If you are planning on filing for financial assistance from the state of Florida, be prepared to get tested- for drugs, that is.

Republican Governor Rick Scott, who campaigned on lowering Florida’s 9% unemployment rate and getting residents back to work, is receiving backlash for a new law requiring adult applying for cash benefits from Florida’s welfare system to undergo drug testing first. Every person tested will have to foot the bill for the drug test, but Scott, who signed the law by executive order, points out that for those who pass a full refund will be issued in their next cash payment from the state.

The law will affect the 113,000 adults who rely on assistance from the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program.  The law will only affect their cash payments, not their ability to obtain food stamps.

According to Scott, the bill is  “the right thing for citizens of this state that need public assistance. We don’t want to waste tax dollars. And also, we want to give people an incentive to not use drugs.”  That drug habits should not be supported with taxpayer dollars is a logic that on its own seems fair enough to most.  So what’s with the uproar?

The problem though is that the law does not test all Florida residents receiving aid from the state but instead targets low-income ones alone.  Critics say that behind the law is a stereotyping of all welfare recipients, one that would never be applied to say small business owners seeking the states financial assistance.

The Florida branch of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida says they will be attempting to challenge the constitutionality of the law in the coming weeks.  They are taking particular issue with the fact that Department of Social Services will be turning over positive drug tests to the states’ child services agency to open a possible child abuse investigation against parents.

Florida’s Department of Child and Families has been quick to dismiss claims that the policy could break up families.  Their spokesperson, Joe Follick said in an interview with Tampa Bay Online:

“We’re going to assess the needs of the family. Our goal is always to keep families together, and give them the tools to stay together.”

If DCF finds that children are in immediate danger, the department will remove them, he said. But “this is not intended to be, nor will it be, a mechanism for children to be removed only because of a positive drug test.”


Speaking on the policy, the ACLU’s associate legal director, Maria Kayanan said:

“The abuse hotline is intended to protect Florida’s children from neglect or abuse — not from a positive drug test. When you’re talking about a search that is unconstitutional to begin with, to then use the result of that search to insert the arm of the state into a family and potentially tear that family apart is unconscionable.”

The ACLU filed their suit against Governor Scott on July 1st.  They are using a similar law overturned in Michigan as precedent to prove the Florida law is unconstitutional.

What do you think of the Florida law requiring welfare recipient to face drug testing?  Is it valid or discriminatory?  Weigh in Clutchettes and gents- share your thoughts!

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