Welfare Drug Screens

November 30, 2012

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.

What are your thoughts on drug testing for welfare and unemployment applicants? Is this an unconstitutional practice or a much needed one?