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Require drug screening for welfare recipients

"Require drug screening for (welfare) recipients."

Sources: Rick Scott's Plan to Turn Florida Around: 7 Steps. 700,000 New Jobs. 7 Years.

Subjects: Poverty

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The Florida Legislature delivered Gov. Rick Scott a victory in the closing days of the 2011 legislative session when it passed a measure requiring all Floridians who receive cash welfare assistance to first pass a drug test.

Scott had run for office promising a drug-testing requirement, and worked to broaden an original drug-testing bill that would have applied only to recent drug felons.

The final bill, HB 353, forces all people who receive welfare cash, called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, to pass a test in order to be eligible for the funds. If prospective recipients fail a first test, they would lose benefits for one year. A second positive drug test makes them ineligible for three years. The new testing requirement would affect about 58,000 people.

The bill passed the House 78-38 on April 26 and passed the Senate 26-11on May 5.

"This bill is all about trying to break the cycle of drug dependency and using taxpayer dollars to buy illegal drugs," said Senate sponsor Steve Oelrich, R-Gainesville. Opponents say the measure singles out one group of people who receive state funding and could violate a person's constitutional rights.

Under the bill -- which Scott is expected to sign -- welfare applicants would have to pay for the test. If they pass, the state would reimburse them for the cost of the test, which can range from $10 to $25. The new law would take affect July 1, 2011.

Scott promised that welfare recipients would be drug tested. The Legislature has given him the ability.

We rate this Promise Kept.


Senate floor debate, May 5, 2011

HB 353, accessed May 5, 2011

St. Petersburg Times, "Drug testing for welfare recipients heads to governor," May 5, 2011

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Bill amended to expand drug testing requirement

Updated: Thursday, April 14th, 2011

By Aaron Sharockman

The Legislature might be pushing back on Florida Gov. Rick Scott's plan to cut the corporate income tax rate, but it seems to be embracing his call to drug-test welfare cash recipients.

Bills moving through the House and Senate that originally required only recent drug felons to take drug tests to receive welfare cash assistance now have been amended to expand the testing requirement to all welfare cash recipients.

Scott said, as part of his seven-step plan to create 700,000 private-sector jobs, that he could save taxpayers $77 million by adding a testing requirement and more stringent work provisions for cash welfare recipients. He also has proposed random drug tests for current state employees.

SB 556 and HB 353 have been altered so that all applicants hoping to receive Temporary Assistance to Needy Families payments must first pass a drug screening test. Under the proposals, the applicants would be required to pay for the test.

Sen. Paula Dockery, R-Lakeland, offered the more stringent proposal on Scott's behalf. The new testing requirement would affect about 58,000 people.

Applicants who fail an exam will be prevented from receiving cash assistance for one year. If they fail a subsequent test, they will be unable to receive welfare payments for three years.

The proposal has survived three House committees and one committee in the Senate.

We'll watch how these bills proceed. But for now, we keep this promise rated In the Works.


SB 556, accessed April 13, 2011

HB 353, accessed April 13, 2011

Miami Herald, "Gov. Rick Scott orders random drug tests for state workers," March 23, 2011

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Bill filed would require only recently convicted drug felons be tested

Updated: Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

By Aaron Sharockman

One of the ways Florida Gov. Rick Scott said he would better guard taxpayer dollars is by requiring drug testing for people receiving benefits through state-administered welfare programs.

Scott said, as part of his seven-step plan to create 700,000 private-sector jobs, that he could save taxpayers $77 million by adding a testing requirement and more stringent work provisions.

"If you go apply for a job today, you are generally going to be drug tested," Scott told Central Florida News 13 in a pre-election interview from October 2010. "The people that are working are paying the taxes for people on welfare. Shouldn't the welfare people be held to the same standard? We shouldn't have long-term welfare or someone who is using drugs or not out trying to get a job."

Scott didn't drop the issue after defeating Democratic CFO Alex Sink in November.

"It's practical, and it's fair. We shouldn't be subsidizing people who are doing drugs," Scott told the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

Welfare is a broad term that could have different meanings based on a person's interpretation. For instance Medicaid, which provides subsidized health care for low-income families, could be considered a form of welfare. So could food stamps. Then there's what people traditionally think of welfare -- which is direct cash assistance. That program is called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). In Florida, it's also called temporary cash assistance.

The idea of trying to make welfare recipients take a drug test is hardly new.

Supporters argue that drug tests are already commonplace for private-sector job employment, and that a testing requirement would prohibit welfare recipients from using taxpayer dollars to fuel their habit. Opponents say that widespread drug testing is too costly, and that welfare recipients are no more likely to use drugs than anyone else. They also say drug testing is unconstitutional because it amounts to an unreasonable search and seizure. A Michigan law requiring random drug testing was ruled unconstitutional in 2003.

Yet different versions of a testing requirement are now being considered by lawmakers in Kentucky, Missouri and Nebraksa.

And, as Scott wants, in Florida.

Bills have been filed in both the Florida House and Senate that would require some recipients of state and federal direct financial assistance to agree to drug tests by July 1, 2012. Under the provisions of HB 353 and SB 556, applicants for temporary cash assistance who have a felony drug conviction in the previous three years would be required to submit to a drug test as part of the application process. If they pass the test and begin receiving aid, recipients would be subject to additional testing for up to three years.

If a person fails the initial test, they would not be eligible to receive funds for three years. If they fail a test while receiving aid, they would be removed from the program.

The cost for the test -- which the bill does not estimate -- would be paid for by the person being tested.

It's not clear how many of the nearly 100,000 people in Florida who receive temporary cash assistance would be affected. The legislation would not impact people receiving food stamps or on Medicaid.

The drug testing legislation, which is waiting for committee hearings, asks the Department of Children and Families to provide a report to the Legislature by Jan. 1, 2013, detailing how many people have been tested, how many refused the test, and as a result, how many people were either removed from the program or ruled ineligible.

Bill sponsor Sen. Steve Oelrich, R-Gainesville, said he has not talked to Scott about the bill and was unaware drug testing was a Scott campaign promise. Oelrich, a former sheriff for Alachua County, said he also hasn't heard from Senate leadership if they plan to try to push the bill through the Legislature. The House companion bill has been filed by freshman Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness.

Oelrich said he wanted to start small, by requiring only convicted drug felons to participate, and wrote the law so that state costs would be minimal.

"I don't think it's too much to ask that people that receive welfare payments, that they agree not to violate the law by taking illegal substances," Oelrich said.

Florida, interestingly enough, has tried to initiate drug testing before. The Legislature in 1998 approved a drug-testing pilot project for people receiving temporary cash assistance. But the results were underwhelming. Of the 8,797 applicants screened for drugs, only 335 showed evidence of having a controlled substance in their system and failed the test, the Orlando Sentinel reported. The pilot project cost the state $2.7 million (or about $90 a test).

During the campaign, Scott said he wanted to have drug testing for welfare recipients, not just those who had previous drug convictions. So we'll be watching to see whether the current proposed legislation is expanded. But for now, we rate this promise In the Works.


CFN 13, "Rick Scott wants welfare recipients to take drug tests," Oct. 13, 2010

Orlando Sentinel, "Scott still plans to drug test welfare recipients," Nov. 30, 2010

Florida House, HB 353, accessed Feb. 21, 2011

Florida Senate, SB 556, accessed Feb. 21, 2011

Florida Department of Children and Families, "quick facts," accessed Feb. 21, 2011

ACLU,"Drug Testing of Public Assistance Recipients as a Condition of Eligibility," accessed Feb. 21, 2011

NPR, "Should Welfare Recipients Get Drug Testing?," March 31, 2010

Sen. Steve Oelrich, "Senator Oelrich Sponsors Bill to Enforce Drug Tests for Convicted Felons Seeking State Aid," Feb. 2, 2011

Orlando Sentinel, "Our take on: Welfare drug tests," Oct. 30, 2010

Sen. Steve Oelrich, interview, Feb. 21, 2011