Why is it always Florida? Ms. Alvarez of the NY Times tells us that their new law requiring Federal welfare recipients to pass a drug test is a bust but the publicaly available caseload numbers suggest she is wrong:
No Savings Are Found From Welfare Drug Tests
MIAMI — Ushered in amid promises that it would save taxpayers money and deter drug users, a Florida law requiring drug tests for people who seek welfare benefits resulted in no direct savings, snared few drug users and had no effect on the number of applications, according to recently released state data.
“Many states are considering following Florida’s example, and the new data from the state shows they shouldn’t,” said Derek Newton, communications director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which sued the state last year to stop the testing and recently obtained the documents. “Not only is it unconstitutional and an invasion of privacy, but it doesn’t save money, as was proposed.”
Thank heaven for the ACLU, which will fight for your right to party. On the taxpayer's dime.
The Florida civil liberties group sued the state last year, arguing that the law constituted an “unreasonable search” by the government, a violation of the Fourth Amendment. In issuing a temporary injunction in October, Judge Mary S. Scriven of Federal District Court scolded lawmakers and said the law “appears likely to be deemed a constitutional infringement.”
From July through October in Florida — the four months when testing took place before Judge Scriven’s order — 2.6 percent of the state’s cash assistance applicants failed the drug test, or 108 of 4,086, according to the figures from the state obtained by the group. The most common reason was marijuana use. An additional 40 people canceled the tests without taking them.
Because the Florida law requires that applicants who pass the test be reimbursed for the cost, an average of $30, the cost to the state was $118,140. This is more than would have been paid out in benefits to the people who failed the test, Mr. Newton said.
As a result, the testing cost the government an extra $45,780, he said.
And the testing did not have the effect some predicted. An internal document about Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF, caseloads stated that the drug testing policy, at least from July through September, did not lead to fewer cases.
“We saw no dampening effect on the caseload,” the document said.
There must be another side to this, yes?
But supporters of the law said four months of numbers did little to discredit an effort they said was based on common sense. Drug users, no matter their numbers, should not be allowed to use taxpayer money, they said.
Welfare applications jump after injunction on drug testing
Gray Rohrer, 04/17/2012 - 04:30 PM
One month after a federal court judge in Miami issued a temporary injunction against a state law requiring welfare applicants to pass a drug test before receiving benefits, the number of applications and the amount paid out by the state rose significantly.
Judge Mary Scriven issued the injunction in late October, and by December, applications for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families reached 146,020, a 10.5 percent increase from November. The total amount paid out by the Department of Children and Families, the state agency that administers the program, increased 7.9 percent to $12.5 million – by far the largest month-to-month increase for at least a decade. Since then, the monthly TANF payout has held steady between $12.58 million and $12.62 million in the first three months of 2012.
These guys are trying to make a living in online publishing, so hit their link for more. A state spokesperson says that most of the jump was for other reasons, but we do note this:
About 2,000 of the 13,914-application increase in December came from people who were eligible for benefits but refused to take the drug test, Follick said.
Still, according to DCF figures, the largest monthly swing in the past 10 years came in February 2005, when the TANF payouts decreased 4.7 percent over the previous month. Plus, the increase in December came in a month when the unemployment rate dropped from 10 percent to 9.9 percent.
So the monthly change in December was double the previous record, but had very little to do with the drug testing injunction. And even with that caveat, there could be 2,000 people who were deterred from filing for benefits, which might be worth adding to the 108 who took the test and failed.
And one wonders whether we are even talking about the same state. Per the Times, there were 4,086 applicants over the four month period when testing was in effect. But The Current says that there were 146,020 applications in December, up by 13,914.
OK, maybe the 146,020 is the sum of an ongoing group supplemented by 13,914 newcomers. In which case, the state went from about 1,000 new applicants per month to 13,914 when the injunction on drug testing went into effect.
There does seem to be a story here. However, since the Times knows which side they are on they let the story write itself, with help from the ACLU.
I'm going to post what I have while I keep poking at this. As usual, I welcome assistance and insight.
MORE: From the Florida Department of Children and Families website (DCF) I get this report about their TANF caseload:
So we see about a ten percent drop in the caseload from spring 2011 to Oct/Nov 2011, followed by a ten percent rebound after the injunction against drug testing.
What is unclear is why the total number of cash assistance approvals in July, even if all drug-related denials were to have been approved, is about 10 percent lower than June 2011.
Last year, July 2010 approvals were higher than in June 2010. August 2010 was higher than both June and July 2010. Thus, this does not seem to be a seasonal fluctuation as the experience during the 2010 summer months was much different than during the 2011 summer months. It may be a result of otherwise qualified drug users not even applying given the recent drug test requirement. This trend will be studied further in future reports. Given the significant decline in August 2011 approvals, it appears to be a very significant trend and quite likely related to the drug testing requirement, as the economy did not change radically from June through August.
I will say that the seeming anomaly held up in September, October and November.
From the DCF website the "Caseload" report (set to TANF expenditures) confirms the uptick in expenditures to $12.5 million and their subsequent numbers. But I am not finding a report on "applications"; the open/closed caseload report also shows a big uptick in December, but not the 13,914 descibed by The Current.
Still, their theme - something big changed after the injunction - is certainly shown in the publicly available data, even if the ACLU press release as filtered by the Times missed it.
ANOTHER TAKE ON THE 'FAIL' RATE: The Times tells us that only 108 applicants failed the drug test. The Foundation for Government Accountability provides a different perspective:
For the 7,028 welfare cash assistance applicants approved in the first quarter of the drug testing requirement, another 1,629 were denied for a drug-related reason. All but 32 of these denials were because the applicants did not get the required drug test at one of 350 drug testing sites across the state. Thus, in the first quarter, 19 percent of otherwise eligible applicants were denied for a drug-related reason. For September, these drug-related denials were an astounding 35 percent of all otherwise eligible applicants, as shown in Table 1 on page 3.
If I am grasping this, in the first three months there were 32 outright fails and 1,597 walk-aways. What a normal walk-away rate might be, and how that compares to the rate with the drug-testing rule in place, is not addressed here.
They make another good point:
The impact of drug testing for welfare cash assistance is having a dramatic impact on approvals for cash assistance. Approvals for September 2011 (for cash assistance applicants for eligible adults subject to the drug testing requirement) were 62 percent lower than September 2010 and 48 percent lower than in June 2011, the month before the drug testing requirement took effect.
This reduction is exclusive to cash assistance. Food Stamps and Medicaid approvals are consistent with levels seen throughout 2010 and to date in 2011, as shown in Chart 1.
That drop in TANF cash assistance while Food Stamps and Medicaid stay flat can be seen at their link or by anyone who has downloaded the 'caseloads' Excel file.
I am becoming convinced that the Times picked a side with this coverage. Imagine my surprise.
ACLU FACTOIDS: From the ACLU:
There is no heightened level of drug use amongst TANF recipients. Indeed in 2011 just 2 percent of Florida drug tests came back positive for drugs during the law’s brief implementation. That is a rate four times lower than the estimated drug use of Floridians ages 12 and up, according to Justice Department estimates.
That ignores the people who took a pass on both the test and collecting benefits.
On the other hand, Florida is not testing for alcohol use (which is legal but can certainly be abused). I would say that society is drifting towards treating marijuana on par with alcohol, and as the ACLU notes
Drug tests identify drug usage, not substance abuse problems, and most positive tests identify marijuana users, rather than individuals struggling with addiction.
I suspect that if most tests identify marijuana users it is because marijuana lingers in the system. As to the many applicants who decline to take the drug test, I imagine data is sparse as to their drug(s) of choice.
Sanctions on TANF recipients will fall heavily on children. The majority, roughly 75%, of TANF beneficiaries are children from impoverished families.6 Removing or restricting assistance due to the behavior of a parent punishes the child for circumstances beyond his or her control. This proposal would also exacerbate existing stigma associated with receiving unemployment, TANF or other public benefits, and could potentially deter struggling individuals from applying for aid.
Drug testing "exacerbates the stigma"? Why? Why couldn't an aid recipient wear with pride the notion that he/she cleaned up for the kids?
And if drug testing might deter strugging individuals, it might also motivate them to clean up their act.
All that said, at some point the kids are being held hostage by the parents and We the People need to have some thoughts about how to aproach that.
The ACLU is advocating, not informing. And the Times is not conducting a two-sided debate.