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Drug Testing: The Answer to Our Budget Problems?

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Drug Testing: The Answer to Our Budget Problems?

Drug Testing: The Answer to Our Budget Problems?

We as a nation have no problem drug testing for employment, drug testing our athletes, or drug testing people on probation. Does the same rationale for drug testing extend to and justify drug testing for assistance? Most Americans support new laws proposed in 36 states requiring drug testing of recipients of cash assistance from the major welfare program, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). This paper will examine the current Florida law and the 1999 Michigan law requiring drug tests for receipt of financial assistance and social services. The reasoning behind these laws includes the premise that taxpayers should not pay for people's drug addictions. By requiring drug tests, supporters claim, the states could save hundreds if not thousands of dollars in assistance given to recipients who would use the assistance, at least in part, to continue the drug habits.

The United States is in the middle of economic hardship and the national deficit is at an all time high. In order to balance the budget, programs might have to take cuts and taxes may have to be raised. Is drug testing the poor the answer to our budget problem? This paper will prove three things: that there is no research showing that welfare recipients use drugs more than non-recipients; that drug testing will cost the states more money than it saves; and finally that mandatory drug testing a violation of our Fourth Amendment right.

From 2009-2010 nearly two hundred and thirty three thousand Florida residents applied for cash assistance. During his 2010 campaign for governor, republican Rick Scott promised to keep drug abusers off the Florida welfare rolls, claiming that studies show people on welfare are higher users of illegal drugs than people not on welfare (Wickham, 2011). Can this claim be supported or does it just demonize the poor and reaffirm the stereotype that drug users go on welfare to support their drug habits? The Justice Department estimates that 6 percent of Americans twelve years and older use illegal drugs; out of this 6 percent how many Americans are collecting taxpayer-funded money to support their use?

In 1996 the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism using data collected in the 1992 National Longitudinal Alcohol Epidemiologic Survey conducted a study. Respondents over the age of 18 were randomly selected from 42,862 U.S. households to participate in face-to-face interviews. The study compared rates of drug and alcohol use between different race, gender, and age groups. Results of this study showed that between 3.8 and 9.8 percent of social service program recipients reported some sort of drug use. These rates do not differ much from the 5.1 percent of drug use reported from people not receiving aid (Grant & Dawson, 1996). A more current 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health found that 8.9 percent of the general population illegally uses some kind of drug (Hiaasen, 2011). Yet another study found that 70 percent of illegal drug users between the ages of 18-49 are employed full time (Cohen, 2011). These studies show that while the U.S. population as a whole could benefit from substance abuse prevention and treatment services, but contrary to common characterizations, there is no evidence to support the stereotype that more welfare recipients use drugs than the average citizen not receiving aid.

The Florida law signed by Gov. Rick Scott on May 31, 2011 requires applicants receiving cash benefits from the state to pay for and submit a urine, blood or hair sample for drug testing. Drug tests can cost the recipient applying for aid between $10 and $40 each, depending on the type of test preformed. A positive test result carries an immediate six-month ban on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families; a second positive test will result in a three-year ban on all state assistance (Bender, 2011). "Whether you can legislate sobriety or common sense is highly debatable, but the more pressing question is whether such laws are ultimately worth the expense to government" (Hiaasen, 2011). Having repudiated Gov. Rick Scott's claims that welfare recipients are higher users of illegal drugs than non-recipients, we need to consider if cutting the 3.8 to 9.8 percent of drug users from the welfare rolls would in fact save the state of Florida money.

According to the New York Times, as of October 10, the state of Florida has requested 8,659 applicants to submit to drug tests. Out of the 8,659 test requested 7,030 people passed, 32 failed and 1,597 did not provide results (Sulzberger, 2011). The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida claims these numbers show there is currently only a .4 percent failure rate among applicants. Since applicants are required to pay for tests in advance and testing facilities are not available in every community, it is impossible to know how many of the 1,597 applicants who did not provide results would have passed or failed (Lopez, 2011).

The average TANF applicant receives $253 a month, for less than five months. According to these numbers, the state of Florida has saved $40,480 in denied benefits due to drug testing since the law went into affect in July 2011. At first glance it would appear that Gov. Rick Scott's plan could in fact help balance Florida's budget. However, the law requires reimbursement for the cost of drug tests to applicants that pass. The reimbursements of passed tests are paid by the state, meaning the taxpayers have funded reimbursements that total, as of October, $246,050. The original cost of the drug tests, which is paid by the recipient, is paid directly to the drug testing companies but the reimbursement comes from the assistance programs. What does this mean for the state of Florida and its taxpayers? After calculations the state of Florida has a net loss of $200,000 not including administrative or legal fees (Lopez, 2011). The only people benefiting from this new law, it seems, are the drug testing facilities.

Having shown that not only are welfare recipients equally inclined to use drugs as non-recipients and that drug testing will not save the state money as promised by the Florida governor we examine the legal aspect of drug testing. The 1996 Welfare Reform Act authorized, but did not require states to impose mandatory drug testing as a prerequisite to receiving state welfare assistance. Florida is not the first state to pass laws regarding this issue. In fact, Michigan passed a similar law in 1999. The Michigan law was later challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) in the court case Marchwinski v. Howard and was struck down by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals in 2003, stating that drug



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