Drug Testing Welfare Recipients

Legislation to repeal drug testing for welfare recipients faces an uphill battle. 71 percent of Florida voters support the tests, according to a new poll. Support is at 90 percent among Republicans and at about 50 percent for Democrats. Republican lawmakers are vowing to crush the repeal bill, even though the tests have excluded just a few welfare recipients.

Close to a hundred thousand Floridians, many of them kids, receive cash assistance though a state welfare program. The average pay out is 240 dollars a month and state lawmakers want to make sure none of that money is used to buy drugs.

A new law mandating drug tests for welfare recipients went into effect July 1st, after many lawmakers claimed there might be a drug problem in the welfare system. But there is no evidence welfare recipients are prone to use drugs at a higher rate than the general public and in fact, an early sample of the drug testing program showed only about two and half percent tested positive.

Republican Senator Don Gaetz of Niceville calls those statistics into question. He believes the tests are keeping drug users from even applying for the cash assistance program. “Maybe this is having the affect that we had expected and that is that people who are using drugs, are using drugs aren’t coming forward.”

Senator Arthenia Joyner, a Democrat, disagrees. She sees the tests as invasive and a waste of taxpayer money. So she’s trying to end them. “The general population is at eight percent drug use. We are talking about two percent among welfare recipients. I think that the entire thing is ill founded.”

Joyner’s up against a Republican controlled legislature. And a new poll that shows public opinion is overwhelmingly in favor of the test. Peter Brown, a Quinnipiac Pollster says don’t look for any changes. “In terms of public opinion the prospects for repeal of that measure are probably not good.”

The program is expected to cost the state about three million dollars a year. Part of that cost was supposed to be offset by kicking drug users out of the cash assistance program, but at this point it’s unclear if money will be saved.

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