No Mandatory Drug Testing for Welfare Recipients

The 4th Amendment and (good) social policy have a joint win with 1 stone:   the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Florida has struck down a Florida state law requiring welfare applicants to be drug tested. The case is a Lebron v. Secretary of the Florida Department of Children & Families, Case No. 6:11-CV-01473-MSS-DAB (M.D. Fla. Jan. 2, 2014)

According to recent reports (see here), the Florida law
required parents to undergo and pay for urine tests for illegal drugs when they applied for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, a federal-state program that helps poor people with children pay for food, shelter and necessities.
The penalty for refusal to take the required test was a denial of the benefits.  Said another way, an applicant was required to submit themselves for screening by the government to help get help paying for food.  The justification for the law was in the interests of the public.

According to the Federal Court's decision, the Florida law was temporarily halted back in October 2011 until a federal court could sort the whole thing out.

More after the break...

Revising only for removal of citations and Plaintiff's name:
  • About the plaintiff (also representing the class of other people in a similar situation)
At the time this case was filed, Plaintiff was a thirty-five year old, single father with sole custody of his five-year-old son. He lived with and cared for his disabled mother.  Plaintiff is a veteran of the United States Navy.  In July 2011, Plaintiff applied to the Florida Department of Children and Families for benefits under the federal TANF program to support himself and his minor child. Though Plaintiff claims he has never used illegal drugs, and no evidence was offered to the contrary, Section 414.0652 required him to submit to drug testing as a condition of eligibility for TANF benefits. Plaintiff refused to take a drug test, believing that the State’s requirement that he pay for, and submit to, such a test is unreasonable when there is no reason to believe that he uses drugs.  (Order at page 3)

  • About the welfare benefit (TANF)

The TANF program was created by Congress on August 22, 1996, as part of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act . . .  To participate in Florida’s TANF program, an individual must complete an application and meet certain eligibility requirements. The application requires disclosure of certain information, such as medical history, immunization records, living arrangements, social security numbers, family income, employment history, and job-search activities. Participants in the TANF program must meet a host of work-search and job training requirements to remain eligible unless excused for certain enumerated reasons. In Florida, an individual may participate in TANF for a lifetime maximum of 48 months, although those months need not be consecutive.  TANF is limited to families with children and expectant mothers. For a family of two (a single parent with a minor child, like the Plaintiff and his son in this case), the maximum TANF cash benefit (known as Temporary Cash Assistance, or “TCA”) is currently $241.00 per month. (Order at pages 4-5)

  • About the Florida law that was struck down as unconstitutional

The statute at issue in this case was enacted in May 2011. Pursuant to Section 414.0652, all applicants who are otherwise qualified for Temporary Cash Assistance under TANF are required to provide, to a DCF approved laboratory, a sample of their urine to be tested for the following substances: Amphetamines, Methamphetamines, Cannabinoids (THC), Cocaine, Phencyclidine (PCP), Opiates, Barbiturates, Benzodiazepines, Methadone, and Propoxyphene. Individuals are not tested for the use of alcohol under the statute. Pursuant to the statute, DCF is required to “[a]dvise each individual to be tested, before the test is conducted, that he or she may, but is not required to, advise the agent administering the test of any prescription or over-the-counter medication he or she is taking.”  The statute makes the cost of the drug test the responsibility of the individual being tested, who is reimbursed only if that individual tests negative for controlled substances.  The law does not apply to individuals not seeking TANF benefits but participating in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (“SNAP” or food stamps), Medicaid, or the Refugee Assistance Program . . . If an individual tests positive, he or she is ineligible to receive TANF benefits for one year after the date of the positive test, except that the individual may reapply for those benefits after six months if the individual can document the successful completion of an approved substance abuse treatment program.  (Order at 5-6)

It is ironic that the usual political defenders of the 4th Amendment (i.e. those that want government out of their homes, private quarters and private papers, and other places that have been codified to have an "expectation of privacy") seem to easily change their colors when discussing other people's privacy.

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