Remember Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s (R) idea of mandating drug tests for welfare applicants? As we’ve discussed before, the Republican governor had a theory: the state could save money by forcing drug users to withdraw from the public-assistance system.
At least, that was the idea. In practice, the policy failed spectacularly – only about 2 percent of applicants tested positive, and Florida lost money when it was forced to reimburse everyone else for the cost of the drug test, plus pay for staff and administrative costs for the program.
Adding insult to injury, Scott’s policy fared even worse in the courts.
A federal judge on Tuesday struck down as unconstitutional a Florida law that required welfare applicants to undergo mandatory drug testing, setting the stage for a legal battle that could affect similar efforts nationwide.
Judge Mary S. Scriven of the United States District Court in Orlando held that the testing requirement, the signature legislation of Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican who campaigned on the issue, violated the protection against unreasonable searches.
“The court finds there is no set of circumstances under which the warrantless, suspicionless drug testing at issue in this case could be constitutionally applied,” she wrote.
If this sounds familiar, the same federal court blocked further implementation of the Florida law last February, but this week’s ruling makes permanent what had been a temporary injunction.
Also note, the failures of the policy extend beyond the Sunshine State. In Minnesota, state officials reported last week that the drug-testing policy is a flop: participants in Minnesota’s welfare program for low-income families “are actually far less likely to have felony drug convictions than the adult population as a whole.”
What’s more, as Jamelle Bouie added, “One of the biggest failures is in Missouri, where the state spent $493,000 on drug testing for this fiscal year. It received 32,511 welfare applications and referred 636 for drug testing. Only twenty came back positive, although nearly two hundred people refused to comply. But even if all 200 were drug users, that still comes to more than $2,200 per positive result, which is more expensive than the median benefit in the state.”
The underlying motivation for these policies seems to be an unwarranted assumption: if you’re struggling during difficult economic times, and relying on the safety net to keep your head above water, you’re probably abusing illegal drugs. If not, the theory goes, you’d find a job.
It’s an offensive argument, discredited by reality.