drug test

Florida’s Drug Test Law for Welfare Cash Assistance: First Quarter Facts


Florida’s Welfare Cash Assistance Drug Testing requirement has been law for one full quarter.  Florida is the first state in the last decade to implement a drug testing requirement for adults otherwise eligible for welfare cash assistance (TCA).  The impact of the new law has been profound, with a 48 percent drop in monthly cash assistance approvals, 19 percent of otherwise eligible applicants being denied for a drug-related reason, and savings of $30.64 for every one dollar spent on the new requirement.  At the county level, eleven Florida counties have a drug-related denials rate of greater than one in three, while ten counties have had no drug-related denials over the full three months.


Beginning in July 2011, Florida began requiring adults who were otherwise eligible for welfare cash assistance to submit a negative drug test before receiving benefits.  Since the program has been in effect for a full quarter, this report looks at the state’s experience during these first three months, and updates projections of the law’s likely fiscal impact during the first full year of operation.  The program is currently subject to a lawsuit in federal court filed by the ACLU of Florida challenging the constitutionality of this requirement, which is explicitly allowed by federal law.


  • 48% drop in cash assistance approvals since drug test requirement

The impact of drug testing for welfare cash assistance is having a dramatic impact on approvals for cash assistance.  Approvals for September 2011 (for cash assistance applicants for eligible adults subject to the drug testing requirement) were 62 percent lower than September 2010 and 48 percent lower than in June 2011, the month before the drug testing requirement took effect.[1]

This reduction is exclusive to cash assistance.  Food Stamps and Medicaid approvals are consistent with levels seen throughout 2010 and to date in 2011, as shown in Chart 1.

  • $58,000 in drug testing fees reimbursed

In the first quarter, 7,028 applicants completed the drug test and tested negative for drug use, completing their eligibility requirements for welfare cash assistance.  Of these 7,028 approved applicants, only 2,163 adults (from 1,971 families) requested and received reimbursement for their drug testing fees.  That means just 28 percent of approved applicants have requested and received reimbursement in the first quarter.  Average reimbursement per adult is $26.78 with a total of $57,920.95 in testing fees reimbursed.

  • 19 percent (First Quarter) and 35 percent (September 2011) of otherwise eligible applicants received a drug-related denial

For the 7,028 welfare cash assistance applicants approved in the first quarter of the drug testing requirement, another 1,629 were denied for a drug-related reason.  All but 32 of these denials were because the applicants did not get the required drug test at one of 350 drug testing sites across the state.  Thus, in the first quarter, 19 percent of otherwise eligible applicants were denied for a drug-related reason.  For September, these drug-related denials were an astounding 35 percent of all otherwise eligible applicants, as shown in Table 1 on page 3.

  • $1,125 –taxpayer savings for each drug-related denial

The Department of Children and Families reports that the average cash assistance recipient family with an eligible adult receives a monthly cash benefit of $250 and receives cash benefits for an average of four and one-half months.  Thus, each drug-related denial results in savings to taxpayers of $1,125 ($250 average monthly benefit times 4.5 months).[2]  Using this average savings, Table 1 shows that the total first quarter savings from all drug-related denials is $1.8 million.  Monthly savings from August and September denials account for almost all of this $1.8 million.  This suggests that total annualized savings from the drug testing requirement could approach $11 million, based on the experience in August and September projected forward for a full 12 months.

  • $30.64 –savings for every $1 spent reimbursing drug test fees for those testing negative

With almost $58,000 spent reimbursing drug test fees and total savings from drug-related denials at $1.8 million, the drug test requirement is saving Florida taxpayers $30.64 for every $1 spent.  More importantly, that is $1.8 million in welfare cash denied to individuals unwilling to confirm it will not be used to subsidize an illegal drug addiction.

County-Level Results for Florida’s 67 counties

County-level reporting for the first quarter shows that drug-related denials vary dramatically by county.  In Liberty County, there was a 100 percent drug-related denial rate as the one otherwise eligible applicant never went for a drug test.  However, in Hendry and Jackson Counties, half of otherwise eligible applicants were denied for a drug-related reason.

Table 2 shows county-level denials for the first quarter.  Eleven counties have a drug-related denial rate of 33 percent or higher.  And ten counties had NO drug-related denials.  Interestingly, rates do not vary significantly based on the number of drug testing sites in the county, also shown in Table 2 on pages 4 and 5.  Counties with no drug-testing sites have some of the lowest rates of drug-related denials.

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 (TANF) applicants approved each month during Fiscal Year 2011.[3] If, like in Florida, a similar 19 percent were denied for drug-related reasons (26,760) with a similar annualized savings as Florida’s, then nationally, a drug testing requirement just for new applicants for just TANF alone could save American taxpayers more than $361.3 million every year.  Even accounting for the expense of reimbursing all testing costs for negative results ($26.78 times 114,082 applicants monthly with a negative test =  $3,055,116) would achieve net savings of  $324,598,338 annually for federal and state budgets.


The first quarter results show the dramatic impact of Florida’s drug testing requirement for applicants for welfare cash assistance.  This requirement has led to a dramatic 48 percent drop in monthly approvals, an overall drug-related denial rate of 19 percent, and almost $1.8 million in savings to taxpayers.  Denials vary greatly by county, with at least one in three applicants being denied for a drug-related reason in 11 counties and no drug-related denials in another ten counties.

The Foundation for Government Accountability will continue to monitor the impact of Florida’s drug testing requirement with regular reports.




1. All data taken from a public records request to the Department of Children and Families completed on October 7, 2011, unless otherwise noted.

2. Department of Children and Families public records request on October 10, 2011.

3. “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


View a PDF of the report


Tarren BragdonFlorida’s Drug Test Law for Welfare Cash Assistance: First Quarter Facts