Courts Shoot Down Law Making Florida's Poor Pee in a Cup to Receive Benefits

A federal appeals court has upheld a district judge's October 2011 injunction suspending Florida's law forcing welfare applicants to take drug tests to qualify for aid. The judges didn't mince their words in rejecting the law:

"The evidence in this record does not suggest that the population of TANF recipients engages in illegal drug use or that they misappropriate government funds for drugs at the expense of their own and their children's basic subsistence," the three-judge panel wrote. "The State has presented no evidence that simply because an applicant for TANF benefits is having financial problems, he is also drug addicted or prone to fraudulent and neglectful behavior."

In fact, showing just how unreasonable this search and seizure is, during the four months the law was in effect, it cost Florida more than $45,000, because so few welfare applicants failed drug tests that the cost of the tests was more than the savings from denying benefits. Nonetheless, Gov. Rick Scott called the ruling "disturbing," because "Welfare is taxpayer money to help people looking for jobs who have children. Drug use by anyone with children looking for a job is totally destructive. This is fundamentally about protecting the wellbeing of Florida families." No, Gov. Scott, it's about targeting poor people. As the courts have found.

Nonetheless, several other states have been pushing similar laws targeting welfare applicants and applicants for unemployment insurance—just changing them slightly to try to avoid the Florida law's fate in the courts. That law's saga isn't done, either. Scott says the state will appeal the latest decision to the Supreme Court.


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