What do you do when the facts don’t support your actions, which were based on extremist rhetoric and false notions? If you’re Gov. Rick Scott (GOP/Tea – Fla.) you simply change the mission.
The results are in, and drug testing of welfare recipients as a means to deny them assistance costs more than it saves and fails to shrink the welfare rolls. On the plus side, it shows that drug use is lower among welfare recipients than in the general population.
The facts have Gov. Scott and the Florida legislators who introduced the bill — which is being challenged by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) even as it is under consideration in 25 other states — pivoting. They say their idea wasn’t so much to save taxpayer dollars, which is precisely what they claimed at the time, but to cut illegal drug use and…um…give me a second here…what sounds good? Something about children? Maybe?
“It’s not about money, it’s about the drug issue,” said Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Lecanto, who sponsored the legislation. “It’s about using every tool we have in the toolbox to fight drugs.”
Jackie Schutz, a spokeswoman for the governor’s office, said the governor agreed: The drug welfare law is about protecting children and getting parents back to work.
So along with saving taxpayers money, fighting drugs, protecting children, and getting parents back to work, that brings the total number of things the new law isn’t accomplishing to four.
If those who answer that the drug-using welfare recipients probably self-selected out of the testing were right, there would be a drop in the number of applications for assistance after the law went into effect. There was none.
The law stated that anyone applying for public benefits must first pee in a cup to show they are not taking illegal drugs. The applicant was required to pay for the $35 test up front, and if they were found “innocent,” they could apply to the government to be reimbursed. Eventually.
A little possibly relevant background: Before Scott was elected, he was CEO of Columbia HCA, which was found guilty of the largest Medicaid fraud scheme in the country’s history. Scott cut a deal to be allowed to resign rather than face criminal prosecution and went on to found Solantic Primary Care Centers, which just happen to provide drug testing. After he became governor, Scott’s wife took over as head of Solantic (on paper anyway), and after Scott advocated for the testing law and a stink was made, she too stepped down. The couple claims to have sold all their interests in the business.
The law was a sweet deal for clinics like Solantic that offer drug tests. Or it was, until the ACLU challenged it as a violation of the 4th Amendment right to be free of unreasonable searches by the government. The judge hearing the initial case put a stop to the practice after only a few months, and the matter is now under appeal.
Still, in the short time the law was in effect, interesting numbers emerged.
Of the 4,086 applicants who scheduled drug tests while the law was enforced, 108 people, or 2.6 percent, failed, most often testing positive for marijuana. About 40 people scheduled tests but canceled them, according to the Department of Children and Families, which oversees Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, known as the TANF program.
The numbers, confirming previous estimates, show that taxpayers spent $118,140 to reimburse people for drug test costs, at an average of $35 per screening.
The state’s net loss? $45,780.
So 2.6 percent of the applicants failed, meaning they were using illicit drugs. By comparison, 8.13 percent of all Floridians over the age of 12 would have failed that same test.
The net loss quoted is only for the dollar reimbursement for drug tests. It doesn’t count the cost of additional state staffing and hours to administer the program and review the 97. 4 percent of applicants who passed. It also doesn’t include the voluminous cost of defending the law in court as it continues to be appealed.
Florida’s neighbors to the north, Georgia, just passed their own version of the drug testing for welfare recipients law, and 24 more states are considering it, which marks it as a probable ALEC piece of model legislation.
The idea that people on public assistance are lazy, fatcat, dishonest, drug using cheaters of the system who eat steak and drive Cadillacs is so deeply held on the right that it can’t be shaken — no matter how much the facts pee all over it.