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The Problem with Drug Testing for Welfare

I don’t know if I’ve blogged about this before, but when Florida passed it’s drug testing requirement to receive welfare, I said it was a really, really bad idea.  Why? It will cost more than it saves and it lines the pockets of drug testing companies. (that Rick Scott, the Governor who pushed this through, had ownership or interest in – so he profits from it!)

So, was I right?

policy makers in three dozen states have proposed drug testing for people receiving benefits like welfare, unemployment assistance, job training and food stamps.

In 2011, Florida succeeded in passing legislation requiring the drug testing of welfare applicants at the urging of its Governor Rick Scott, who rode to office on a wave of Tea Party support. The roughly 113,000 Florida welfare recipients must pay for their own drug test. People who fail the test become ineligible for a year. A second failed test makes them ineligible for three years.

Only about 2 percent of Florida’s welfare applicants are failing the test, according to Florida’s Department of Children and Families. After adding up the savings derived from not paying welfare to this 2 percent and subtracting the cost of testing 100 percent of the applicants the Tampa Tribune concluded that Florida may save “up to $40,800 to $60,000 for a program that state analysts have predicted will cost $178 million this fiscal year. 

The law has only been in effect for three months. So far, if you don’t count the extra staff and resources to do the testing and assume that all 2% of the failed would have collected assistance for a full year (unlikely), the savings are between $40 and $60 thousand a year. Another 2% don’t complete the application process – probably because they couldn’t come up with the $30 to pay for the test or they spent it on food for their family or maybe got a job before they finished the process.  So the total savings could be as high as $98,000 per year – unlikely assumptions being used – but may be a lot less or even wind up costing the state taxpayers money.

When you include any costs associated with trying to take away the children of those who failed the test, it could be much more expensive.

So, it seems to be, perhaps, a bit beneficial to punish 2% of a population.  Actually, it is punishing all welfare recipients – just for being poor or down on their luck. But lets look at that 2%.

More than once, Scott has said publicly that people on welfare use drugs at a higher rate than the general population. The 2 percent test fail rate seen by DCF, however, does not bear that out.

According to the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health, performed by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, 8.7 percent of the population nationally over age 12 uses illicit drugs. The rate was 6.3 percent for those ages 26 and up.
A 2008 study by the Office of National Drug Control Policy also showed that 8.13 percent of Floridians age 12 and up use illegal drugs.

By a sizable margin (6%), less people on welfare use drugs than the general population of Florida. I wonder why? Here is a clue – they can’t friggin afford drugs!!  They are broke and need assistance to get food! When it is food or drugs, most choose food… or they choose drugs and then die. Most of the people on welfare are not lazy, not drug addicts and not ‘on the dole’ for more than 14 months.

Newton said that’s proof the drug-testing program is based on a stereotype, not hard facts.

“This is just punishing people for being poor, which is one of our main points,” he said. “We’re not testing the population at-large that receives government money; we’re not testing people on scholarships, or state contractors. So why these people? It’s obvious– because they’re poor.”

What, then, is my summary opinion of drug testing for welfare recipients? It is a mean-spirited, costly, hateful, wasteful attack on the poorest of us that is being used and promoted in order to distract the 99% from the machinations of the top 1% who are actually causing fiscal problems.

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