Florida policy technically a success

A while back Florida instituted a policy this past July which required applicants for state welfare programs to submit to drug screening.  As expected, even before the ink was dry on the governor’s signature of the bill, the ACLU had filed complaints that the measure was inherently racist.  According to the ACLU, it was just a way to punish the poor.  Some state law-makers however, disagreed saying, “it’s hard for me to justify to taxpayers that I’m taking your money and giving  assistance to people who are buying drugs with it.”  That is as true now, as it was then.  How has this plan worked out?

Preliminary data shows that 2% of applicants fail the drug test, and another 2% or so failed to test after applying for unspecified reasons, meaning 96% of applicants passed the tests.  “[O]ne failed test disqualifies an applicant for a full year’s worth of benefits, the state could save $32,200-$48,200 annually on the applicants rejected in a single month.  Net savings to the state — $3,400 to $8,200 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-$98,400 for the cash assistance program that state analysts have predicted will cost $178 million this fiscal year.”

So let’s assume the savings is on the high-end at about $100,000.  That’s a net savings of about .056%.

Now, I don’t know how many people would have applied but chose not to knowing they would fail the test (if any readers can find that statistic, I’d be grateful).  But let us assume it is roughly another 1-2% for the sake of argument.  And let us also assume for the sake of argument, that another (admittedly a likely high estimate) 3-5% have figured out a way to game the system.  That is, found a way to use drugs but still test negative.

Assuming the numbers above are at least hypothetically accurate, what we have is an overwhelming confirmation that the vast majority of those seeking welfare (all adults in the household are tested) are not using illegal drugs.  The legislation has successfully achieved its goal, those applying for welfare are not using drugs at the time of application.  Drug users are not siphoning taxpayer dollars and using drugs at the same time.

Of course, the cynic (myself included) would claim after approval, the user would go back to using and stop in enough time to test negative the next time around.  But I think even that number is probably low, perhaps another 1-3%.

I will be the first to admit that I thought the number of failures would have been higher.  But given the numbers we actually have, and even adding the hypothetical numbers, the program does not save enough taxpayer money (either raw dollar amount or percentage) in the scheme of things to justify continuing the program.  I think it is no longer necessary to continue testing applicants.  What I will say, is I still agree with the principle behind the testing.  I think it would be just as effective, more productive, and save as much or more money (assuming a number of people clean up prior to testing) by requiring random drug screening by lottery draw (by birth date or other such random means).  Unfortunately, the program is actually some saving money, though a pittance, so ending the program will have some decrying the end of a “money-saving” program.

On a side note, if the state really wanted to save money, it would require all welfare recipients to be non-smokers.  The average cost for a pack of cigarettes in Florida is about $6.00, and approximately 50% of people at or below the poverty level smoke cigarettes, and about a quarter of all smokers consume at least one pack daily or more ($6 x 30 = $180 per month or more on cigarettes).

Comments

  1. The drop in applications after implementation of the policy will give you a good estimation of that ‘scared to test’ statistic, all else being equal.

  2. Good ideas here. You left out the estimated cost of testing, $1M-$8M according to the ACLU Blog. I didn’t dig into your numbers, but I get the feeling that you under-estimated the savings, but it doesn’t really matter. In any case, I think your overall conclusion that the program doesn’t really save any money is correct, especially with a high pass-rate meaning the vast majority of tests are paid for by the state. This is a good example of how to put aside general moral statements in favor of showing objectively that, whatever your values, the means aren’t really getting to the end.

    Great point about cigarettes. Deadly, expensive, and more addictive than almost any illegal drug.

    • I quoted an online florida news site. They take the average benefit by the average failures and refusals, minus the costs of reembursement to those who pass. It does sound low, but it looks like there really arent a lot of people failing.

      I do think they are getting their desired result though, morally speaking even if the presumed financial savings isn’t there. The ultimate goal is to prevent drug users from using taxpayer money. So even if people know they’ll fail and wont apply, they are off the rolls. Those who fail are off the rolls. The are left with clean applicants. They are saving a minimal amount of money, at least it’s a savings, but the resources spent reembursing negative testers, and the man-power could probably be better used somewhere else.

      Now if they could get cigarette smokers and alcohol consumers off the rolls or quit, that would be something. The average amount of the benefit is less than the agerage spending on cigarettes. Such is life.

  3. if the law is about all of the poor people, then it’s not racist, since poverty is not limited to one group

    but it is classist – after all, why shouldn’t the poor be able to indulge in escapism now and then?

    the bottom line is, once you hand money over to someone, it’s their money to do what they want with.

    if you aren’t comfortable with that, then don’t give away money.

    there is also no reason to screen everyone and humiliate them because of a few bad ones, who chances are, left on their own, won’t collect that many checks anyway.

    seems to me that the cost of prevention is more than the savings.

    America really needs to get over this drug phobia – prohibition revealled that making something illegal only gives rise to organized crime – and since they benefit, they are probably bankrolling the politicans who support the war on drugs to keep their profits high

    legalize drugs, regulate it like alcohol and rake in the money for the sin tax and stop criminalizing your population

    • If by “allowed escapism” you mean still collect welfare and do drugs, no way! That’s taxpayer money because they told the state they can’t afford their bills. If they’re doing drugs, they certainly don’t need as much as they said. Drugs is sort of a “luxury expense”. As in, not necessary.

      But bottom line is, you’re right, “once you hand money over to someone, it’s their money to do what they want with” when you give someone money out of the goodness of your heart. But thats not the case with welfare or food assistence. The subsidies they get are specifically for paying bills, rent, utilities, and food. Government welfare is not charity, and it isn’t voluntary. They take my money for taxes, they dont ask me for it.

      I do agree in principle that people getting government money should be drug tested. Its not humiliating, I did it for my job to get my money , they can do it for their money. However, in this case, it would seem that random drug screening would likely prove more effective, since only 2% failed the test, and even with my admittedly hypothetically high estimates above, it is still not worth the savings given the man power and upfront cost.

      Legalizing drugs will generate almost no money in taxes. Cocaine, marijuana, meth, and a host of other illegal drugs can be made by the people. It doesn’t take complex facilities to produce or even mass produce drugs. People will make their own, and there will be a huge blackmarket demand for untaxed and more potent drugs. If the state wants to actually make money on drugs, they need to decriminalize it. Like they just did in Connecticut, under an ounce of marijuana is now an infraction with a fine, not jail. So by issuing fines, the state will actually collect money. You link non-payment of fines with drivers licences (suspend them for nonpayment of fines) failure to appear warrants, you start to collect. Thats where the money is, in fines, not jail.

  4. feel free to delete this after it’s posted but tehnically not technecally in the title.

  5. Terrance H. says:

    John,

    LMAO. I couldn’t wait to see how you’d spin that story.

    • I didn’t spin it. Did you read it? I admit less people than I thought failed the tests. And even if we factor in the people who game the system by finding ways to beat the test, and those who don’t apply knowing they’ll fail isn’t likely enough to make that big of a difference in the overall numbers. So in the end, I think it would be more effective to do random screening rather than at the time of application. But because the program saves even a miniscule amount of money in proportion to the over all budget for welfare programs, people will not likely support stopping the program. I merely said I agree with the principle, but it doesn’t seem as though the money saved is worth the overall resources required to keep it going.

      Re-read it.

  6. Terrance H. says:

    John,

    My dear friend, I read it. It wasn’t “technically a success.” It was an abject failure.

    • Umm…no, it was technecally a success. The goal was to make sure people taking taxpayer money was not also using illegal drugs, and that is what is happening. The people who fail are not getting money and the people who didn’t apply arent getting money. The program didn’t save as much money as anticipated, but did save money, and the applicants are not on drugs. That is a success my dear friend.

  7. Terrance H. says:

    John,

    Come on. It was a vicious attack on poor people. There wasn’t one credible piece of evidence that suggested the findings would have been different.

    The program will end up costing more money than it saved if it’s continued. Something you admitted to.

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