Costs of suspended Fla. drug-testing for welfare no indicator for Pa., proponents say

    Drug testing welfare applicants and recipients in Florida ended up costing the state money instead of saving it, according to documents obtained and publicized by the ACLU.

    The testing cost the state about $45,000 more than it saved, said Derek Newton with the Florida ACLU. His organization is challenging the constitutionally of the law, which was suspended by a judge after four months.

    “It didn’t meet any of the objectives that the advocates promoted,” Newton said. “They said it would reduce applications. They said it would save money. They said it would cut down on drug use. They said all these things, none of those have turned out to be true.”

    Pennsylvania passed its own, much narrower drug-testing law last summer.

    It applies only to those convicted of a drug felony within the past five years or those on probation for a drug offense.

    Proponents of the law, including state Rep. Garth Everett, R-Lycoming, said those differences mean the cost of the Florida program is not a good indicator of the cost of a Pennsylvania program.

    “It sounds to me to be not an apples-to-apples comparison,” Everett said. “I think we’re just going to have to see how our program plays out, how much it costs, how many people are testing positive, how many people are getting into programs.”

    Everett said the Pennsylvania program was not designed to save taxpayers a lot of money, but rather to ensure that tax dollars in the form of public assistance be used for legitimate purposes.

    The Department of Public Welfare is drug-testing applicants and recipients in Schuylkill, Luzerne and Northampton counties in pilot programs that started in January and March.

    Spokeswoman Anne Bale said once the department finds a budget-neutral way to do so, it will expand drug testing statewide. It plans to expand programs to at least a handful more counties this fall.

    During the four months welfare applicants in Florida were tested, the state did not see a decrease in applicants.

    Everett said with so many variables affecting the numbers on the welfare rolls, four months is not long enough to determine the real effect of the law on discouraging drug users from applying for cash assistance.

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