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Legislators seeking drug testing for welfare recipients
Government officials are sending a message to welfare and unemployment recipients: you can use it, but don’t use drugs.
Tuesday, Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst called for the Texas Legislature to enact reforms to welfare and unemployment programs when it convenes Jan. 8.
Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) has been a driving force behind this effort. Monday, she pre-filed Senate Bill 11, which calls for drug testing for those applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
“Texas taxpayers will not subsidize or tolerate illegal drug abuse. 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, child care or medicine,” Gov. Perry stated in a press release. “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.”
Nelson said it’s important that benefit recipients are using the money to improve their lives and not to support addictions, such as drugs, cigarettes or gambling.
“We need to ensure that individuals receiving these public benefits are on a true path to self-sufficiency and drug free in keeping with the mission of this program,” said Nelson, who is Chairman of the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services. “Taxpayer dollars should not be used to subsidize a person's drug habit -- a destructive barrier to achieving independence.”
If Texas passes this law, it would be the eighth state to do so, and so far at least 28 states have proposed such laws in 2012, according to information provided by Nelson’s office.
More than 100,000 Texas residents are enrolled in TANF at a cost of almost $90 million a year.
Other components of SB 11 are:
*Strengthening work and job training requirements
*Tightening policies to prevent people from using TANF money to purchase alcohol, tobacco and other non-allowable items
*Requiring the Committee on Health and Human Services to study the feasibility of providing TANF benefits through an electronic voucher and report its findings by Sept. 1, 2014
*Disqualifying applicants testing positive for drug use, and their families, from TANF for 12months, but allows applicants to reapply after 6 months if they have completed, or are enrolled in, a substance abuse treatment program. Applicants who fail the drug test three times, and their families, are permanently ineligible from TANF.