Poverty Is Not A Gateway Drug

A federal judge has struck down an infamous Florida law, backed by Governor Rick Scott, that required regular drug tests from welfare recipients:

In this case, U.S. District Judge Mary S. Scriven rejected the notion that there is any correlation between applying for welfare and abusing drugs. “[T]here is nothing inherent to the condition of being impoverished that supports the conclusion that there is a ‘concrete danger’ that impoverished individuals are prone to drug use or that should drug use occur, that the lives of TANF recipients are ‘fraught with such risks of injury to others that even a momentary lapse of attention can have disastrous consequences’,” Scriven wrote. Florida’s law subjects all TANF applicants to random drug testing. While applicants must “consent” to the test through their signature, those who decline are not eligible for the program. … But as Scriven pointed out, “there is no evidence that there is greater drug use and child abuse within the population of economically disadvantaged families who participate in the TANF program.” In fact, Florida’s experience with the program suggested that welfare applicants are less likely to abuse drugs than the general public, with only two percent of applicants testing positive.

Bouie highlights the massive costs and insignificant impact of such testing regimes:

In Minnesota, more than 70,000 people are enrolled in the state’s main cash welfare program. Of those, just 2,800—or 4 percent—have felony drug convictions, compared to 1.2 percent of the overall adult population. In all likelihood, the state will lose money as it tries to identify and test these recipients. In that, it will join the dozens of states who have plowed ahead with similar proposals. In Utah, for instance, only 12 out 466 people—or 2.5 percent—showed evidence of drug use after screening, at a cost to the state of $25,000. Likewise, Florida spent more than $45,000 on testing to no avail—just 108 of the 4,086 people who took the test failed. Out of the 1,890 people screened for drugs in Oklahoma—which passed a test law in 2012—just eighty-three people tested positive, at a cost of $83,000 to the state.

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.

Scott has vowed to appeal, saying, “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.” Lemieux doesn’t buy it:

Ah, yes, “zero tolerance.” So Florida has mandatory drug tests for everyone who, say, claims property taxes as a deduction against their federal income taxes, right? And people who receive agricultural subsidies? We can’t have taxpayer money subsidizing an illicit lifestyle. WON’T SOMEONE PLEASE THINK OF THE CHILDREN!?!?!?!?!?

Update from a reader:

Don’t forget that Florida Governor Rick Scott has a strong financial interest in mandatory drug testing: He owns a company that provides the service to the state. Of course, given that he transferred the shares to his wife just before he took office, technically his wife owns it, not him. That is enough to get around Florida’s laughable conflict-of-interest laws.