Monday, January 16, 2012

Need food stamps in Florida? Prepare to be drug tested

If you find yourself falling on hard times in Florida and need to apply for food assistance, you’d better be prepared to pee in a cup. Gov. Scott on Tuesday signed a law requiring drug testing of welfare recipients.
The Scott campaign website (which is now run by the Republican Party of Florida) posted a statement from Scott boasting about the bill signing, calling it a “promise kept”:

Today, I signed HB 353, keeping my promise to require drug screening for welfare recipients.
The bill is designed to increase personal accountability and prevent Florida’s tax dollars from subsidizing drug addiction, while still providing for needy children. Parents failing the required drug test may designate another individual to receive the benefits on behalf of the children.

While there are certainly legitimate needs for public assistance, it is unfair for Florida taxpayers to subsidize drug addiction. This new law will encourage personal accountability and will help to prevent the misuse of tax dollars.

Republicans and Scott offered no evidence of widespread drug abuse among Florida food stamp recipients prior to pushing the bill through during the recent legislative session. Unlike last Thursday’s “private” celebration of Scott’s $615 million vetoes and signing of the state’s new budget, there was no rally, no bused in charter school students chanting Scott’s campaign slogan, and no Sheriff’s deputies scanning the crowds for dissenters.

Recipients of state assistance must pay for the drug tests themselves, and will be reimbursed by the state if they get a negative result. That could wind up costing, rather than saving, Florida taxpayers money. Per The Buzz,

Taxpayers will reimburse welfare applicants for negative drug tests. Positive tests will carry an immediate ban on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families for six months. A second positive test will result in a three-year ban on state assistance.

Other details in the new law:

• The Department of Children and Families must inform applicants that they can avoid a drug test if they do not apply for benefits.
• The state must assure each applicant “a reasonable degree of dignity while producing and submitting a sample.”
• Parents who fail drug tests can get benefits for their children by naming a state-approved designee to collect the money. That designee must also pass a drug test.

That first bullet looks awfully like an attempt to intimidate people into not applying for benefits, which of course, would indeed save Florida money…
The ACLU of Florida has not said whether or not they will sue over the law, which seems like a blatant violation of people’s Fourth Amendment rights if you ask me. The group did issue a statement, and said they would have an announcement tomorrow about Scott’s executive order forcing drug tests on state employees. Here’s the full statement from the group’s executive director, Howard Simon:

“Once again, this governor has demonstrated his dismissal of both the law and the right of Floridians to personal privacy by signing into law a bill that treats those who have lost their jobs like suspected criminals.

“The wasteful program created by this law subjects Floridians who are impacted by the economic downturn, as well as their families, to a humiliating search of their urine and body fluids without cause or even suspicion of drug abuse.

“In 2003, a Federal court determined that forcing those applying for temporary welfare assistance to submit their bodily fluids for a government search violated their Fourth Amendment right to be free from unreasonable searches.

“Surely the governor knew this, and the ACLU testified in the legislature that the bill was a significant and unnecessary invasion of privacy. The new law rests on an ugly stereotype that was disproven by the State’s own earlier experimental drug-testing program.

“Nevertheless, their zeal to score political points on the backs of Florida’s poor once again overrode their duty to uphold the Constitution.
“Searching the bodily fluids of those in need of assistance is a scientifically, fiscally, and constitutionally unsound policy. Today, that unsound policy is
Florida law.”

According to the St. Pete Times:’

About 233,000 Floridians applied for cash assistance in 2009-10, including 114,000 families, according to DCF statistics. This month, 93,170 Floridians received cash assistance, a drop of 8.3 percent from a year ago.

Scott’s communications team claimed last month that he divested himself of his interest in Solantic, a chain of clinics that could see a windfall from the new law. No documentation of the stock sale was provided, so Floridians will just have to take the governor’s word for it.

This article is originally posted on reidreport

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