Don’t give money to panhandlers, the conventional wisdom goes, because they will only take the money and buy liquor or drugs. Give them tough love instead, the argument continues, and force them to get their lives together while you pass them by, free from any guilt associated with denying them support.
Florida passed a law in 2011 that sounds similar.
In order to apply for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, parents had to submit to a drug test. If the result came back positive, applicants were barred from receiving benefits for a year. Flaws appeared immediately in the plan, including where the needy would get the $25 to $45 testing fee (refundable if they passed)?
If the applicant passed, who paid for the test? The Florida taxpayer, that’s who. Even though the number of applicants testing positive for drugs turned out to be three times lower than the average rate for other Floridians tested, the state was out nearly $120,000.
The pesky little thing called the U.S. Constitution, which protects Americans from unreasonable searches, was lurking, as well. Lawyers for a Floridian who sued the state claimed the law did just that.
U.S. District Judge Mary Scriven agreed, and after noting that “there is nothing inherent in the condition of being impoverished that supports the conclusion that there is a concrete danger that impoverished individuals are prone to drug use,” she struck down the law.
Florida Gov. Rick Scott vows to spend more of the state’s money to appeal the decision, which the governor has the right to do.
However, we hope Florida will find a way other than punishing families to deal with whatever drug problem residents of that state might have.