I think a drug testing requirement is a bad idea, because the lives of drug users are not less valuable than the lives of other people.
Another argument is that testing welfare applicants for drugs will cost more than it will save. This article from WFTV in Florida is getting linked a lot today, but I don’t think they did the math right.
CENTRAL FLORIDA — Just six weeks after Florida began drug testing welfare applicants, WFTV uncovered numbers, which show that the program is already costing Central Florida taxpayers more than it saves.[...]
The Department of Central Florida’s (DCF) region tested 40 applicants and only two tested positive for drugs, officials said. One of the tests is being appealed. [...]
DCF said it has been referring applicants to clinics where drug screenings cost between $30 and $35. The applicant pays for the test out of his or her own pocket and then the state reimburses him if they test comes back negative.
Therefore, the 38 applicants in the Central Florida area, who tested negative, were reimbursed at least $30 each and cost taxpayers $1,140.
Meanwhile, the state is saving less than $240 a month by refusing benefits to those two applicants who tested positive.
If the reimbursements cost $1140 every six weeks, that’s an expense of about $10,000 a year. If the state discovers 2 drug addicts every six weeks, that’s about 17 drug addicts discovered in a year, bringing in an eventual savings of about $23970.
So it seems to me that the math used by WFTV is just plain wrong. Furthermore, they’re not considering a deterrence effect. What if in addition to the 2 welfare applicants who were kicked off welfare, there’s an addition two potential welfare applicants who were deterred from applying at all because they use drugs? Then the savings is more like $48000 a year, in exchange for spending $10000 a year on drug tests.
To be honest, the only reason I have doubt about this is that it just seems like too obvious a mistake for anyone to make. Could the folks at WFTV really have made such an obvious math error? Or am I the one missing something right under my nose?
Just to be clear, I don’t favor Florida’s law. But it may well save money, at least when all you consider is the cost of drug tests paid for versus welfare benefits not paid.
(If you add on the cost to Florida of defending the law in court, I suspect that Florida may end up losing quite a lot of money, but that’s just a guess.)
- $235 is my guesstimate of what “less than $240″ might mean. [↩]
- “12 months” because the penalty in the Florida law for a positive drug test, is being kicked off welfare for one year. [↩]