NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Top Texas republicans are calling for some legal changes to the state’s welfare and unemployment benefit programs. Governor Rick Perry and Lt. Governor David Dewhurst want to require mandatory drug screenings for applicants.
Perry and Dewhurst are supporting the pre-filed bill that would authorize drug screenings for “high-risk” Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits applicants. Texas Senator Jane Nelson (R) of Flower Mound filed Senate Bill 11 on Monday, that would require the screenings for TANF applicants.
Dewhurst explained that there would be consequences for those who fail the testing. “And if they test positive then they’re disqualified for the program for up to 12 months, unless they complete a substance abuse program which can be provided by Medicaid.”
According to Governor Perry, drug testing would ensure that recipients are using the benefits for their intended purpose. “Every dollar that goes to someone who uses it inappropriately is a dollar that can’t go to a Texan who needs it for housing, for child care or for medicine,” he said. “Being on drugs makes it much harder to begin the journey to independence, which only assures individuals remain stuck in the terrible cycle of drug abuse and poverty.”
A number of other Texas lawmakers including Representative Lon Burnam (D) of Fort Worth oppose the bill. Burnam says when the state of Florida instituted a similar program, it ended up costing taxpayers more than it saved. “Who are more interested in a spending a lot of money trying to prevent spending a little money than they are on real savings. The states that have done this have actually spent more on the drug testing than what they are saving.”
Burnam believes parts of the bill are unconstitutional.
Four states have passed similar legislation, requiring welfare recipients to undergo drug testing.
Georgia and Tennessee have yet to implement their programs. Michigan passed it back in 1999, but it was struck down by the courts, after the ACLU sued.
Florida passed one last year. It was halted by the courts, because of an ongoing lawsuit between the ACLU and Florida.
The lawsuit with Florida turned up evidence that during the four months the state mandated drug testing, it spent more money reimbursing people for taking the tests, than it would have saved disqualifying those who tested positive. According to the ACLU’s number crunching, the state lost about $45 thousand dollars.
Only 2.6-percent of people tested positive. The most common thing they tested positive for – marijuana.
Texas SB 11 seeks to be different from Florida. It will require all applicants be “screened” for drug use. Those deemed high risk would be ‘tested.’ How the screening or testing would be performed is not specified in the bill.
The state legislative session begins in January.
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