Drug Testing Bills Advance to Governors' Desks

May 16, 2011

By Elizabeth Kenefick

A bill passed last week by the Florida legislature takes baseless drug testing of applicants for cash assistance to an even more punitive, outrageous level by requiring needy families to pay for their own drug testing before receiving benefits.

If Gov. Rick Scott signs the bill into law, all parents or caretakers will be required to take a drug test when applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits.  While individuals testing negative will be reimbursed later, this means that some poor families will not be able to apply for assistance due to lack of funds for the test.  Others may be forced to spend the funds that they need to pay for basic needs and transportation. 

Such "suspicionless" testing has been challenged in the courts as a violation of constitutional rights in the past.  Yet, as previously reported, Florida is among many states considering legislation to require drug tests for recipients of public assistance.  Rep. Charles Boustany (R-LA) has also introduced drug testing legislation in Congress this year.  The Missouri state legislature also recently passed a similar bill.

Under both the Florida and Missouri bills, individuals testing positive will be denied TANF benefits for between six months and three years depending on circumstances.  However, the bills diverge in many respects.

While Missouri's bill requires reasonable suspicion before drug test and does not "borrow" money from the applicants for the tests, it still raises concerns that low-income children will be left at risk if their families are denied benefits as result of drug tests.  The Missouri bill does not provide additional funds for drug treatment, although there is already a shortage of public treatment programs.  If even a small number of children wind up in foster care as a result of this policy, it will cost taxpayers far more than any savings from denying benefits to families.  The funds spent conducting drug tests would be far better used to expand access to treatment.

For more information on this issue read the CLASP policy brief: Random Drug Testing of TANF Recipients is Costly, Ineffective and Hurts Families


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