FL TANF Recipients to Be Drug Screened by Law

Florida Governor Rick Scott signed into law this week a requirement that all recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash benefits be drug screened prior to approval.  The individual must pay for the drug screen and will be reimbursed only if the results are negative.  A positive drug screen requires that the individual be denied benefits for one year, and a second positive drug screen denies benefits for three years. The Florida Legislature in both the House and Senate overwhelming reached the majority approval. While many states have introduced legislation regarding drug testing, only two states, Arizona and Missouri, have passed bills requiring drug screening requirements, but only when there is reasonable suspicion of illegal substance use. Florida stands alone in requiring all recipients of cash benefits to be screened. Michigan attempted similar legislation as Florida but was it rejected by the U.S. District Court, which called the measure unconstitutional. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has already filed a lawsuit against Gov. Scott, citing the law’s unconstitutionality. 

While the TANF recipient will be required to pay for the drug screening in Florida, the cost of administering the requirement is a concern. To have an effective drug screening program that does not result in a high level of false positives, the estimated cost is between $35 and $65 per test. A $10 payment by the individual leaves a considerable state investment of cost for each screening. An estimated 4,400 persons apply each month for benefits throughout Florida. It is unclear how the costs will be absorbed by a fiscally strapped state agency responsible for TANF benefits. In addition, no study has shown that denying assistance facilitates substance abuse treatment. On the contrary, the most effective drug treatment programs show that TANF recipients require additional support. Transportation, housing and child care support help parents overcome barriers to successful program completion. Denying access to benefits will increase barriers to economic advancement and family well‐being. The risk of child safety could increase when families lose what benefits they are eligible for and receive.