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There's No 'Substantial Special Need' for Welfare Drug Testing

By Robyn Hagan Cain on March 01, 2013 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Some people believe that public assistance applicants should be required to submit to suspicionless drug testing in order to receive welfare benefits. Others question the assumption that poor people use drugs at a higher rate than rich people, and denounce suspicionless testing as unconstitutional, scientifically unsound, fiscally irresponsible.

It turns out that the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals falls in the second camp.

This week, the Atlanta-based appellate court upheld an injunction barring the Florida from enforcing its welfare drug testing statute, finding that the state failed to establish a substantial special need to support the law.

Florida passed the welfare drug testing law in 2011. When signing the law, Gov. Rick Scott explained that it is "unfair for Florida taxpayers to subsidize drug addiction," and that the law would "give people an incentive to not use drugs," CNN reports.

Luis Lebron thought it was unfair to drug-test applicants for Florida's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, and -- along with the American Civil Liberties Union -- sued to challenge the law.

Lebron is a sympathetic plaintiff. He's an honorably discharged U.S. Navy veteran, college student, single unmarried father and sole caretaker of his young child. Lebron resides with and cares for his disabled mother, who subsists on Social Security Disability benefits. Lebron applied for benefits for himself and his son in 2011. If deemed eligible, he would have received a maximum of $241 per month.

Lebron met all of the TANF eligibility requirements, but the state denied his application because he refused to submit to the newly-enacted, mandatory drug testing, which is a final condition of TANF eligibility.

A district court granted a temporary injunction against the requirement, and the Eleventh Circuit affirmed that decision.

Given the geographically-widespread popularity of the welfare drug testing idea, the Eleventh Circuit is unlikely to be the last court to consider the policy. We suspect that Supreme Court will have the final say in the matter.

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