Warm Southern Breeze

"… there is no such thing as nothing."

How Successful Is It To Drug Test Public Assistance Welfare Recipients?

Posted by Warm Southern Breeze on Sunday, October 5, 2014

UPDATE: 07February2016

Since implementation of a law began July 1, 2014, the Tennessee Department of Human Services found only 65 out of 39,121 people who applied for a cash assistance program known as “Families First in Tennessee,” tested positive for illegal substances, or medicines for which they had no prescription.

That’s less than 1% of all applicants who tested positive.

That information was provided provided to The Tennessean by the Tennessee DHR.

An extra 116 refused to participate in an initial drug screening questionnaire, which automatically disqualified them for benefits.

The average monthly benefit of the cash assistance program was $165 per month in December – or $1,980 per year. If they otherwise would have qualified to have received assistance, the total value of the benefit to the 116 people who refused to take the test would have been $230,000 annually – if they had otherwise qualified for benefits.

Since the law began, 609 people have been asked to take a drug test: 544 tested negative, and 65 tested positive. Of those who tested positive, 40 were referred for substance abuse evaluation, and 13 enrolled in a drug treatment facility or recovery support group as a condition of receiving benefits.

The total cost to Tennessee taxpayers so far has been $23,592.

There’s a meme which circulates on FaceBook and presumably, in other places as well, which appears similarly as this:

Drug Test Public Assistance Recipients

Drug Test Public Assistance Recipients Meme

Honestly, the idea is a failure.

But you’d rarely – if ever – hear about it’s failures.

Florida was the first state to tread that path. What they learned was surprising. And then, the law was struck down by a Federal court. The states that embark upon Florida’s path will be wa$ting their citizen$ taxe$.

Only 2.6% of Florida applicants failed the drug test.

“Because the Florida law requires that applicants who pass the test be reimbursed for the cost, an average of $30, the cost to the state was $118,140. This is more than would have been paid out in benefits to the people who failed the test. As a result, the testing cost the government an extra $45,780.”

The purported savings in Florida’s program will be negligible after administrative costs and reimbursements for the drug tests are taken into account.


But it wasn’t limited to Florida. Minnesota found the same results.

Minnesotans participating in family support welfare programs: 113,000
Percentage of those with Felony Drug Convictions=0.4%
Percentage of MN General Population w felony drug convictions=1.2%


But it wasn’t limited to Florida or Minnesota – Missouri found the same thing.

Missouri: “One of the biggest failures is in Missouri, where the state spent $493,000 on drug testing for this fiscal year. It received 32,511 welfare applications and referred 636 for drug testing. Only twenty came back positive, although nearly two hundred people refused to comply. But even if all 200 were drug users, that still comes to more than $2,200 per positive result, which is more expensive than the median benefit in the state.”

But it wasn’t limited to Florida, Minnesota, or Missouri – Tennessee found the same thing.

Tennessee: In July 2014, Tennessee began a drug testing program for applicants to the state’s welfare program. Since then, just one person has tested positive out of more than 800. Four people were turned down because they refused to participate in any part of the drug screening process. Six other people willingly submitted to a drug test, and one tested positive. The 10 people affected by the new rules are a small fraction of the 812 people who applied for Tennessee Families First cash assistance program since the measure took effect. The vast majority — 802 — passed the initial written drug screening. Just 0.12% of all people applying for cash assistance in Tennessee have tested positive for drugs, compared to the 8% who have reported using drugs in the past month among the state’s general population.


But it wasn’t limited to Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, or Tennessee – Utah found the same thing.
Utah spent more than $30,000 in the year that turned up just 12 drug users.

But it wasn’t limited to Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, Tennessee, or Utah – Oklahoma found the same thing.
Oklahoma spent $83,000 to test 1,890 people for drugs from November 2012 through May 2013, and caught only 83, a rate of 4.4%.
But it wasn’t limited to Florida, Minnesota, Missouri, Tennessee, Utah, or Oklahoma – Arizona found the same thing.
Arizona tested 87,000 people from 2009 through 2012, but got only one positive test result.

BUT! Virginia & North Dakota were smart.
The $1.5 million price tag with just $229,000 in savings for a proposed program in Virginia prompted lawmakers to reject it.


Kansas, however, hasn’t taken a clue, and plans to spend nearly $1 million to implement a program next year.

Georgia passed similar legislation, but is delaying implementation pending the outcome of Florida’s Federal Court Case “so as not to waste money on a legal fight.”

The policy is based on the false perception that large numbers of welfare recipients are using illegal drugs.

The laws have been supported by the influential American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, a business-backed group that crafts model bills on hundreds of issues for its network of state legislators.



It should also be borne in mind that under Federal law, it’s illegal to drug test SNAP recipients. Here’s a letter from Regional Administrator Robin D. Bailey, Jr. to Keith Horton, Commissioner, Georgia Department of Human Services detailing the matter. FNS_Letter_to_DHS_Drug_Testing_HB_772_Done_6-3-14

How many other states will continue to walk the path that other states have trodden and failed?


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