering addicts near Pensacola over a week ago that Florida’s welfare drug testing law made no sense and was generally a bad move. However, recent polling has found that Florida voters support the law.

The ACLU of Florida is currently representing Luis Lebron, an Orlando resident who has filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the drug testing law. Lebron — a full-time student, Navy veteran and single father — was recently denied benefits he was otherwise qualified for because he refused to waive his Fourth Amendment rights and submit to a drug test. State Sen. Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, has filed legislation that would repeal the drug testing law.

State attorneys filed their final legal documents in the ACLU legal challenge yesterday. The judge is expected to rule at any time on the challenge.

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