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Florida Passes Law to Drug-Test Welfare Recipients

Mon., Jul. 4, 2011 11:06 AM EST
by Torrance Stephens

Florida Gov. Rick Scott

The state of Florida will start testing welfare recipients for illicit drug use under a new law signed by Governor Rick Scott on Tuesday. The law was one of Scott’s campaign promises and makes Florida the only state to test all recipients of the federal program known as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families.

Federal law already allows states to screen for drug use under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which replaced traditional welfare in the mid-1990s and has a 48-month lifetime cap on benefits. Under this law, which took effect on July 1, the Florida Department of Children and Family Services will be required to conduct the drug tests on adults “applying”  to the program. In addition, recipients would be responsible for the cost of the screening, which they would recoup in their assistance if they qualify. In two-parent households, both adults would be tested. Benefits to children could be awarded to a third-party recipient, who must also pass a drug screen.

Beginning July 1, individuals who test positive for drugs would be denied benefits for a year. A second failed test would result in a three-year ban. In 2003, a version of this was struck down by a federal court in Michigan.

The law will go into effect, although after a pilot testing in the state in 2001 showed no significant difference in drug use between welfare recipients and the population at large. The governor is also associated with a company he co-founded that provides drug screening.  Just this year, Scott transferred his ownership interest in Solantic Corp. to a trust in his wife’s name. In May, the Florida Ethics Commission ruled that two conflict-of-interest complaints against Scott were legally insufficient to warrant investigation. –torrance stephens, ph.d.

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