When Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed the law requiring welfare recipients to pass annual drug tests to collect benefits, he justified the likely unconstitutional law by saying it would save the state money by keeping drug users from using public money to subsidize their drug habits. Drug use, Scott claimed, was higher among welfare recipients than among the rest of the population.
Preliminary results from the state’s first round of testing, however, has seemingly proven both of those claims false. Only 2 percent of welfare recipients failed drug tests, meaning the state must reimburse the cost of the $30 drug tests to the 96 percent of recipients who passed drug tests (two percent did not take the tests). After reimbursements, the state’s savings will be almost negligible, the Tampa Tribune reports:
Cost of the tests averages about $30. Assuming that 1,000 to 1,500 applicants take the test every month, the state will owe about $28,800-$43,200 monthly in reimbursements to those who test drug-free.
That compares with roughly $32,200-$48,200 the state may save on one month’s worth of rejected applicants.
Net savings to the state: $3,400 to $5,000 annually on one month’s worth of rejected applicants. Over 12 months, the money saved on all rejected applicants would add up to $40,800 to $60,000 for a program that state analysts have predicted will cost $178 million this fiscal year.
While the state will save little, if any, money on the drug testing racket, Scott’s family could stand to gain financially. A former health care executive, Scott founded Solantic Corp., a chain of walk-in health care clinics that provides, among other services, drug tests. Scott maintains that he has no involvement in the company, but he does have $62 million worth of the company’s shares contained in a blind trust under his wife’s name. Though there is no conflict under Florida law unless the company deals with the governor’s office directly, the company, and thus Scott’s investment, could benefit from the increased traffic from drug tests.
Meanwhile, the state’s already-small annual savings could be wiped out entirely by the cost of implementing the program and issuing the reimbursements. And as Derek Newton, the spokesman for the Florida chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, told the Tribune, the cost of the program could skyrocket if the state has to defend it in court. The ACLU is still considering a lawsuit challenging the law’s constitutionality, Newton said.
If the ACLU or anyone else were to challenge the law, the lawsuit would likely succeed. As UCLA law professor Adam Winkler wrote after Scott signed the law, “Random drug-testing is what is known as a ‘suspicion-less search,’” and outside of a few limited instances, courts have “generally frowned upon” drug testing that occurs at random and without probable cause. “Indeed, courts have stuck down policies just like the ones put in place by Florida,” Winkler wrote, citing two cases to back up the claim.
As for Scott’s second claim, that drug use is higher among welfare recipients, the test results also show that to be false. While only 2 percent of welfare recipients failed drug tests, a 2008 study by the Office of National Drug Control Policy found that approximately 8 percent of Floridians age 12 and up had used illegal drugs in the last month, and 9.69 percent had smoked marijuana in the last year.
Correction: Rick Scott sold his Solantic stock in April, which appears to eliminate his financial stake in this law. We apologize for the error.