drug test

The Impact of Florida’s New Drug Test Requirement for Welfare Cash Assistance


In May 2011, the Florida Legislature passed and Governor Rick Scott signed into law HB 353[1] requiring applicants for Temporary Cash Assistance (TCA, Florida’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program) to have a negative drug test before receiving cash benefits. Federal welfare reform legislation signed by President Clinton in 1996 specifically allows states such discretion.[2]  Florida’s Department of Children and Families implemented the drug testing requirement on July 1, 2011.  On September 7, 2011, the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida announced a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the new law.[3]

Drug Testing Process

Not all cash assistance applicants are required to get a drug test.  According to Department of Children and Families (DCF) officials, agency specialists perform an initial screening to determine if an applicant is otherwise eligible before requiring a drug test.  This is important as typically 37,400 applicants for TCA are processed monthly, but only about 7,000 (19 percent) are determined eligible and given cash assistance.[4]

DCF tests 10 major categories of drugs.[5]  Most drugs have to have been used within the past few days to be detected, although some are detected in a urine sample as long as six weeks after usage (42 days)[6], as shown in Table 1.

Applicants must pay for the test themselves (about $30) at one of more than 340 approved sites statewide.[7]  However, if they test negative for drugs, the State reimburses the cost of the test with the first month of cash assistance benefits.  Those who test positive for drug use are ineligible for cash assistance for one year, but may reapply after six months if they provide proof of completing substance abuse treatment. 

Given this, applicants who are drug users have a big incentive to never get tested at all (since the TCA application requires that all drug test results are reported to DCF).[8]  From the perspective of the applicant, to not complete the application process is better (and cheaper) than testing positive for drug use and definitively losing eligibility for six months to a year. 

A Temporary Cash Assistance application remains active for 45 days before it is closed for being incomplete (if no drug test is ever completed).[9]  Therefore, applicants who apply in one month (say July) but do not complete the drug test will likely have their application closed and be denied cash assistance the following month (August).

Levels of Reported Drug Use and a Past Florida Pilot Program

According to a 2009 federal survey, 4.5 percent of pregnant women aged 15 to 44, 10.6 percent of non-pregnant women in the same age category, and 17.0 percent of unemployed adults used illicit drugs during the month prior to being surveyed.[10]  These major categories provide some possible benchmarks against which DCF results could be measured.

In addition, a decade ago a State-funded pilot program in Jacksonville that drug-tested cash assistance applicants reported a 3.8 percent positive test rate.[11]

Initial Results in Florida

To truly understand the results of this new policy it is critical to note that denials for incomplete applications due to missing drug test results do not appear until the following month.  This is shown in Table 2 and in the DCF data. 

Almost all drug-related denials by DCF are for missing drug test results.  According to DCF, in July there were only 9 applicants denied for a drug-related reason, but the number of drug-related denials climbed to 565 in August (reflecting the one month lag).  Of these 574 total drug-related denials, only 9 were for a positive test. [12]   Almost all remaining applicants never completed a drug test even though these individuals completed all other steps in the application process and were determined eligible once DCF received negative drug test results.

As previously noted, it can be assumed that all drug-related denials in July 2011 (9) and August 2011 (565) were for July applicants, given the time lag for closed applications due to missing drug test results.   

Table 2 shows that for July, 9.6 percent of otherwise qualified applicants for cash assistance were denied for a drug-related reason.  With an approximate annual savings to the state of $1,608 per drug-related denial (see Table 3), these 574 denials from July 2011 represent annualized savings to Florida taxpayers of $922,992.  The cost of reimbursing the 5,390 approved applicants with a negative drug test ($30 average for each) reduces this annualized savings figure by $161,700, for a net savings to taxpayers of $761,292 for the first month of the program alone.  Since Florida’s initial denial rate is 9.6 percent, the State is currently saving an estimated $5.71 on drug testing for every $1 it spends reimbursing approved applicants with negative drug tests who ultimately receive cash assistance. If these July trends continue throughout the first year, the drug testing requirement will save Florida taxpayers $9,135,504 from July 2011 through June 2012.

What is unclear is why the total number of cash assistance approvals in July, even if all drug-related denials were to have been approved, is about 10 percent lower than June 2011. 

Last year, July 2010 approvals were higher than in June 2010.  August 2010 was higher than both June and July 2010.  Thus, this does not seem to be a seasonal fluctuation as the experience during the 2010 summer months was much different than during the 2011 summer months.  It may be a result of otherwise qualified drug users not even applying given the recent drug test requirement.  This trend will be studied further in future reports.  Given the significant decline in August 2011 approvals, it appears to be a very significant trend and quite likely related to the drug testing requirement, as the economy did not change radically from June through August.

As also shown in Table 3, for the program to generate savings for the State of Florida, just 1.87 percent of those who would otherwise be approved for cash assistance would have to be denied for a drug-related reason.  Remember, July 2011 drug-related denials totaled 9.6 percent of otherwise qualified applications—much higher than the 1.87 percent break-even point.

Policy Recommendation: Expand Drug Testing to Current Recipients

Given the positive initial experience of Florida’s cash assistance drug testing requirement, the Foundation for Government Accountability recommends the program be expanded to include testing of all current recipients of cash assistance as well.

Drug Testing Requirements Becoming More Common in Other States

Drug testing for public assistance applicants is being considered in at least ten states this year, and has already passed in Missouri.[13]  Arizona already drug tests welfare applicants.[14]  In addition, in July Indiana became the first state to require drug testing for state-funded job training programs.  A positive test in Indiana does not affect the individual’s unemployment benefits, which are separately administered.[15]  Last week, Linn State Technical College, a public two-year college in Missouri, announced it was drug screening the general student body.[16]

Given the initial experience in Florida, this trend will likely continue and accelerate across the nation.

National Implication

If Florida’s policy were replicated nationwide, the fiscal savings would be substantial.  According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, there was an average of 140,842 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families applicants approved each month during Fiscal Year 2011.[17] If, like in Florida, a similar 9.6 percent were denied for drug-related reasons (13,520) with a similar annualized savings as Florida’s, then nationally, a drug testing requirement just for new applicants for just TANF alone could save taxpayers more than $173.3 million every year.  Even accounting for the expense of reimbursing testing costs for negative results ($30 times 122,322 applicants monthly with a negative test = $3,819,660) would achieve savings of $10,620,589 monthly or almost $127,447,068 annually for federal and state budgets.


[2] “Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996.” Public Law 104-193. Section 902.  Available at: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/cb/laws_policies/cblaws/public_law/pl104_193/pl104_193a9.htm

[3] “Bender, Michael C. “ACLU, Navy vet sue over welfare drug testing law.”  The Miami Herald.  September 7, 2011.  Available at: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/09/07/2395604/aclu-navy-vet-sue-over-welfare.html

[4] “Application Data for January 2010 through August 2011.” Department of Children and Families.  Provided to author on September 7, 2011 in response to a public records request.

[5] “General Information about the Drug Testing Process.” Department of Children and Families.  July 2011. Available at: http://www.dcf.state.fl.us/programs/access/drugtestinggeninfo.shtml

[6] “Drugs of Abuse Reference Guide.” Laboratory Corporation of America. 2004.  Available at: https://www.labcorp.com/pdf/doa_reference_guide.pdf

[7] “Temporary Cash Assistance Drug Testing Locations.” Department of Children and Families. Available at: http://www.dcf.state.fl.us/programs/access/drugtestsites.shtml

[8] “Drug Testing Information Acknowledgement and Consent Release.” Department of Children and Families. July 2011.  Available at: http://www.dcf.state.fl.us/dcfforms/Search/OpenDCFForm.aspx?FormId=789

[9] “ACCESS Florida Application.” Department of Children and Families. May 2010.  Page 10. Available at: http://www.dcf.state.fl.us/DCFForms/Search/OpenDCFForm.aspx?FormId=645

[10] “Results from the 2009 National Survey on Drug Use and Health: Volume I. Summary of National Findings.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Office of Applied Studies. September 2010. Pages 22 & 25. Available at: http://oas.samhsa.gov/nsduh/2k9nsduh/2k9resultsp.pdf

[11] Tillman, Jodie.  “Bill requiring welfare recipients to take drug tests headed to governor.” Miami Herald. May 5, 2011.  Available at: http://www.miamiherald.com/2011/05/05/2203328/bill-requiring-welfare-recipients.html

[12] Department of Children and Families. September 8, 2011.  In response to public records request.

[13] Barbibeau, Simone. “Scott Signs Florida Bill Forcing Welfare Drug Tests.” Bloomberg. May 31, 2011. Available at: http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2011-05-31/florida-s-scott-signs-bill-forcing-welfare-drug-tests.html

[14] Keller, Rudi. “Welfare drug testing bill awaits debate.” Columbia Daily Tribune. January 25, 2011.  Available at: http://www.columbiatribune.com/news/2011/jan/25/welfare-drug-testing-bill-awaits-debate/

[15] Associated Press. “Indiana first to require drug tests for job training.” Indianapolis Business Journal.  July 9, 2011.  Available at: http://www.ibj.com/indiana-first-to-require-drug-tests-for-job-training/PARAMS/article/28227

[16]  Zagier, Alan Scher. “Mo. technical college begins widespread drug tests.” Sioux City Journal.  September 7, 2011.  Available at: http://www.siouxcityjournal.com/news/national/article_a2bf4eb6-fd09-5e00-9c76-8893f96f21ba.html

[17] “TANF: Average Number of Applications Approved: Fiscal Year 2011.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration for Children and Families.  July 25, 2011.  Available at: http://www.acf.hhs.gov/programs/ofa/data-reports/caseload/applications/tanf_fy_tappsapprv_2011.htm


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Tarren BragdonThe Impact of Florida’s New Drug Test Requirement for Welfare Cash Assistance