DCF Hurries To Get Ready To Test New Welfare Applicants

June 30, 2011

Hustling to make a Friday deadline, state social service officials met Wednesday to map out and get last-minute public input on broad policy guidelines as Florida begins drug testing new applicants for welfare benefits.

Following up on legislation passed by lawmakers only a few months ago to require applicants for temporary financial assistance to take drug tests, Department of Children and Families officials said formal procedures would not be ready until mid-July at the earliest but the agency would proceed nonetheless to administer the new law.

“The law is clear that the rulemaking process cannot hold up legislation,” said Herschel Minnis, DCF assistant general counsel. “We’re going forward and we’ll be ready.”

Among a litany of concerns from stakeholders, including Florida Legal Services and the ACLU, were questions of whether applicants who test positive for drugs would be immediately flagged by DCF and risk having their children removed from their custody.

On Wednesday, DCF Program Policy chief Nathan Lewis said that a positive drug test would not automatically result in a knock on the door by DCF investigators, but he also said that substance abuse and child welfare investigators would likely be privy to final test results, which if positive would be referred the Florida Abuse Hotline.

The law is silent on whether a positive drug test would result in the removal of children from the home. Lewis said agency rules, however, would allow other DCF offices to use the data for their own purposes, including determining whether children are safe in the home.

Though specific procedures will be hammered out after a July 12 workshop on those technical issues, the program’s framework is pretty much in place. Under the proposed rules, applicants who have met other conditions for temporary cash assistance – income and asset requirements and citizenship, for example – would be notified that they must also submit to a drug test within 10 days.

If an initial screening, the results of which would be immediately available, turns up positive, applicants will have the option of taking a second test within that 10 day window to refute the initial screen. DCF would not release drug test results to other state offices until after all procedures are complete or applicants drop out of the process.

Numerous details have yet to be worked out, including how confirmation tests will be evaluated and who pays for the additional analyses. Agency staff estimates the cost to applicants for all testing and reviews would be between $28.50 and $40. Initial screens, purchased alone, would cost between $10 and $36.

“We’re asking as you go forward with rulemaking decisions to give some consideration for someone who wants to comply but cannot come up with the upfront costs,” said Valory Greenfield, attorney for Florida Legal Services.

The law makes no provisions for economic hardship, so applicants will be required to pay for the tests themselves. Applicants who test negative will be reimbursed for the cost of the test.

Beginning July 1, applicants who test positive for drugs would be denied benefits for a year. A second failed test would result in a three-year ban. Recipients who complete a drug rehab program can re-apply in six months. Existing recipients of financial assistance would not be required to be tested unless they become ineligible for other reasons and must reapply.

In two parent households, both adults would be tested. Benefits to children could be awarded to a third party recipient, who must also pass a drug screen. The law will not affect the federal food stamp program.

Federal law allows states to screen for drug use under the TANF program, which provides a maximum of $300 a month in cash assistance to needy families. The program, which replaced traditional welfare in the mid 1990s, has a 48-month lifetime cap on benefits.

By Michael Peltier
The News Service of Florida


10 Responses to “DCF Hurries To Get Ready To Test New Welfare Applicants”

  1. Steven on July 1st, 2011 11:17 pm

    Replay to MolinoGurl……

    When you drug test for a job, you are watched as well. It is to ensure that you are actually giving a sample from your own body. There are many people that know they will fail a drug test, so come prepared with someone else’s urine in a bottle or whatever, trying to “cheat” on the drug test. I have taken several drug tests for positions in the past, and there has ALWAYS been a witness to prevent “cheating”. If the private working sector can deal with it, so can people getting cash assistance from welfare. Personally, I fully support this bill. And yes, I was on welfare at one point in my life, and would have supported it even then. If you ever want to open your eyes to why this bill is there, just hang out at a convenience store for a while. Watch someone come in with a pocket full of cash, buying beer and blunts to wrap and get high, then pull out an EBT card to pay for snacks for all their friends. I see it every day. Until the welfare system is revoked, this is a needed thing. The only thing about it that should change is that the fact it should be for ALL welfare recipients…….even those that only get Food assistance and/or medicaid. But, as with everyone else on here, its only my opinion.

  2. sktmax on July 1st, 2011 2:41 am

    This legislation of drug testing state employees and welfare recipients is nothing but a gift for Rick Scott’s Solantic clinic chains. The company that he moved shares into his wifes name to avoid “conflict of interest” after being elected. But even after more ethics complaints, he has reportdedly sold the company. Of course the figures havent been released but Florida business journals estimate a huge profit. Put yourself in his shoes. You could make all this money, and who is going to be against dealing with drug heads abusing tax payer money? It’s actually quite clever if it wasnt so corrupt.

  3. David Huie Green on June 30th, 2011 3:20 pm

    “If you can afford to buy illegal drugs—-are you poor??”

    It is possible to be both poor and using illegal drugs. And some buy illegal drugs who can’t afford them but do it anyway. Consider the number of people who can’t afford legal cigarettes or beer, but do anyway.

    Poverty is defined by the government.
    Per http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/09poverty.shtml

    The 2009 Poverty Guidelines for the 48 Contiguous States and the District of Columbia
    Persons in family/ Poverty guideline
    1 $10,830
    2 $14,570
    3 $18,310
    4 $22,050
    5 $25,790
    6 $29,530
    7 $33,270
    8 $37,010
    For families with more than 8 persons, add $3,740 for each additional person.

    Let’s see, working 40 hours per week, $10 per hour, 50 weeks per year would earn $20,000 per year (just for ease of figuring, obviously some would work for less, some for more, some less time, some more time.) would put a family of 4 below the poverty line.
    Not working at all would put everybody below the poverty line.
    Not declaring income would officially put some below the poverty line.

    Some drugs are cheap, some users don’t use as much as others. Some illegal drugs can be grown in your own back yard.

    David considering priorities and criteria

  4. sue on June 30th, 2011 2:02 pm

    Seems like a waste of money to me…are there going to be rehab centers available for people that are in the grips of addiction…some sanctimonious people seem to think that drug addiction is just something you can have or not have. There are some drugs that will affect your brain so deeply that you would cut your finger off for another fix. Instead of more money spent in prisons; there needs to be more addiction specialists & rehab counselors available to the poor & uninsured. It is mostly the poverty stricken people with little hope for their future that become addicted to drugs; it makes them forget their emotional pain for awhile & before long they are so hooked that the brain craves the drug. People that do not suffer from addiction problems are very judgmental unless they know someone in the beast of a disease. I believe rehab would be alot cheaper than prison & give the person a chance to become a productive member of society.

  5. Just wondering on June 30th, 2011 12:58 pm

    If you can afford to buy illegal drugs—-are you poor??

  6. Fairlane63 on June 30th, 2011 10:27 am

    This is a step in the right direction– a better solution would be to get rid of welfare. Why should the government confiscate money from me and give it to someone else?

  7. MolinoGurl* on June 30th, 2011 9:06 am

    And from what I have been told they went into the Restroom with people and WATCHED them do the drug test, that is a little extreme don’t ya think to not even give someone privacy? They should pat people down 1st or something before letting them go in the room not watch them.

  8. Paper Makers Better Half on June 30th, 2011 9:05 am

    Dear Miss Kathy, How poor can you be if you can still buy drugs? If you test negative you will be reimbursed the cost of the test. I see nothing but a win-win policy. Those who really need the help will be helped and those who do not will be WEEDED out.

  9. Jack on June 30th, 2011 7:59 am

    “Among a litany of concerns from stakeholders, including Florida Legal Services and the ACLU, were questions of whether applicants who test positive for drugs would be immediately flagged by DCF and risk having their children removed from their custody.”

    Seems like this would be a given. When DCF discovers a hazardous situation for children shouldn’t they be like any good citizen and report it?

    Why is this a concern?

  10. Kathy on June 30th, 2011 7:55 am

    I guess Ricky is making sure his cronies make a little money off the poor.