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'Welfare' Drug Tests Come In; Results Are Predictable

August 20, 2011 - 6:00pm

A sampling of the cost for drug-testing welfare recipients in Central Florida shows the program is a loss leader for the state.

Liberals -- who are all about "lifestyle choices" and "privacy" at taxpayer expense -- will have a field day with this one. But, as reported by Sunshine State News earlier this year, the Department of Children and Families never expected drug screening to turn a profit.

And, sure enough, it hasn't.

WFTV-Orlando reported last week that of 40 area applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, only two tested positive for drugs. And one of the tests is being appealed.

Per guidelines by the state Department of Children and Families, the 38 "negative" applicants were reimbursed for their clean tests, a cost estimated to total $1,140, the report said.

The state will save a combined $480 a month by refusing benefits to the two applicants who tested positive.

When campaigning for governor, Rick Scott suggested that drug-testing of welfare recipients could yield a net cost reduction to the state. DCF officials later downplayed that projection.

"There won't be significant savings," Joe Follick, DCF's director of communications, told Sunshine State News last spring. "The goal is to make sure taxpayers' money is used for the intended purposes."

And from that perspective, the Central Florida experience is right on track. While the initial sampling did not expose rampant drug use by TANF recipients -- at least among those who applied -- it did uncover some abuse, and the testing program is weeding out the offenders.

"You dont get to add up the cost savings of cash assistance minus the cost of the test in a vacuum," Scott spokesman Lane Wright said Sunday.

Referencing the two "positive" test results, Wright added, "When you consider the long-term costs to the state, and impact on the individual, his or her family, and the community, the benefit of testing those two applicants goes far beyond a simple dollar figure."

Critics say the initial results prove their contention that drug testing is akin to smashing gnats with a very pricey hammer. But before the ACLU et al start filing their threatened lawsuits, forcing the expenditure of still more taxpayer money, the knee-jerk opponents should consider:

  • No one can say how many drug users opted not to apply for benefits, knowing that they would be screened. If drug-testing proactively cleans up the applicant pool, so much the better.
  • DCF notes that failed drug tests can trigger deeper household investigations into possible child abuse and money mishandling by recipients -- also a worthwhile by-product.
  • With some 90,000 individuals statewide receiving monthly TANF benefits, the Central Florida sampling is just the tip of the statistical iceberg. Much more data need to be collected before attempting a comprehensive cost-benefit analysis.

Meanwhile, Scott's critics can finally bury the scurrilous charge that the governor is personally cashing in on the program. His sale of Solantic walk-in clinics took him out of the drug-screening business altogether.


This is an opinion column by Kenric Ward. Contact himat or at (772) 801-5341.

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