Welfare Drug Test Bill Passes House

By: Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida Email
By: Michael Peltier, The News Service of Florida Email

Tallahassee, FL - People who test positive for illegal drugs would be prevented from collecting temporary financial assistance from the state under a measure approved Tuesday by the Florida House.

By a 78-38 vote, the House approved a measure (HB 353) that backers say would help ensure that tax dollars are spent to feed families and not the addictions of drug abusers receiving Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, a program administered by the state that provides up to $300 a month in federal money for up to 48 months to low income residents.

“This money is taxpayers’ money that is supposed to go to take care of our families,” said Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness, a freshman and sponsor of the bill.

The proposal prompted a series of questions from Democrats skeptical over the science behind the policy and whether such testing would violate Florida’s constitutional right to privacy.

“There is a real question here about the constitutionality of this since it allows - and in fact requires - suspicion-less drug testing as a condition of public assistance,” said Rep, Darryl Rouson, D-St. Petersburg.

The bill passed on largely a party-line vote. A Senate version (SB 556) is awaiting action on the floor of that chamber. The measure is supported by Gov. Rick Scott.

The measure initially would have required all applicants to pay for the tests, which depending on who is doing the estimating cost from $10 to $70 per test. Recipients would be required to be tested when they first apply for benefits and then annually once benefits begin.

The bill was amended Tuesday to require the state to pick up the tab for recipients whose tests come out negative for illegal drugs.

Citing studies showing the degree of drug use among welfare recipients is not significantly higher than that of the general population, critics say the proposal sets unnecessary barriers to getting help for low income families who can least afford it.

“We know we have a significant number of Floridians who are having to come to the state and the federal government for assistance who have never come before,” said Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville. “Why would you be willing to subject them to a drug test simply because they are in need of assistance?”

Recipients who test positive for drugs would be ineligible for financial assistance for a year. A second failed test would result in a three years suspension of benefits. In two-parent households, both parents would have to take separate tests.

Recipients who complete drug treatment could receive assistance after a six month period. Children would be allowed to continue receiving benefits, with assistance checks being sent to guardians who likewise test negative. Food stamp eligibility would not be affected by a positive test.

About 113,000 Floridians are receiving temporary cash payments under the program, which is administered by the Department of Children and Families and is expected to cost $211 million for the current fiscal year. The agency currently does not screen recipients for drugs.

Federal law allows states to deny benefits to recipients convicted of a felony drug offense, a provision Florida has chosen not to adopt. A pilot program conducted between 1999 and 2001 was discontinued after researchers determined it was not cost effective because relatively few recipients tested positive.

Backers say the inconvenience and potential cost of drug testing is small price to pay for financial assistance and may also act as an incentive for addicts to get treatment, though there is no provision to pay for such intervention.

“The people who are going to be tested are the people who have to make sure the money goes to the children,” Smith said. “That’s why they are being tested.”

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  • by john chisolm Location: pinellas park on May 9, 2011 at 03:46 AM
    This is smaller government?...More like big brother...all these people out of work and all I hear from tallahassee is about drug testing and abortion limits...enjoy your future floridians
  • by dmomma Location: north central florida on May 1, 2011 at 10:23 AM
    I think that this is going to cost taxpayers more in the end. Where are the going to get the money for the test? the working class already struggling citizen? The people who are abusing the system are pro's (like prfessional thieves and they have it down to a science. For example: person A takes a drug test and fails person A happens to know person B who doesn't abuse drugs. Person A has person B deemed gaurdian to person A's children in order to B receive the assistance, then Person B gives person A the money from the check (for a Fee) in the end person A continues to abuse drugs person B makes a small profit and the children still loose. An alternative to this would be have every penny accounted for, mandate the the parent or gaurdian submit proof of where the money went with legitimate receipts for example daycare, electricity bill, rent.
  • by Anonymous on Apr 28, 2011 at 06:23 AM
    This is good, actually ALL drug users should be rounded up, neutered, shipped to an island, given all the drugs they want, after all that's the most important thing in their lives. After awhile they will die and the world will be free of these idiots. People who use drugs/alchol avoid realaity and feel better about themselves are a menace to society.
  • by Bulldog Location: Earth on Apr 28, 2011 at 05:25 AM
    Why stop at drug testing the unemployed and the food stamp/welfare recipients Gov Snott? Why not test graduating highschool seniors,ANYONE that goes to get a drivers,fishing,hunting,marriage license. Heck you can even test college students applying for Any grant,scholarship,or loan? While you're at it Gov. Snott why not test ANYONE remotely affiliated with state politics? Think of all the money you can save the Great State of Florida. Heck why not test ANYONE who either legally resides or even visits Florida on vacation?You can set up test stations on the Fla. borders just like the agriculture stations. Aw the heck with it,TEST EVERYONE! even the dead! AMERIKA,what a concept!
    • reply
      by Anonymous on May 16, 2011 at 10:40 AM in reply to Bulldog
      HA! Don't give him any more ideas!!!
  • by anonymous on Apr 27, 2011 at 11:26 PM
    Now the government needs to make changes on this issue. If a woman and man are proven not to be able to take care of a child then a guardian will be appointed by the court and that person (grandmother) receives $1500 a month per child. Can you believe this manipulation of the system?
  • by leon Location: tally on Apr 27, 2011 at 08:02 PM
    It's legal to smoke medical marijuana in California and other states, but it'll be a no-no to come to Florida, and end up on the dole, with a history of having used it? And what about precedence? Next it'll be Bright Futures Scholarship & Pell Grant recipients, workman's comp and unemployment ins. claimants. EVERYBODY will have to make weewee in the cup for Big Brother. That's "Less Government" for you. All that really personal info about our blood chemistry will be as open to snooping through unauthorized tests just like all those SSN's that keep getting out into the wild. Don't think there's not a financial incentive ... companies wanna know this stuff. All it took was some reactionaries to take us on the road to fascism. Don't bogart that joint, mon.
  • by Private Sector Worker Location: Crawfordville on Apr 27, 2011 at 07:51 PM
    Hey I'm required to take random drug test as a condition of employment. Of course I have a job in the private sector. Some of the "drug free work place" requirements are put in place by state and local governments. I’m curious why is it when private sector workers are required to be drug tested as a condition of employment everything is good but when state workers and the welfare folks are required to be drug tested it is become a privacy issue.
    • reply
      by Anonymous on May 16, 2011 at 10:44 AM in reply to Private Sector Worker
      Because...it's not just welfare folks, it's people on disability, homeless mothers, the abused, the mentally ill, people on hospice, anybody going through a tough financial time and trying to take care of their family and keep a roof over their head (hopefully). You chose to work where you work. Work somewhere else if you want. Work for yourself and you can choose to require drug-tests for yourself if you want. Or not.
  • by Larry Location: ohio on Apr 27, 2011 at 09:53 AM
    They passed the same bill here (Republican tea party crackpots). I Want ALL Elected Officals to take drug tests! They gotta be on drugs - look at the country!
  • by d Location: Tally on Apr 27, 2011 at 08:43 AM
    you all are so silly your tax dollars will still be wasted just on something else
  • by Tally on Apr 27, 2011 at 08:24 AM
    AS your leader once said "When I'm cleaning up your mess, don't tell me how to hold the mop". 14 trillion in debt, social entitlements are coming to a end. Donate your money to the needy/wanty of your choice. When was the last time you gave the man on the corner a dollar? Yeah, Yeah comment from your state desk.
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