Rick Scott Wants To Cut Florida's Welfare Costs By Spending More On Welfare

October 22, 2010 1:57 pm ET

Gubernatorial hopeful Rick Scott wants Florida to become the only state in the nation to spend tax dollars on drug tests for welfare recipients in an attempt to save money on welfare. Unfortunately for Scott, 49 states have already rejected this idea as fiscally irresponsible and impractical — four have even found it unconstitutional. So much for Scott's plan to slash welfare spending, which has not only been widely rejected, but would also threaten Florida's most vulnerable residents: children.

Scott: We Can Cut Welfare Costs By Increasing Spending On Drug Testing

Kelley Dunn, WPTV Anchor: "I received a call from a viewer in Palm Beach County, uh, who found out I was going to be a panelist for this debate and he wanted me to ask you about your opponent's idea to drug test welfare recipients, and equated it to kind of kicking someone when they're down. You've heard-you have said that you would not oppose this. Why?"

Alex Sink: "Well, what I've said is that I don't think the state of Florida should be using taxpayer money to fund somebody's drug habit. And so, uh, there has to be a way to be sure that our taxpayer dollars is not using-are not using-are not enabling somebody to continue to be a drug abusers. But before we implement an across the board plan, I would have to - I'm a pretty fiscally responsive-responsible person and I would like to know what the cost to the taxpayers would be for implementing a plan like that."

Kelley Dunn, WPTV Anchor: "Mr. Scott, is this the right thing to do in an economy like this when people are losing their jobs and they might be on government help for the first time in their lives-and of course we can't insinuate that everyone on welfare is doing drugs."

Rick Scott: "Right. Well, what you have to think about is you have to think about the children in those families and those households. When-when there's drug abuse-drug abuse in those households, you know, if you go in and you find that, those kids, you know, are, are having problems. And so, basically, on top of the fact that we'll save money because, uh, you know, we'll make sure these, you know, recipients don't use drugs-because my experience is, if you do test people they generally do the right thing. But on top of that, if you do find a problem, those children will be taken care of and we'll find those problems early rather than late, so I think it's the right thing to do."

Several States Have Found Mandatory Drug Testing For Welfare Recipients Unconstitutional

Drug Testing Welfare Recipients Unconstitutional In Four States. According to The Drug Policy Alliance: "No state currently drug tests welfare recipients. In fact, a 2003 ruling by a federal appeals court that covers the states of Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio, and Tennessee ruled that states cannot drug test welfare recipients because it's unconstitutional. Those states, and many others, could lose federal funding if the drug testing provision makes it into law." [The Drug Policy Alliance, 3/16/05]

Michigan's Drug Testing Of Welfare Recipients Struck Down As Unconstitutional. According to a 2008 study by the American Civil Liberties Union: "Michigan is the only state to attempt to impose drug testing on welfare recipients - a policy that was struck down as unconstitutional in 2003. ... In halting the implementation of Michigan's drug testing law, U.S. District Court Judge Victoria Roberts ruled that the state's rationale for testing welfare recipients "could be used for testing the parents of all children who received Medicaid, State Emergency Relief, educational grants or loans, public education or any other benefit from that State." Indeed, any of the justifications put forth to subject welfare recipients to random drug testing would also by logical extension apply to the entirety of our population that receives some public benefit and/or that is a parent." [ACLU.org, 4/8/08; in-text citation deleted for clarity]

States Have Rejected Drug Testing For Welfare Recipients For Fiscal Reasons, Find Job Training/Economic Focus More Effective

49 States Rejected Program For Fiscal And Practical Reasons. According to a 2008 ACLU study: "At the time Michigan's drug testing scheme was struck down, the 49 other states had rejected such a program for a variety of fiscal and practical reasons: at least 21 states concluded that such a program 'may be unlawful'; 17 states cited cost concerns; 11 states had not considered drug testing at all; and 11 gave a variety of practical/ operational reasons. [...] Some states' constitutions actually offer greater privacy protection to individuals than does the U.S. Constitution." [ACLU.org, 4/8/08, emphasis added]

New York, Maryland, Louisiana, Alabama And Counties In Oregon Deem Drug Testing As Not Cost-Effective. According to the same ACLU study:

  • New York and Maryland each considered a program to randomly drug test those receiving welfare, but abandoned the plan as not cost-effective, given that urinalysis is almost exclusively a barometer of marijuana use and that welfare recipients are required to undergo regular supervision, allowing for effective monitoring absent the cost and intrusion of mandatory drug testing.
  • Louisiana passed a law in 1997 requiring drug testing for welfare recipients. However, a task force set up to implement the law found more limited drug testing of individuals identified by a questionnaire to be more cost-effective than mandatory drug testing.
  • Alabama decided against drug testing because it found that focusing on job training programs was a more effective method of moving individuals off of welfare.


  • Certain counties in Oregon experimented with drug testing on some welfare recipients, but the process was halted when it was found that drug testing was less effective in identifying drug abuse than less invasive, cheaper methods." [ACLU.org, 4/8/08, emphasis added]

U.S. Dept. Of Health And Human Services Link Poor Economy And Welfare Spending. According to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning & Evaluation in the Department Health & Human Services: "States of less fiscal capacity spent less per capita on social welfare than states with higher per capita incomes. These differences between rich and poor states resulted largely from differences in states' spending from their own sources of revenue. The distribution of federal funds neither greatly diminished nor greatly increased state differences in spending." The average Florida resident only made $21,387 a year between 1977-2000. [aspe.hhs.gov, 6/30/04, emphasis added]

Science And Medical Experts Reject Drug Testing Welfare Recipients

Science And Medical Experts Overwhelmingly Oppose Drug Testing Of Welfare Recipients. According to a 2008 ACLU study:

Science and medical experts overwhelmingly oppose the drug testing of welfare recipients.

  • The Center for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) recommended against implementing random drug testing of welfare recipients. CAMH believes that there was little benefit to testing and that the stigma associated with testing impacted those on welfare negatively. They recommended that resources be allocated towards better training for government workers to detect signs of substance abuse and mental disorders, as well as to greater assistance and treatment to those who need help."
  • In addition, mandatory drug testing of welfare recipients is opposed by the American Public Health Association, National Association of Social Workers, Inc., National Association of Alcoholism and Drug Abuse Counselors, American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Association of Maternal and Child Health Programs, National Health Law Project, National Association on Alcohol, Drugs and Disability, Inc., National Advocates for Pregnant Women, National Black Women's Health Project, Legal Action Center, National Welfare Rights Union, Youth Law Center, Juvenile Law Center, and National Coalition for Child Protection Reform. [ACLU.org, 4/8/08, emphasis added]

Drug Testing Welfare Recipients Is Not Cost-Effective

Average Drug Test Is $42 Per Person, Not Including The Cost Of Program Personnel. According to the ACLU: "The average cost of a drug test is about $42 per person tested, not including the costs of hiring personnel to administer the tests, to ensure confidentiality of results and to run confirmatory tests to guard against false positives resulting from passive drug exposure, cross-identification with legal, prescription drugs such as codeine and legal substances such as poppy seeds." [ACLU.org, 4/8/08]

Congressional Committee Estimates $77,000 Per Positive Drug Test. According to a 2008 ACLU study: "A congressional committee also estimated that the cost of each positive drug test of government employees was $77,000, because the positive rate was only 0.5%." [ACLU.org, 4/8/08]

Floridians Don't Take Kindly To Forced Drug Testing

Florida Librarians Refuse Drug Testing. According to the Gainesville Sun: "Levy County's public libraries are struggling to get books checked out or reshelved because retirees who usually handle many of those chores have balked at a requirement that they 'pee in a cup' as part of a mandatory drug test for all county volunteers. ...'This is just a common-sense issue - why are we spending tax money to test 75-year-old grandmothers for marijuana? We should be using that money to buy more books and computers.' [...] 'It is an affront to some people's dignity, especially people who grew up in another generation,' said the county's library director, Bonnie Tollefson." [Gainesville Sun, 10/7/06, emphasis added]

Florida State Law Does Not Permit Mandatory Drug Testing Of Workers. According to the Encyclopedia of Everyday Law: "FLORIDA: Employee drug testing is voluntary in Florida. However, Fla. Stat. 440.101 et seq. gives incentives to employers that implement drug-free workplace policies. Florida law parallels federal law on the subject." [Encyclopedia of Everyday Law, accessed via enotes.com on 10/21/10]

Scott Says He Wants To Help Children But Will Take Away Their State Welfare Dollars

Rick Scott Claims He Can Potentially Reduce $77 Million In Welfare Spending. According to the "Welfare Benefits" section of Rick Scott's campaign website: "Imposing more stringent standards on non-compliance with work requirements and require drug screening for recipients, Florida could save $77 million." [RickScottforFlorida.com, accessed 10/21/10, emphasis added]

Total Florida State And Federal Welfare Funding Overwhelmingly Benefits Children. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP), in 2006 there were 52,470 families and 73,413 children in Florida who received Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) funds. [NCCP, accessed 10/21/10]

  • Benefits For Single Parent Families Are Limited To $4,716/year. According to the National Center for Children in Poverty (NCCP), earnings limit for a single-parent family of three: $4,716/year." [NCCP, accessed 10/21/10]

Total 2009 Florida State and Federal Welfare Funding Was $179,955,836. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, the total state and federal funding for basic welfare care for children and families was $179,955,836. [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, August 2010]

Total 2009 Florida State and Federal Welfare Funding For Children Was $23,783,211. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Administration for Children and Families, basic (non-work related) child care made up $23,783,211 of this budget. [U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, August 2010]