Drug Tests For Welfare; Is Florida Out of Bounds?

In the current economic and financial state of this country tax dollars have become almost a sacred thing to many hard working Americans. Millions of Americans are feeling the strain of a tough market, and too little opportunity. This is the reason Florida Governor Rick Scott passed legislation in Florida that all Florida residents applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) would be required to pass a urine screening for drugs in order to get their aid, which under the TANF program is $253 per month for the average family, spanning roughly 4 ½ months. On the surface this seems like a great idea; no American, liberals included, wants to see their hard earned money they paid in taxes go to supporting substance abuse, and entitlement scamming. We all know, or at least know of a habitual drug abuser who refuses to get help, and will not hold down a job because their addiction. This tragic acquaintance will use all the money available to them to get their next fix, taking advantage of the good hearted Americans who support the welfare program in order to get whatever free money the government will give them, and using it to support their habit. The problem with this is that we cannot assume that everyone or even the majority of people on welfare fit this mold. There are thousands of unemployed who legitimately want and are looking for a job, but cannot find one because too many companies have been forced to lay off workers. However, in a time where all of us citizens have to tighten the belt a notch, it is commendable to see Governors like Rick Scott attempting to do the same. It makes so much sense, that 36 other states are considering using the program.

So is the drug testing for welfare system an effective one? As more and more states are considering following the path of Florida, this question needs to be answered. Well, the numbers are out, and they are difficult to draw conclusions from. This program has been in place since July, 1, and thus far, 8657 people have taken place in the program, attempting to receive welfare benefits. The system is set up so that each applicant must pay between $30 and $40, at their own expense, to be screened for drugs. If the applicant passes the state will reimburse the applicant through the welfare system, if they fail, they lose the $40 and are not eligible to receive state welfare for one year. However, if the test is failed, and there is a dependent child who may depend on the welfare to eat, the money can be channeled through a separate family member, such as a grandparent; however, this can delay the money from being granted for as much as a month. Even with this, the system is set up to leave none wanting who will not misuse the aid. Of the 7028 welfare applicants who have submitted a test to this program, the overwhelming majority—99.6%–have passed. Moreover, a mere 32 applicants have failed the test, although another 1597 backed out from the application process when the time came to submit a urine sample for screening. If the test is failed, the applicant is not subject to prosecution, and the type of drug that is detected is not stored in any system; however, separate sources have informed the media that the majority of those who failed tested positive for marijuana.

This is where the debate becomes heated. The numbers show that only .4% of applicants actually failed the drug tests; a far lower rate than the actual national average. Opponents of the system, mostly Left wing activists, have taken this number and run wild with it, claiming that the system actually costs the state money, thereby wasting precious tax payer dollars. The supporters of the system, which are spread out across many demographics, are beginning to be more vocal in order to counteract those screaming out against it. Those fighting the legislation label it as class warfare, pointing to the small numbers who actually fail the test, and saying that the system is only stigmatizing the poor, using the false stereotypes to fuel a conflict between the government and those in poverty. They make a valid claim that the government cannot begin using economic profiling and assuming that all poor people are poor because they are on drugs. They argue that the fact that only 32 of 7060 applicants actually failed the test is evidence enough that the program is ineffective and discriminatory. Of the 1597 that backed out, choosing not to take the test, the opponents of the system say they could not afford the $40 to take the test. This is hardly believable, especially considering all who pass the test are refunded for the cost; however, this does call attention to an important argument. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has filed a law suit against the program, arguing that it violates the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, which protect citizens from “unreasonable search and seizure,” arguing that requiring a drug test is unreasonable search. The ACLU asserts that if only .4% of applicants fail, the fact that a person is applying for welfare does not constitute probable cause for such a search. The numbers show that the poor are not drug abusers, and therefore the state must produce valid probable cause in order to issue a drug test.

The supporters of the program find this illogical. If a person is required to provide financial records in order to receive welfare, which in itself does not violate the Fourth Amendment, why would it then violate the Fourth Amendment to require proof that one is clean from drugs? If a person must be financially deserving of the welfare, they ought to also be morally deserving of it. A drug test cannot be labeled as unreasonable if it is done voluntarily, under the applicants own free will. The argument that the applicant depends on the welfare and does not actually have a choice seems viable in this case; however, it is clear that nobody is forcing an applicant to take the test, they can withdraw any time in the application process; which 1597—18.5%–did.

The reason for implementing this policy is that the Rick Scott believed it would save the state $77 million. Those who oppose this cry foul, saying that the new system actually costs more money than it saves. Under TANF the average family receives $253 per month for roughly 4 ½ months; totaling $1,138.50 per applicant. If only 32 applicants failed the drug test, the state only saved $36,432. To spend $40 reimbursing the 7028 applicants who passed the screening, it cost the state $281,120; ending in a net loss of $244,688. However these numbers are inconsistent. The simple fact is that on top of the 32 failed drug tests, 1597 did not take the test, meaning they did not receive welfare. If you crunch those numbers you find that by not giving welfare to the 1597 applicants who chose not to take the test for reasons they did not have to state, the state of Florida saved a net $1,537,064.50. It is foolish to assume that all 1597 who chose not to take the test did so because they could not afford it; a driving argument of opponents. It would also be stupid to assume that all who did not take the test did so because they knew they would fail it. A 50-50 split seems fair for an analysis; however, that would surely put liberals up in arms. So if we use a 70-30 split, the state still comes out as saving $255,933.50. In fact, in order for the state to break even, only 16.4% of those who chose not to take the test would need to have failed, a much more plausible number. Of the total 8657 people who applied for TANF, in order for the state of Florida to break even, only 293 people would need to have failed the test; this works out to be only 3.4%–less than half the national average of 8.7%. This means that even if we assume those on welfare abuse drugs at a rate exactly half the national average, the Florida drug test program will save money. If we assume those applying for welfare in Florida use drugs at the same rate as the rest of the nation—a completely reasonable assumption—the state of Florida would have saved over half of one million dollars from July 1, when the program was implemented until now. That amounts to over $2 million per year; not quite the $77 million Governor Scott campaigned, but still a significant amount nonetheless which will continue to accumulate over time. Even if we are gracious enough to assume that of the 1597 applicants who chose not to take the test, 1335 of them chose not to because they could not afford it, the program still breaks even. Surely of more than 262 people knew they would fail, and chose not to take the test because of it. The bottom line is this: for every person after 3.4% of the applicants who fails a drug test, the state saves close to $5,000 every year. All of these numbers assume every drug test will cots $40, though most drug tests will in actuality be between $30-$35.

Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of Floridians approve of this policy; including 49% of democrats. Clearly a popular system which also saves the state money should not be canceled. The system does not violate the Fourth Amendment if for no other reason than at the end of the day; applicants can walk away from the drug test. While it seems more likely that an applicant would walk away because they know they will fail, if one applicant who legitimately deserves aid does not receive it because they cannot afford the drug test, the system is flawed. At the same time, if one system scavenger uses tax payer money to buy drugs, the system is equally flawed. The state could require no upfront payment, and only charge those who fail, but that would create problems with those who refuse to or cannot pay a bill. The answer is not going to be a simple one, but it needs to be found. The system has been proven valuable, both in the eyes of Floridians, and in the state budget. For that reason it needs to remain; having said that, they can surely develop a way to ensure no deserving applicant is turned away.

15 October, 2011

–Matt Young

About patriotslog

I am studying to achieve a double major in political science and journalism from the University of Kentucky. I am married to a wonderful woman named Sierra. I am starting this blog because I feel the political climate in Washington is carving deep canyons for our children to climb out of. Our representatives, on both sides of the isle, do not represent us, they represent the lobbyists.This blog is not to give answers, but to make people think. I believe the more we think about our ideas the better they will become; as opposed to becoming more and more intrenched in far left or right wing brainwash, where it seems nobody thinks anymore. I hope y'all enjoy.

Posted on October 17, 2011, in Patriotslog Articles, Politics, Poverty and Welfare and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

  1. Hi,
    Very Nice Blog. Your posts are very informative.

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