Welfare Drug Test Saves Taxpayer Money, Study Finds
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Florida’s new law requiring welfare recipients to undergo drug tests before receiving state aid garnered high marks in a study released on Wednesday by the Naples-based Foundation for Government Accountability, a conservative think tank launched earlier in the year.
Tarren Bragdon, a former Maine state representative, and president and CEO of the FGA, authored “The Impact of Florida’s New Drug Test Requirement for Welfare Cash Assistance."
Bragdon examined the law, which was passed by the Republican majorities in both chambers of the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Rick Scott earlier in the year. The law requires potential welfare recipients to pay for their own drug tests and denies taxpayer-funded assistance for a year to those who fail them. The state provides reimbursement in the first month of assistance for applicants whose tests come back indicating they are free from drugs. Applicants who fail the drug test but undergo counseling can apply again after six months.
The study focused on 5,964 Floridians who applied for cash assistance in July. According to the study, 574 applicants were denied because they tested positive for drug use -- though 565 who simply never underwent a drug test were denied welfare.
“Drug users seeking taxpayer-funded cash assistance find it cheaper and easier to skip the drug test and forgo that benefit rather than submit positive results,” Bragdon said in a statement. “If an applicant knows he will test positive for drug use, and knows he will be denied benefits for up to a year, a drug test is a waste of time and money. But that drug user’s loss is the taxpayers’ gain.”
Bragdon’s study found the state saved almost $923,000 by not providing assistance to the 574 applicants who did not pass drug tests. As the state spent less than $162,000 on reimbursing applicants who took tests that found no drugs in their systems, Florida had a net savings of more than $761,000. Bragdon insisted that, if this pattern holds, the state will save more than $9 million in the first year of the law.
Bragdon took aim at critics of the law who maintained that it produced no significant savings. With 9.6 percent of applicants ineligible for welfare due to drug tests, the report found the program would save the state money as long as more than 1.87 percent of applicants were denied assistance. If the results from Florida are reflected in other states, taxpayers across the nation would save more than $173 million annually.
“Given the significant taxpayer savings and other positive initial results of this drug testing requirement for new applicants, policymakers would be wise to expand this requirement to include all current recipients of welfare cash assistance,” Bragdon said.
“Drug testing for cash assistance not only preserves precious state dollars for the truly needy, it sends a very clear message that the state will not tolerate attempts to take advantage of taxpayers’ generosity. There should be certain fundamental expectations to meet in order to receive these benefits. Staying clean and sober should be the most basic expectation of all.”
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