Florida Finds That Not All Welfare Recipients Are Drug-Addled Pillbillies


The Florida legislature passed a law earlier this year requiring welfare applicants to pay for drug tests. If applicants test negative for illegal drugs, the state reimburses them and puts them on the dole. If they test positive, they can't reapply for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families for at least a year. The state does not pay for drug treatment. 

Florida Gov. Rick Scott insisted when he signed the bill that "it's fair to taxpayers," who are "paying the bill" and are "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." 

Three months later, the program is costing taxpayers more than it's saving them. Central Florida's WFTV found that out of the 40 families that have been tested since the law went into effect on July 1, only two have tested positive for drugs, and one of those cases is going through the appeal process:  

DCF said it has been referring applicants to clinics where drug screenings cost between $30 and $35. The applicant pays for the test out of his or her own pocket and then the state reimburses him if they test comes back negative.

Therefore, the 38 applicants in the Central Florida area, who tested negative, were reimbursed at least $30 each and cost taxpayers $1,140.

Meanwhile, the state is saving less than $240 a month by refusing benefits to those two applicants who tested positive.

9 Investigates first uncovered evidence in June that a similar program in Idaho also cost more than it saved.

However, the state insisted that the program is as much about principles as it is about money. "We wanted to ensure that the individuals who are eligible for this benefit are using them for the true, intended purpose of this benefit," DCF spokeswoman Carrie Hoeppner said.

If this is a veiled attempt to starve pill mills of welfare bucks, how does the state determine who has a legitimate prescription and who doesn't? Drugs aside, there are plenty of ways to (arguably) misspend welfare money, like gambling, strip clubs, and buying groceries at Whole Foods. The state can't test for those activities, and even if it could, I'm guessing it would find that a lot of families are making their welfare dollars go as far as possible. Nobody likes being poor or explaining to their kids why they can't have nice things to eat or wear. 

Lastly, drug-testing welfare recipients seems especially outrageous when you consider that Florida has intentionally excluded recipients of corporate welfare. Sugar cane farmers, commercial real estate developers, skilled trade groups, Mormon ranchers, theme park owners, and film, medical, and tech companies all receive welfare from the state of Florida in the form of tax breaks, eminent domain, water rights, and occupational licensing, but only poor people have to piss in a cup with a stranger watching.  

For more, see Matt Welch on drug testing welfare recipients