Drug Testing for 'Welfare' Benefits?

Updated on August 28, 2011
P.M. asks from Saint Petersburg, FL
27 answers

I know a lot of women here were all about this being passed... Why was this such a popular idea? Who was this supposed to help, or should I say who did you mean to punish?

well in FL our craptastic Republican Governor got it thru and implemented it immediately. Here's the results:

**96%** were drug free/ negative!! These people had to be reimbursed for their payment of the drug testing by the state.

2% came back inconclusive
2% came back positive.


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So What Happened?

Here is the article:

Rick Scott Takes the Piss Out of Florida Taxpayers

—By Adam Weinstein
| Thu Aug. 25, 2011 10:40 AM PDT

Florida's neophyte Republican governor, tea-party-friendly Rick Scott, signed a bill back in June requiring the state's welfare recipients to undergo drug-testing urinalysis before collecting their monthly assistance check of around $241-to-$303. The measure, he said, would save taxpayer money by barring drug addicts from getting the dole. "Studies show that people that are on welfare are higher users of drugs than people not on welfare," he said.

Florida's welfare recipients are proving that Scott's assumption wasn't worth a warm bucket of pee. Now, the state is effectively being forced to pay for 11.5 gallons of welfare applicants' drug-free urine every month, to the tune of around $34,000.

Of the 1,000 or so recipients who have taken the required drug tests (at their own expense) since early July, only 2 percent have tested positive for drugs, according to the Tampa Tribune. That's well below the national population's average, and it's so low that the testing plan—which was expected to cost $187 million by some analysts' estimates—could end up costing taxpayers even more in the long run.

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The way it was supposed to work, according to Scott and other supporters, was this: Everyone who took the test at a state-approved private lab (PDF) would have to pay for it out of pocket. (Never mind where a poor Floridian is supposed to scrape together 25 to 30 percent of their monthly benefit on their own.) If they tested negative for illegal drugs, they'd be reimbursed for the urinalysis, anywhere from $10 to $82, in their welfare check. Drug addicts would be out the testing cost and barred from receiving benefits for a year. The theory, then, was that the presumably huge population of drug-addled free riders would be kicked off the bus, and Florida would reap the savings. (The plan was briefly held up when it came to light that a health care firm started by Scott, Solantic, could get a contract for the urinalysis.)

But with 96 percent of applicants passing the test with flying colors (and another 2 percent getting inconclusive results), the state is having to buy back a lot of clean pee: 11.5 gallons at $34,300 every month, assuming an average sample size of 1.5 ounces and and average test price of $35. Not only that, but Florida's rules allow parents who fail the test to designate another adult who can collect the benefits on behalf of any dependent children. And since the state's welfare program is oriented toward families, it seems likely that most of the failures' benefits will still be paid out to someone. (Given the scarce numbers offered by the Florida Department of Children and Families, it's also not immediately clear whether the amount of applicants for assistance changed significantly after the whiz quizzes were instituted.)
With 96 percent of applicants passing the test with flying colors, the state's having to buy back a lot of clean pee.

Local reporters around the state have run smaller investigations and found the economics to be grim. TV station WFTV found that 40 applicants were tested in Central Florida, and two popped positive for drugs. The testing cost to taxpayers was at least $1,140; the theoretical savings in benefits to the two who failed was $240—at most. "We have a diminishing amount of returns for our tax dollars," ACLU spokesman attorney Derek Brett, an opponent of the drug plan, told WFTV.* "Do we want our governor throwing our precious tax dollars into a program that has already been proven not to work?"

The Tribune engaged in some creative accounting to show that the testing program could still show a modest net savings on benefits payments, of roughly $40,000 to $60,000 a year in total, or half of what most senior staffers in Gov. Scott's office make. But that doesn't take into account the state's costs to process the test results and administer the program, which nobody seems to know yet—least of all the governor who sold state residents on the idea. "We don't have a dollar cost estimate at this time," Scott's spokesman said on June 6…five six days after Scott signed the bill into law.* (Interestingly, Florida requires all state ballot initiatives to be accompanied by an estimate of the proposals' financial impacts; Scott and the Legislature, though, don't have to do any such calculations for their bills.)

Despite Florida conservatives' miscalculations—miscalculations that critics say are based on bogus stereotypes—many states are considering following its lead on drug tests for welfare applicants. Last spring, Idaho's Legislature commissioned a study on the subject, which found that the plan would end up costing more than it took in.

But then, Idaho analysts also assumed the state would put its failures in publicly financed drug-counseling programs. By contrast, Florida's welfare information site stresses that the state "does not pay or reimburse for the cost of drug treatment programs."

Adam Weinstein is Mother Jones' national security reporter. For more of his stories, click here or follow him on Twitter. Get Adam Weinstein's RSS feed.

Featured Answers



answers from Jacksonville on


1. If the parent is doing drugs the children do not need to be with them anyway! So the whole argument about the kids suffering, well, they are already suffering if their mother/father is doing drugs. DFACS/CPS needs to get their act together and quit leaving children in the custody of druggies.

2. If they aren't doing drugs, what does it matter? I would gladly take a test if I were on TANF/Welfare, which I am not. Not every recipient abuses the system, but enough do to make the rest look bad. Drug testing is in no way unreasonable or a waste of tax payer's money. I'd rather my taxes go to that than some of the other outrageous things we have to pay for. ;)

12 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Because it was never about the recipients actually being drug dependent. It was about making poor people look like lazy, criminals and welfare "queens". This perception makes it easier to sell cutting off benefits to them, without looking like the bad guys! Funny that it backfired!!!

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

these benefits are mostly well used, that is true. However, I wish they would do it in the state my brother and his ex live in, for welfare and unemployment. He doesn't bother looking for a job because he can get by on unemployment, and so he spends most of his time drunk or high. His ex and her dad use welfare like their own personal piggy bank, he's been unemployed forever and she likes being a stay at home mom, with the gov't footing the bills, since no one in her house works. (and then she posts facebook statuses like "A moment being wasted is never a moment wasted). I wish someone would take away their benefits and force them to be productive members of society.

Get jerks like that out of it, and there is more for people who really need it.

8 moms found this helpful

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answers from Dallas on

Considering that Florida's welfare spending was $3.8 billion in 2000 and is now up around $10.1 billion, I applaud your "craptastic" governor for trying to do something to make sure your tax dollars aren't being used for drugs. Random testing makes more sense to me considering most druggies know how to cheat the test!


18 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

it is not punishing anyone to require drug testing. you have to pass a drug test to get a job, so where is the difference or punishment??? we get WIC for our boys and also foodstamps since I had to stop working to stay home with our sons. I would have no problem going for a drug test. People who say that it is punishing the kids are really not very bright. why would we want them to have parents on drugs? maybe it is an incentive to get off of drugs. and, some drug addicts would only use their benefits to get more drugs, it's not like they get all sentimental about their children with their gov benefits and think about them at that time. plus, there are a ton of ways to cheat the test so i really seriously doubt that those statistics were correct. I think that every single person getting any type of WIC or foodstamps, TANF, welfare, medicaid,etc should be required to take and pass a drug test. it should be random not on a regular basis where people can just come off of whatever for awhile to pass.

17 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

You're complaining about drug testing for the welfare recipients because its a waste of taxpayers money? But not complaining about welfare being a waste of taxpayer money? Sounds purely political to me.

I know there are some that need it to tide them over to get them on their feet. I have no problem with that. I do have a problem with drug abusers being on welfare or collecting more than one welfare check. I'm all for finger printing welfare reciepients and sharing that info with other states too for those double dipping across state lines.

I was just $25 to $50 per month above the maximum income for being able to draw government assistance of some sort until my kids started getting married and leaving home. On welfare elegible income I was able to pay for two new cars, almost pay for a home (2800 sq feet on 26 acres with my own spring-fed lake) and live comfortably. We even managed to take vacations. We saved for three or four years and were able to spend two weeks in Orlando visiting area attractions with all 10 of us.

ADDED: BTW, I have a son and DIL with three kids. They got on WIC, etc. because he was a poor starving student. Food stamps are so generous she saved almost $800 over a year on her "Gov't card" while feeding her family well and buying diapers, etc.

ADDED for Dawn B. As usual, you took a bad spin on what I said to find fault. I said she saved $800 in a year. She took her benefits, spent what she needed to and had $800 left over on her card at the end of the year. That means they paid her $800 over what she needed to feed and take care of her family. That's what I said about my family. Welfare would have paid me too. But I paid for two cars, my land and my house on income elegible for welfare. (Oops, I made just $25 to $50 too much to be elegible, but if you think you could pay for my home, my cars and my land on $50 per month . . . )

Good luck to you and yours.

14 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

If people can afford to buy some expensive illegal drugs, they can afford to buy food for themselves and their kids. Your percentages aren't indicative of the entire country. Come test everybody in Chicago and you'd get much different results. I agree with drug testing for benefit recipients.

This seems like a post just to get people riled up. You're so good at that. You should run for political office.

14 moms found this helpful


answers from Cleveland on

That's impressive! While it may seem like a waste of taxpayer's money, I disagree. I would prefer to know that my tax money is going to help families who are not using drugs. The system is very flawed. The county I live in, I could almost be positive would not have the same results. There have been times my family truly needed assistance due to circumstances beyond our control and were denied. While drug testing isn't the only answer, I think it sends a good message.

14 moms found this helpful


answers from Chattanooga on

Perhaps RANDOM drug testing would have been the way to go. Much less cost, plus the element of surprise. It only takes about 4 days for most drugs to be out of your system so it wouldn't be difficult to test negative if you knew you had to do it prior to getting your check. Good plan in theory...obviously poor execution.

13 moms found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

Are we supposed to believe that there are only 1000 people on welfare in Florida? I would go with the theory that the writer go a hold of bad data and ran with it. I mean according to the article it is going to cost 187 million to test them, at 1000 people being tested that means they are spending 15,584 per drug test? That would be figured on that being yearly numbers.

Aren't you embarrassed to quote something that was clearly inaccurate?

12 moms found this helpful


answers from Boston on

I'm sure the percentage of people that have to pass a drug test to work is about the same. Some drugs are out of your system rather quickly so if you know you're going to be tested you don't use the drugs. Sorry but if I have to take one to work people that are getting my tax dollars should have to pass one too.

11 moms found this helpful


answers from Houston on

Random testing is where it's at. Anyone can easily cheat a test. There are supplements you can take, bring in their child's pee instead... You have to do a drug test to get a many jobs, which is income for working people. Welfare is also a form of income, why not protect it too? We had to be on food stamps for about a year when we both lost our jobs. We qualified for over 4 years as poor, working college students, but always struggled privately with our financial hardships and now have crazy student loan debt. We chose to do that instead of burdening the system. We would have certainly done drug testing had it been required, with no complaint. Really though, the govt' is always going to try and figure out a way to waste money. I have several friends in the govt, you would be appalled at how little these people get paid, and yet they are forced to figure out ways to do frivolous spending of their grants/budgets so that the allotted funds are used up every year.

11 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

I LOVE the idea of testing our elected officials, I bet 80% could not pass a breathealyzer after lunch!!! (also our tax money!)

10 moms found this helpful


answers from Utica on

So thats just one report. How would you feel if the stats were completely the opposite and it was 96% of the pop. that tested positive for drugs? Then instead of the wasted money on the testing it would have been saving all that money that tax payers dish out instead of it just going into a drugies hands for more drugs. You have to look at the bigger picture and see why they do what they are doing. Also this is just a drop in the bucket in the grand scheme of where tax payers dollars are being used, well spent, or wasted. However you see it its gonna happen and there will always be people that dont agree with what the Government decides

10 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

This one's already been hashed and rehashed. Just a few weeks ago:


Your article is from Mother Jones? Not a good source of info in my opinion.

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Austin on

So here is the solution- drug test anyone who wants assistance and don't reimburse them for the test no matter what the results are. Most of them have a better cell phone than I do anyway. They can afford the test if they want taxpayer money.

9 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

THANK YOU! I love this post!
There are just too many people out there who refuse to acknowledge that these benefits ARE mostly being used well.
There are too many people who cannot stomach the thought that "someone" out there just *might* be "getting" a modicum more than they are.
Now, when our elected officials agree to test THEMSELVES monthly, and publish the results I might consider getting behind the welfare drug testing! (Like THAT would ever happen!)

It IS a waste of taxpayer money--most of which comes from the working poor (11% tax rate average) or the middle class. Not the whopping 4% tax rate (average) collected from the wealthy!

The *masses* are "screaming for change" and "liberty" (I've been told) when really it's the entitled rich wanting to keep what they have to themselves, unlike the other 96% of the population who *really* have to pay for ridiculous programs like this.

ETA* @Kjinhb - My tax % stats are correct you can check my other post for citing.

I find it amusing when something the *masses* have been screaming for actually happens, there are statistical results, and people still choose to ignore the facts. This is NOT a feasible or "good" idea. Costly and for ZERO savings!

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Louisville on

Awesome post!

I *hate* the "I get drug tested to go to wok" argument; so illogical.

Glad to see this elitist mentality back firing.

Come on - cant y'all see how sad this is? Employers don't drug test employees to prevent them from spending their income on drugs and alcohol; rather employees & prospective employees are drug tested to maintain a safe work environment and prevent a liability for the employer.

The employer doesnt care what an employee spends their income on. But people DO care, very much, what a welfare recipient spends his/her "income" on .... which makes that comparison pretty much null & void.

Sadder still is the fact that drug addiction is a legitimate disease, recognized by the AMA and the APA. It seems, though, that a positive drug test simple cuts these individuals off from what little resources they have and gives them *nothing* in the way of treatment for a debilitating and often fatal disease.

It's very amusing to me that the same people who think people shouldn't get something for nothing (welfare) have no problem with lazy junior inheriting daddy's fortune. Same principle - someone getting something for nothing ... only the upper echelon of society.

Ah, social Darwinism at its finest. :)

7 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

Although I have mixed feelings about this, I think it might serve as a deterrent to some people to not do drugs or lose their benefits. But who loses out?? the kids!

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Erie on

Now, on to testing congressmen/women and governors... but I want hair samples for that lot. Good for the goose and all that.

I've always wondered where they think the money comes from to buy these "drugs". It's expensive to get high!

(Mother Jones not a good source? Do you know who she was, what she stood for, why there is a magazine named after her? Do you ever read it? Are you implying the author made this all up? Did you even read the article posted here? Oh, sorry, you must have been distracted by Faux news in the background, my bad.)

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Salinas on

I totally agree, what a waste. I'm saddened by some of these responses. When are we Americans going to realize it's not the little guy we're getting screwed by it's the big guy?
When times get tough as they are right now human beings tend to attack those less fortunate or different then they are. Sure some poor people take advantage of the system. But to think that dishonest welfare recipients are the real problem is a joke.
Tax the billionaires at least at the same rate as the middle class. Tax the oil companies SOMETHING for God's sakes, close the loopholes for big business. Then I think I can take you all more seriously about those leaches who are bleeding our country dry with their coach bags and expensive cell phones.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Oklahoma City on

I have always been against this. It is a waste of money, obviously. People think that women who are applying for assistance are drug addicts who sell their food stamps for drugs and alcohol. Truth is that it's proven now what the actual facts are. They are mom's trying to make ends meet and need a hand up.

They should not have to be drug tested anymore than each and every person on a cars insurance needs to be tested for drug and ALCOHOL use, come on, how many people die from drunk drives each year. You do not see the government doing anything about that do you?

I think there are many many many other ways to make jobs for people with college degrees than standing in a bathroom watching people pee.

Obama, and other government officials, needs to do what is right for America:

*Allocate money for:
*free medical clinics for people who can't afford medical care
*find funding so they can get medications too
*give free birth control to anyone who can't afford it for themselves
*make the income guidelines for food stamps lower
*allocate more money for food banks and other food programs so our children stop being hungry
*help the mentally ill have shelters and other types of housing so they can get off the streets
*build more low income housing, too many homeless people could live in a home if they were available
*do something to help Americans, yes, we need to fight for what is right and help the downtrodden and those who are being mistreated, but america should come first
*get money to pay for free rehab
*if drugs were legalized and distributed by doctors by prescriptions then the drug lords would be out of business and the doctors could see who needed to be in rehab and eventually the drug problems would be reduced greatly, still around, by reduced.

Watching someone pee in a cup and then paying eventually millions of dollars to process it is just downright silly, a silly waste of money.

The whole point of this is that it isn't finding what they assumed. They are having to spend thousands of dollars each month to do this testing and it is not finding the results they expected. So it is a waste of money. They are not saving anything, but spending more money. That is the issue, they could choose to spend those thousands of dollars on other things to help the poor in their states but they are wasting money paying someone to watch people pee and then labs to process the pee. NOT DOING ANYTHING TO HELP THE POOR. That is where the money needs to go.

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Boca Raton on

I'm a conservative in Palm Beach County, Florida.

I, too, was against this move by Governor Scott.

IMHO this was a blatant attempt to funnel business to a "friendly" contractor (i.e., his former company!) and to run people off welfare rolls (which is not a great benefit to start with if you look at it closely).

But my biggest problem with it has to do with constitutional ideas . . . how much of our DNA, bodily fluid, etc., is the government going to require of us to use government services? Sure, it's fine when it's welfare recipients <sarcasm>, but how about when it's just driving on government roads? Attending public schools? Going to a DMV or a courthouse? Or the post office?

Finally, even if you don't have a problem with the concept of stripping people of their basic human rights, imho there was not enough evidence to show that this move would significantly improve the bottom line. And now it sounds like it may end up costing my state more than it saves (?).

Big thumbs down.

PS: If we want the welfare rolls reduced - do it via legislation! I'm so damn sick of executive orders, government by fiat, etc. But no politician wants to stand up there and say "Yes, I want to cut welfare benefits further, and I'd also like to fatten the pocket books of my contributors."

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I do agree that you should have to follow some basic guidelines in order to receive welfare benefits and I think drug testing should be one of them. I do NOT think that the majority of welfare recipients are on drugs, but those that are need to be kicked off welfare until they are clean. I also don't think 1000 voluntary people being tested gives an accurate number on how many welfare recipients are drug user. I don't think "clean" people would have a problem proving they are clean, plus you really have to look at the total number of people on welfare in Florida. If there are only 1500, then yes, the Governor was horribly wrong and this was a big waste of time and money, but if there are 15,000 on welfare and the next 14,000 that are tested come back with a 96% positive then it would be worth it.
There is just not enough in this article so far to show that this program is a complete failure. I would be interested to find out how many people in Florida are actually on welfare and how the rest of the tests turn out(if they continue them) but not really interested enough to find out unless it comes across my computer screen when I am looking up my email for the day. :)

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Baton Rouge on

I have a philosophical objection to pre-employment or pre-benefit drug testing. It presumes guilt and requires you to prove innocence.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

When you lay it out the way you did, I can see why you feel the way you do. I wholeheartedly agree with poster/Susan B...couldn't have said it better! I'm in CA and I would almost guarantee the positive stats would be extremely high in some areas of the hood of L.A.

Denise P. You forgot a zero in your 4% tax rate.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Charlotte on

8kidsdad, are you saying that $800 in one year is a ton of money? Part of the reason this is in place is so that children CAN eat well while a family gets on its feet. Your son was a starving student, and trying to better himself so that he can get a higher level job that puts more money INTO the economy, including paying taxes so that we have roads and police and fire services, etc. That measly $800 a year can keep your grandkids healthy and well and keep your son's family intact, including possibly keeping those kiddies out of the hospital, and your son's marriage together.

Anyone who recommends having a lot of kids, which you frequently do on this site, should understand that sometimes people need help. Not everyone accepts it, like you, as you have made a point of many times. But why does everyone HAVE to be like you? Some families need help and there's nothing wrong with accepting it! I'm so glad your son didn't follow your example, and allowed his family to get the help they needed. I pay taxes too, a lot more taxes than you pay, quite frankly, and I am HAPPY to give your son and his family some help to feed their children!!!

There's another more updated question on this site about a mom of 3 kids who is 32 weeks pregnant with her 4th child, and just lost her job. Several of us recommended that she get some governmental assistence since she cannot afford to not work, and one mom was upset because she feels that people shouldn't ask for a government handout. But this is the kind of person these government programs are meant for! I don't understand why people want to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Without programs like this to tide people over during trying times, it makes it harder for them to get back up on their feet and be able to contribute to society again. THAT'S what we need more of!

Added after your edit, in case you see this - sounds like your DIL manages her money VERY well, Ben. Or, she has friends and family who have helped her by giving her a little here and a little there. Or she lives in a less expensive area. LOTS of variables. It doesn't change anything that I feel about how these programs are SUPPOSED to work and who they are supposed to help. And I don't put bad spins on what you say just to put bad spins. If I disagree with your point of view, and I put my money where my mouth is, that's when I talk about it.

1 mom found this helpful
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