'Welfare' Drug Tests Come In; Results Are Predictable

Small Central Florida sampling detects no rampant abuse by TANF applicants
By: Kenric Ward | Posted: August 22, 2011 3:55 AM
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Kenric Ward

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 don’t 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 him at or at (772) 801-5341.

Comments (18)

6:13PM AUG 30TH 2011
"Liberals -- who are all about "lifestyle choices" and "privacy" at taxpayer expense -- will have a field day with this one."

yeah, those stupid liberals, always trying to defend silly things like the 4th amendment and other parts of the bill of rights.
4:21PM AUG 29TH 2011
The government should but out of my welfare so what if I use it for drugs instead of feeding my kids its no one business but me.
1:16AM DEC 7TH 2012
It is other peoples business if you are spending your money on drugs instead of your kids. You are on Welfare used by Tax payers money. I pay my taxes therefore you are using my money for drugs and that not okay. I hope your kids are taken away from you.
9:31PM SEP 17TH 2013
Brent, that's his/her money that they put into the system. Take a look at your paycheck for unemployment, SS, FICA, etc. Both your state and federal governments take out YOUR money should you need it in the future. It's poverty insurance. I get that we don't want people to use the funds on drugs, but how about medical marijuana, how about the 4th amendment and our Constitutional rights? How do you know somebody didn't grow the marijuana themselves, for medicinal purposes? So two people got caught (one appealing), and over 1,000 had their rights denied by Big Govt. Now your/our tax dollars are not only wasted on this testing, but also the lawsuits and the follow-up investigations. Like taking kids away from these people isn't the worst form of Fascist Big Govt possible!
12:29PM AUG 23RD 2011
I'm thinkin' we can get an idea of how many didn't apply by looking at #'s of applicants over time. And, if it costs something to ensure we're not using our tax dollars to support someone's drug habit?... GOOD!
5:30PM AUG 22ND 2011
I'm not sure how that qualifies as losing money. it cost $1140.00 to test 40 applicants, two failed saving the state $480.00 per month. In three months, the state will have not paid out $1440.00 to those who failed the test, subtract the cost of performing the test (1140.00) and the state is ahead $300.00.
Ben Schlichter
5:15PM AUG 22ND 2011
Lets do the math here - assuming a sample size that 1/2250th of those receiving TANF funding:

$2.6 million spent in drug testing, assuming 100% are tested.
$10.8 million saved per year in TANF funds to persons on drugs (assuming an applicant gets funding for 1 year. May be more/less depending on averages which are not explained in this poorly written opinion piece).

Approximately $7.8 million USD saved per year in funding, which assumes that no one was dissuaded from applying for TANF because they knew they would not pass the test.

I say its a success, why don't you?
Heath Whiteaker
3:03PM AUG 22ND 2011
$480 Per month in savings is huge over the long term. Stop trying to make things so negative.
10:51AM AUG 22ND 2011
Were any of the results from the Miami Dade area?.......

Were the recipients checked to see if they were legal?
Robert Lloyd
10:23AM AUG 22ND 2011
I certainly agree with testing these miscreants, however, that would include debating an issue that is not in the big picture, and thus giving credence to this corrupted system that is failing and will (or is already) eventually bring down this once decent nation.

There should be no welfare via the state.
Arn Anders
12:09PM AUG 22ND 2011
Yes, these miscreant children should starve to death. Poverty is a crime punishable by death. Take the welfare away from the children and give it to the wealthy in the form of tax breaks. Corporate welfare is what Republican Jesus wants.
Dorine in FL
10:51AM AUG 23RD 2011
If they fail the drug test while they can't provide food on the table for their kids, those children should be removed from their custody and put with someone who will.... Children aren't pawns to be used to provide your drug money, and the public shouldn't be forced to pay for your drugs either!
Robert Lloyd
8:44AM AUG 23RD 2011
Spoken like a true atheist! However, I never heard of Jesus ever owning stock in IBM.
Jesus Roland
10:14PM SEP 2ND 2011
My name is Jesus and I did have stocks at IBM...
Ben Schlichter
5:19PM AUG 22ND 2011
And oddly enough, despite 50 cents of every tax dollar collected being re-distributed to the poor, needy, sick, and pensioners, the poverty rate in America is worse today than when we let the government become the caretaker of the needy.

I'd say that our system not a shining success. Do try to remember that few people starved in the streets, without a home, or die due to no forced pension system, prior to HUD, foodstamps, Social Security or Medicare/Medicaid.
10:56PM AUG 23RD 2011
I agree. Maybe we should put more of that into the education system and child services to educate and empower the leaders of tomorrow. May not be a quick fix, but I have seen a GOOD education system work wonders and a well organized, supportive foster care system successfully raise children with high expectations for behavior, grades, responsibility, and hope for the future. People might think the education system is "bad", but great schools are everywhere and those students will be leading our nation and paying our retirement.
Virginia Amaral
10:15AM AUG 22ND 2011
Yes, he sold it to his wife.
3:03PM AUG 22ND 2011
In the words of Joe Wilson, "You Lie".

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