Aug 31 2011

States Push Mandatory Drug Testing for Welfare Applicants in New Conservative Trend

Feature Stories | Published 31 Aug 2011, 10:08 am | Comments Off on States Push Mandatory Drug Testing for Welfare Applicants in New Conservative Trend -

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Governor of Florida Rick Scott in early June declared on CNN that “[s]tudies show that people on welfare are using drugs much higher [sic] than other people in the population.” Politifact Florida, an online fact-checking project of the St. Petersburg Times, tried to verify his claim and found the Governor was inflating the statistics of one study, conducted over 10 years ago. Governor Scott had to backpedal and admit there was uncertainty around the hard numbers, but by that time he had already successfully secured a state law mandating drug testing for welfare applicants. An Orlando Sentinel Op-ed last week declared the nearly two month old law to be a failure, stating, “Scott’s looking for drugs in all the wrong places.” Only 2 percent of welfare applicants have tested positive so far, 4 times less than an estimate of the rate of drug use among the general population. In Florida each applicant must pay for the test out-of-pocket, and a person who fails the test can be barred from reapplying for welfare for up to a year. However when an applicant passes, the cost of the test, up to $40 a person, is reimbursed. Most families on welfare receive only about $240 a month in Florida. A local news report by WFTV recently reported of the first 40 Floridians tested, only two failed, and reimbursements for the remaining 38 applicants have already cost the state $1,140. The numbers may not sway the many conservative state leaders and legislatures who have jumped on the drug-testing bandwagon. Writing for TIME, Adam Cohen counts Alabama, Kentucky, Oklahoma and Louisiana among the states considering similar legislation. Senator David Vitnor is making a push for a Florida-like policy to become Federal law with the Drug Free Families Act of 2011.

GUEST: Elizabeth Lower-Basch, a senior policy analyst at CLASP, which is a non-profit organization that seeks to improve the lives of low-income people

Find out more at www.clasp.org.

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