Editorials

Reports reveal impact of Florida's new law on welfare drug tests

Here's a curious and revealing case of contrasting news reports this week:

No. 1: Before applicants for welfare benefits are handed a check, Florida requires a drug test thanks to a law adopted last year. The state does not want any taxpayer money going toward dope. This is understandable as a societal matter yet questionable on a constitutional basis.

Should the applicant fail the screening, that person pays for the test -- on average, $35. Should the results prove negative, the state pays for the test but ostensibly saves money by avoiding the cost of benefits to druggies.

Apparently, even the drug-addled know to stay away from a test site. A miniscule number of welfare applicants failed, a mere 108 out of 4,086 before a federal court ordered a temporary ban on testing four months after the law went into effect.

So taxpayers were left holding the bag for $118,140 to reimburse the people who passed the drug test. That amount exceeds what the state would have paid out in benefits to the applicants who failed the test.

So no savings. Plus, the law did not reduce the caseload in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program as predicted. Between those two results, justification for the law appears null and void. Right?

Well, not so much. Now the reasoning goes the law is intended to protect children and get parents back to work. Even with the ground shifting beneath us, we can't argue against that.

While Florida newspapers reported all this, even the New York Times took aim. Why? Almost predictably, the Sunshine State is the nation's trend-setter on mandating drugs tests for welfare recipients. Some two dozen other states are following Florida's example, with Georgia adopting an almost carbon-copy mandate.

No. 2: After civil liberties organizations convinced a federal court judge in late October to issue a temporary injunction against the law on constitutional grounds, guess what happened? Applications for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families soared by 10.5 percent by December. As a result, state payouts jumped 7.9 percent to $12.5 million -- "by far the largest month-to-month increase for at least a decade," Florida Current reported.

It doesn't take a genius to draw conclusions from these disparate reports.

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