2% of Welfare Recipients Fail Drug Tests in Florida

2% of Welfare Recipients Fail Drug Tests in Florida September 6, 2011

You may remember that Gov. Rick Scott of Florida instituted drug testing for all welfare recipients in that state on the premise that it would save the state money by not having to pay benefits to those who were on drugs. And guess what they found out? Welfare recipients use drugs at a lower rate than the rest of the population — and by a pretty significant margin.

Since the state began testing welfare applicants for drugs in July, about 2 percent have tested positive, preliminary data shows.

Ninety-six percent proved to be drug free — leaving the state on the hook to reimburse the cost of their tests.

About 2% fail and another 2% have refused to take the tests. Even if you assume that all who refuse it would test positive, that’s far below the overall rate of use both nationally and in the state of Florida. According to federal data, 7-7.7% of Florida residents use illicit drugs, meaning the rate of welfare recipients is about half that of the general population of the state. And remember, Scott sold this idea on the grounds that welfare recipients used drugs at a higher rate than others.

And by the way, this is going to cost a fortune:

Cost of the tests averages about $30. Assuming that 1,000 to 1,500 applicants take the test every month, the state will owe about $28,800-$43,200 monthly in reimbursements to those who test drug-free.

That compares with roughly $32,200-$48,200 the state may save on one month’s worth of rejected applicants.

The savings assume that 20 to 30 people — 2 percent of 1,000 to 1,500 tested — fail the drug test every month. On average, a welfare recipient costs the state $134 in monthly benefits, which the rejected applicants won’t get, saving the state $2,680-$3,350 per month.

But since one failed test disqualifies an applicant for a full year’s worth of benefits, the state could save $32,200-$48,200 annually on the applicants rejected in a single month.

Net savings to the state — $3,400 to $8,200 annually on one month’s worth of rejected applicants. Over 12 months, the money saved on all rejected applicants would add up to $40,800-$98,400 for the cash assistance program that state analysts have predicted will cost $178 million this fiscal year.

Actual savings will vary, however, since not all of the applicants denied benefits might have actually collected them for the full year. Under certain circumstances, applicants who failed their drug test can reapply for benefits after six months.

The as-yet uncalculated cost of staff hours and other resources that DCF has had to spend on implementing the program may wipe out most or all of the apparent savings, said Derek Newton, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. The program will grow costlier yet, he said, if it draws a legal challenge.

So what’s really going on here? Well it turns out that Rick Scott just happens to own a chain of health care clinics that get much of their revenue from drug testing. What a shock.

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