Florida Taxpayers Saving Big on Drug Testing for Welfare Cash Assistance

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NAPLES – In effect for just two months, a law requiring negative drug test results before being receiving taxpayer-funded Temporary Cash Assistance has already achieved significant and positive results, according to a report released today by the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA).

The report, The Impact of Florida’s New Drug Test Requirement for Welfare Cash Assistance, authored by FGA President and Chief Executive Officer Tarren Bragdon, provides an analysis of initial results of the new requirement that began July 1, 2011.

Administered by Florida’s Department of Children and Families, the law requires testing for ten major categories of drugs after an applicant is determined otherwise eligible for cash assistance. Applicants pay for the test themselves at a cost of about $30.00—an expense the state reimburses if the applicant tests negative and starts receiving cash assistance. Those who test positive are ineligible for cash assistance for one year, but may reapply after six months with proof of completing substance abuse treatment.

According to the report, of the 5,964 total applicants for cash assistance in July, 574 otherwise eligible applicants—9.6 percent—were denied for a drug-related reason in July and August. Almost all denials, 565, were because no results were provided to the State as the individual never completed the required drug test.

“Drug users seeking taxpayer-funded cash assistance find it cheaper and easier to skip the drug test and forgo that benefit rather than submit positive results,” Bragdon explained. “If an applicant knows he will test positive for drug use, and knows he will be denied benefits for up to a year, a drug test is a waste of time and money. But that drug user’s loss is the taxpayers’ gain.”

The State saves approximately $922,992 on the 574 drug-related denials ($1,608 per denial) and will spend up to $161,700 reimbursing applicants who tested negative, creating a net savings to taxpayers of $761,292 for just July and August. This means taxpayers save $5.71 on drug testing for every $1.00 spent reimbursing non-drug using applicants. If these trends hold, the drug test requirement will save Florida taxpayers more than $9.1 million in the first year alone.

Opponents of drug testing for cash assistance often claim the results are not worth the cost of administrating the requirement, but the facts debunk this argument. The report shows that to generate taxpayer savings, just 1.87 percent of otherwise eligible applicants for cash assistance would have to be denied for a drug-related reason. As explained in the report, the drug-related denial rate is at 9.6 percent—much higher than the break-even point.

The report also suggests Florida’s drug testing requirement for cash assistance could become a national model. If national trends are similar to Florida’s, a drug testing requirement just for new applicants for just TANF alone could save American taxpayers more than $173.3 million every year.

“Given the significant taxpayer savings and other positive initial results of this drug testing requirement for new applicants, policymakers would be wise to expand this requirement to include all current recipients of welfare cash assistance,” Bragdon said. “Drug testing for cash assistance not only preserves precious state dollars for the truly needy, it sends a very clear message that the state will not tolerate attempts to take advantage of taxpayers’ generosity. There should be certain fundamental expectations to meet in order to receive these benefits. Staying clean and sober should be the most basic expectation of all.”

CLICK HERE to read the report.

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