Florida's nascent drug testing program for welfare recipients has been in effect for just over a month, and already it is representing a significant cost to the state.
The law requires that those applying for welfare take a drug test at their own personal expense. The payoff is simple: if the test is clean, the welfare application advances and the state reimburses the applicant for the test. If the applicant tests positive for drug use, they don't qualify for aid and they are not reimbursed.
The exact number of tests taken and their result is still being tabulated by the Department of Children and Families, but Tampa Bay Online reported that at least 1,000 tests had been taken for welfare applications between mid-July and mid-August.
Ninety-six percent of the tests were clean, 2 percent didn't complete the application process for unspecified reasons and only 2 percent of the applicants tested positive for drug use.
Using the estimation of 1,000 tests, that means only 20 people failed their tests. The 960 people whose tests were clean represent $28,800 in reimbursements from the state, along with the cost of the welfare benefits they were paid — an average of $134 per month.
Assuming that 20 to 30 people fail the test per month, in a year the money saved on all rejected applicants would add up to $40,800 to $60,000. State analysts predict the welfare program will cost $178 million this fiscal year.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) rationalized the drug testing by saying that there is a higher rate of drug use among welfare recipients than the general population.
However, recent data from U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services showed that in the population above 12 years old, 8.7 percent use illicit drugs, and 6.3 percent of people 26 and older use drugs, compared to the demonstrated 2 percent of welfare recipients in Florida.
The pattern also held true when analyzing data from only the central Florida region: only two of 40 tests administered were positive for drug use, and one of those tests is being appealed.
Derek Newton, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said that the low failure rate for the tests only reinforced the false stereotype that poor people abuse drugs.
"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."