TALLAHASSEE, Fla. - Close to one hundred thousand Floridians, many of them kids, receive cash assistance though a state welfare program.
The average payout is $240 a month and state lawmakers want to make sure none of that money is used to buy drugs.
A new law mandating drug tests for welfare recipients went into effect July 1st after many lawmakers claimed there might be a drug problem in the welfare system.
But there is no evidence welfare recipients are prone to use drugs at a higher rate than the general public and, in fact, an early sample of the drug testing program showed only about two-and-a-half percent tested positive.
Republican Senator Don Gaetz of Niceville calls those statistics into question. He believes the tests are keeping drug users from even applying for the cash assistance program. “Maybe this is having the effect that we had expected and that is that people who are using drugs, are using drugs aren’t coming forward.”
Senator Arthenia Joyner, a Democrat, disagrees. She sees the tests as invasive and a waste of taxpayer money. So she’s trying to end them. “The general population is at eight percent drug use. We are talking about two percent among welfare recipients. I think that the entire thing is ill founded.”
Joyner’s up against a Republican controlled legislature.
“In terms of public opinion the prospects for appeal on that measure are probably not good,” said Quinnipiac Pollster Peter Brown.
And a new poll that shows public opinion is overwhelmingly in favor of the test.
Testing Welfare Recipients
71% Support among all Floridians
90% Republican support
49% Democrat support
*Source Quinnipiac Poll
The program is expected to cost the state about three million dollars a year. Part of that cost was supposed to be offset by kicking drug users out of the cash assistance program, but at this point it’s unclear if money will be saved.
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