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Welfare drug-testing bill headed to Florida gov’s desk

The Florida Senate approved Thursday a measure that will require all recipients of the state program Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to pass a drug test before receiving benefits, reported Sunshine State News.

Proponents of the measure, sponsored by Sen. Steve Oelrich (R-Cross Creek), have said they want to prevent taxpayer dollars from going to drug use, while opponents have said the law is unjust and discriminatory. With overwhelming Republican support, the Senate approved the mandate for illegal-drug screening 26-11; Gov. Rick Scott is expected to sign the bill.

As The Florida Independent previously reported, Florida tried to drug-test welfare recipients 10 years ago, but a pilot program found it was a waste of money. This new proposal would requires TANF applicants to pay for the drug tests, but according to Sunshine State News, recipients who pass the drug test would be reimbursed for the cost of the test.

A February report (PDF) from the Center for Law and Social Policy found that legislative proposals to drug-test TANF recipients are based on stereotypes, not evidence.

From the CLASP report “Random Drug Testing of TANF Recipients is Costly, Ineffective and Hurts Families” (PDF):

Mandatory drug testing for parents applying for or receiving assistance from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program has been proposed repeatedly over the past few years. Legislators in at least 27 states have proposed suspicionless drug testing with some even extending it to recipients of other public benefits as well, such as unemployment insurance, medical assistance and food assistance. At the federal level, Senator David Vitter (R?LA) has offered bills and amendments multiple times to impose mandatory drug testing on TANF recipients and deny them eligibility if they failed a second test after treatment. The most recent is The Drug Free Families Act of 2011 (S 83). Last summer, Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) proposed mandatory drug testing for TANF and unemployment insurance recipients.

Proposals for mandatory drug testing of TANF recipients are based on stereotypes and not evidence. Proponents often claim that drug testing will save money; however, this is based on a false assumption that many applicants will be denied benefits. Random testing is a costly, flawed and inefficient way of identifying recipients in need of treatment. Better alternatives exist and are already being implemented to address drug abuse among TANF beneficiaries and ultimately reduce their barriers to work. Moreover, universal random drug testing may well be unconstitutional.

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