Florida’s Governor Rick Scott signed a law, effective July 1, 2011, requiring people applying for welfare to be drug tested in order to qualify to receive benefits.
Gov. Rick Scott says, ‘It’s fair to taxpayers. They’re paying the bill. And they’re often drug-screened for their jobs. On top of that, it’s good for families. It creates another reason why people will think again before using drugs, which, as you know, is just a significant issue in our state.’
Since July 1, 1,000 people have been tested with an estimated 1,500 expected to be tested each month. In August of this year, only 2 percent of those tested had positive test results, according to The Tampa Tribune. Another 2 percent refused to complete the application process, and 96 percent had drug-free test results.
Luis Lebron, a 35-year old U.S. Navy Veteran from Orlando is currently suing the state because he was denied assistance for refusing to take the required drug test. Lebron says he is not a drug user, but he is a single father and sole caregiver for his disabled mother. Lebron says that the law assumes ‘everyone who needs a little help has a drug problem.’
Lebron isn’t the only one who doesn’t agree with this new law. Some say the testing is an inconvenience. Others are concerned about the cost to the state government. Drug testing costs can vary widely. Some say it can cost as little as $10; others say it costs $30 and still others say costs can run up to $70 per person. Whatever the cost, applicants will have to pay it up front. If the test results are negative, the cost will be refunded. First-time failures will not be able to receive benefits for at least one year. A second failed drug test disqualifies a person for three years. The law, however, does make allowances for parents who fail a drug test. Another individual can be chosen to receive funds on behalf of a child.
Those in favor of the law say it will weed out some welfare recipients who abuse the system. Democrats and advocates for the poor say the law violates an individual’s constitutional right to privacy. Scott, on the other hand says,
‘While there are certainly legitimate needs for public assistance, it is unfair for Florida taxpayers to subsidize a drug addiction.’
In 1998, the state researched this issue but failed to find a link between financial need and drug use. Again in 2001, a pilot-testing program was ended when it showed no link between welfare recipients and drug use.
During his campaign for governor, Scott made it clear that if elected, he would fight to pass a law that allows Florida to drug test welfare applicants. The Welfare Reform Act of 1996 gave every state the authorization to drug test aid recipients. The state of Michigan voted to test potential recipients in 1999. However, when the law was challenged, drug testing halted after five weeks. After a four year legal battle, the law was overturned.
With 1,000 to 1,500 applicants being tested each month, the figures come out as follows according to Newser.com:
‘It will amount to $28,800 to $43,200 in reimbursements a month. Each rejected applicant will save the state $134 per month, but since a single failed test disqualifies someone from a year’s worth of benefits, the state could come out ever-so-slightly ahead—if 20 to 30 people keep testing positive each month, and if the costs of administering the program don’t wipe out any savings.’
The Miami Herald
The Florida Times Union