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Drug testing for welfare recipients looks even worse

For those who support drug testing for low-income families on public benefits, this week has been quite discouraging.
(File Photo by Kelley McCall/AP)
One of Florida Gov. Rick Scott's (R) big ideas in his first term was mandating drug tests for welfare applicants. It was based on a dubious proposition, which Republicans found compelling: the state could save money by forcing drug users to withdraw from the public-assistance system.
As regular readers may recall, in practice, Scott's policy was an embarrassing flop. Only about 2 percent of applicants tested positive, and Florida actually 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, Florida's experiment continues to fail in the courts, too (thanks to my colleague Kent Jones for the heads-up).

A federal appeals court on Wednesday dealt another blow to Gov. Rick Scott's crusade to conduct drug tests on welfare applicants when it upheld a lower court ruling that the practice was unconstitutional. The unanimous ruling from a bipartisan panel of judges concluded that the state failed to show any evidence as to why it was necessary to force applicants seeking Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to surrender their constitutional rights as a condition of receiving the aid. "We have no reason to think impoverished individuals are necessarily and inherently prone to drug use, or, for that matter, are more prone to drug use than the general population," the court said in its 54-page ruling.

For proponents of these kinds of programs, the news out of Mississippi was just as discouraging. My colleague Laura Conaway flagged this report, showing that only a tiny number of TANF beneficiaries have tested positive for drugs, reinforcing the impression that the mandatory tests aren't just legally dubious, they're also unnecessary.
And yet, they just won't go away.
Shortly after winning a second term, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) said he intends to move forward with his own drug-testing-for-welfare initiative, despite the programs' failures in states that have experimented with them.
As we've discussed before, there's an ugly assumption driving proposals like these. For many, especially on the right, it makes sense to assume those who are struggling are to blame for their plight.
You're relying on TANF aid to help your family keep its head above water? Then maybe there's something wrong with your lifestyle. You need to rely on a public safety net? Perhaps the state should assume you have a drug problem.
Real-world evidence, however, points in a different direction. Requiring those who are relying on public support to give the government their bodily fluids in exchange for benefits is not only legally dubious; it's also ineffective and a waste of money.