FLORIDA – As results for the first month of Gov. Rick Scott’s “drug test the poor” law come in, only 2 percent test positive for illicit drug use.
In keeping true to his tea party campaign promise, Gov. Scott signed a bill into law this past May that requires all applicants for the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to take a drug screening. Those that test positive for illicit substances will not be eligible for the assistance for one full year, and a second failed test is a three-year ban. This drug test requires the applicant to pay up front for the test. If the applicant passes the drug test, he/she will be reimbursed for the cost of the test.
Scott’s statement to the press during the signing of the bill was, “While there are certainly legitimate needs for public assistance, it is unfair for Florida taxpayers to subsidize drug addiction. This new law will encourage personal accountability and will help to prevent the misuse of tax dollars.” Further scapegoating the needy for Florida’s economic woes, Gov. Scott said in an appearance on CNN that “Studies show that people that are on welfare are higher users of drugs than people not on welfare.”
Drug testing the poor was part of Gov. Scott’s “7 Step” tea party platform when running for office. According to his campaign literature, Scott would reduce government spending by requiring drug screening for welfare recipients with a possible savings to the state of Florida of $77 million. But now with a 98 percent majority of those tested passing this state mandated drug screening, that savings could be negligible.
With the average cost of the screenings being $30 and estimates from the Department of Children and Families of 1,000-1,500 applicants per month, the state may owe $28,800 – $43,200 in monthly reimbursements to those who tested drug-free. Compare that to the roughly $32,200 – $48,200 the state could save on rejected applicants. This puts the annual savings to Florida taxpayers at $ 40,800 – $60,000 for a program that is projected to cost $178 million this fiscal year.
Back in May, as it was clear that Gov. Scott was championing the drug test bill, the legislation came under fire.
“The wasteful program created by this law subjects Floridians who are impacted by the economic downturn, as well as their families, to a humiliating search of their urine and bodily fluids without cause or even suspicion of drug abuse,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the ACLU of Florida. “Searching the bodily fluids of those in need of assistance is a scientifically, fiscally and constitutionally unsound policy. Today, that unsound policy is Florida law.”
Rep. Alcee Hastings (D) said, “Governor Scott’s new drug testing law is not only an affront to families in need and detrimental to the nation’s ongoing economic recovery, it is downright unconstitutional… If Governor Scott wants to drug test recipients of TANF benefits, where does he draw the line? Are families receiving Medicaid, state emergency relief, or educational grants and loans next?”
Conflict-of-interest questions also surfaced. Being that the majority of applicants for TANF benefits would use private health care clinics for drug screenings, Gov. Scott’s former company Solantic could stand to profit directly from his new state law, along with the rest of the for-profit health care industry in Florida.
As the results of Gov. Scott’s drug screenings prove his statements about the needy to be false (a 98 percent pass rate), the motivation for pushing and signing this bill into law becomes clear; more hand-outs to multi-million dollar companies on the backs of Florida’s taxpayers .