Florida Strikes Down Drug Testing for Welfare Recipients: Will Other States Follow?

The state of Florida led the way when it came to forcing welfare recipients to undergo mandatory drug testing before they could receive their benefits, even making them pay for their testing out of their own pockets. The requirement was found unconstitutional in 2011 but remained tied up in courts. Now, a federal judge has permanently ruled that drug testing is a violation of 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,” said Judge Mary S. Scriven of the United States District Court in Orlando, the same judge who blocked the requirement in 2011.

Even though the Florida rule had been tied up for years in legal wrangling and only spent a few months actually being enforced, a number of states decided that drug testing for different forms of public benefits was a fantastic idea. This is despite the fact that while the program was in effect, Florida saw very few fails, spending far more money on testing recipients than it ever saved in denied benefits.

Despite the implementation during a massive recession and a surge of Tea Party politicians claiming they wanted to cut unnecessary government spending, proponents of the program came up with a myriad of reasons for supporting the wasted funds, ranging from “protecting children” to “compassionately” forcing people out of “a cycle of poverty.”

Republican Governor Rick Scott is still sticking to his “for the children” talking point, even as the courts shut him down. “Any illegal drug use in a family is harmful and even abusive to a child. We should have a zero tolerance policy for illegal drug use in families especially those families who struggle to make ends meet and need welfare assistance to provide for their children,” Scott said in a statement, according to Talking Points Memo. “We will continue to fight for Florida children who deserve to live in drug-free homes by appealing this judge’s decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals.”

As other states attempt to drug test their own welfare recipients, however, they are learning the same lesson as Florida: those who are using public programs actually use drugs at a lesser rate than the general population. That’s the conclusion Minnesota has drawn as their own drug testing law went into effect.

The Minnesota law sneaked in under the radar, attached as a rider to the massive 2012 Health and Human Services budget omnibus bill. Most state voters, and even those who do advocacy work on behalf of low income residents, had no idea that it was even added to the final bill. But a recent investigation revealed that the state was now requiring random mandatory drug testing of any welfare recipient who had a previous felony drug conviction. Interestingly, that was only 0.4 percent of all people receiving public subsidies, as opposed to 1.2 percent of the adult population of the state in the general population who had been convicted, according to the Star Tribune.

“I don’t think anyone is under the illusion that this is about saving taxpayers money,” said Heidi Welsch, director of family support and assistance for Olmsted County told the newspaper. “This is punitive.”

Punitive is right, and it’s punitive in every state that has passed this sort of law, whether it is for welfare benefits, unemployment aid or other reasons.

With the federal court now permanently striking down the Florida law, hopefully we can begin to get this stricken from the books in the other states where it has spread.

Photo credit: Thinkstock

238 comments

Jim Ven
Jim Ven6 months ago

thanks for the article.

Heidi Wood
Heidi Wood2 years ago

The snap program said that this is unconstitutional. I call it crap legislature.

Kevin Brown
Kevin Brown2 years ago

Janis K., and do you have any evidence or proof to back up the claims and accusations that you are making? The answer is, of course, no you don't.

Janis Keller
janis keller2 years ago

Not everyone that does drugs is a pot smoking hippy some are violent, stealing and neglecting their kids and selling food stamps for drugs. I dont want to support these people

Janis Keller
janis keller2 years ago

I believe in lots of help for poor but drug testing is good. I dont believe that people should get welfare when they are doing drugs. If you are elderly, mentally ill or just making minimum wage, then I feel by all means, get the food stamps, section 8 etc. Not all people are able to make a living wage. Giving people welfare and food stamps because someone is drug addicted and not able to work is not helping them or the taxpayer. Go to a rehab and if they are still unable to work, then help them. Too many people dealing drugs and taking drugs are getting Section 8 and this makes the projects they inhabit very dangerous and hard for the police to deal with. If you are doing drugs, then you wont be supported by the government.
I believe in drug testing because I will never forget that I used to drive by a project that was section 8 financed and people driving by had their purses stolen to buy drugs and the whole project was a blight and a danger to the community. I dont believe in supporting drug addicts.

Janis Keller
janis keller2 years ago

I believe in lots of help for poor but drug testing is good. I dont believe that people should get welfare when they are doing drugs. If you are elderly, mentally ill or just making minimum wage, then I feel by all means, get the food stamps, section 8 etc. Not all people are able to make a living wage. Giving people welfare and food stamps because someone is drug addicted and not able to work is not helping them or the taxpayer. Go to a rehab and if they are still unable to work, then help them. Too many people dealing drugs and taking drugs are getting Section 8 and this makes the projects they inhabit very dangerous and hard for the police to deal with. If you are doing drugs, then you wont be supported by the government.

Stacey Toda
Stacey Toda2 years ago

This tests cost hundreds of thousands of dollars and less than 10 people failed them. A complete waste of time and money.

Donna Ferguson
Donna F2 years ago

they're finally doing the right thing. yay for the court ruling. I don't believe this tactic was to track drug usage; rather, only to browbeat the poor and try to disenfranchise them more

Ashley heffner
Ashley heffner2 years ago

Good. It is a huge waste of money.

Robert Hamm
Robert Hamm2 years ago

Legalizing AND regulating…….you missed the regulating. Butt keeeping the price lower than drug gangs charge. Prohibition doesnt work. We have a history proving so.