Rick Perry and State Senator Jane Nelson Want Texas to Drug Test Welfare Recipients

Categories: Politics

Jane Nelson.jpg
Jane Nelson
It's the most wonderful time of the year: There's still some very stale, deeply discounted Halloween candy kicking around the aisles at CVS, Christmas music has suddenly overtaken your dentist's office, and Texas legislators have begun pre-filing bills for the upcoming legislative session.

The session doesn't kick off until January, of course, but your lawmakers started submitting their wish-lists yesterday, more than 200 pieces of proposed legislation in all. Many of these bills will die an unceremonious death in committee, but the pre-filed bills give some indication of where Texas politicians' priorities lie (beyond all things abortion-related, of course, which we'll get to later). For Republican State Senator Jane Nelson of Flower Mound, those priorities seem to include drug testing just about everyone who applies for TANF: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

TANF funds are handed out to to very low income families with children under age 18; they're meant to help with things like food, clothing, utilities, and housing. The payments in Texas are pretty modest. A single parent with one child in the house, for example, qualifies for a maximum of $113. A two-parent family of four could receive $334. Adults can receive TANF assistance for up to 36 months; if the payments are just to support children, there are no time limits.

These are mostly federal funds, disbursed to the states through grants. Unlike SNAP (food stamps), though, states also pay for a portion of TANF, meaning that lawmakers are typically much more eager to devise ways to keep people out of the program. TANF payments are already lower in Texas, and their requirements more strict, than in many other states. People with drug-related felony convictions are already disqualified from receiving TANF here. In addition, parents or relatives who get it sign a "Personal Responsibility Agreement" promising not to abuse alcohol or drugs, to look for work, not to voluntarily quit a job, and keep up with child support payments, among other things.

But Nelson wants to get a lot tougher. "[O]ne of my goals is to reform this program to ensure that we live up to our responsibility to put recipients on a path to self-sufficiency," she wrote in an editorial back in September. "As more Texans become eligible for public assistance, lawmakers need to scrutinize every dollar we spend in order to free up funds for those who truly need them. And we must ensure that recipients of public funds exercise personal responsibility." (Her bill would also prevent TANF funds from going towards "alcoholic beverages, tobacco products, lottery tickets, adult entertainment, firearms, ammunition" and, of course, bingo. There's no indication that tons of people are spending their TANF money on booze and guns as it is, but why not throw it in there, right?)

But Nelson's bill goes deeper than that: it would also require drug screening for adults who apply for benefits "solely on behalf of a child." A drug screening that "indicates good cause to suspect the person of controlled substance use" would lead to a drug test. "Good cause" isn't defined in any particular way. And three positive drug tests would mean that the individual and their children would be permanently barred from receiving TANF funds. There are no provisions in place for drug treatment, counseling or rehabilitation in the case of a failed drug test; the applicant would, however, be reported to the Department of Family and Protective Services.

If this sounds like one ultra-conservative legislator's goofy idea, it's not: It's also got the support of Governor Rick Perry and Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst. In a press release today, the two called for drug screenings for both TANF benefits and unemployment insurance. They also name-checked Nelson, and made it clear they'd lobby hard for her bill.

"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," Perry 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."

Of course, there is exactly zero evidence that TANF families and people on unemployment are all drug-abusing layabouts. But drug testing welfare recipients isn't a new idea. Conservative lawmakers around the country have proposed or actually enacted similar measures for years. In Florida, for example, Governor Rick Scott signed a broad measure into law last June requiring testing for everyone who receives welfare in the state.

And how has that worked out in Florida, you ask? In April, the New York Times found that it cost the state an extra $45,000 or so and didn't lessen the TANF caseload. It also didn't turn up a whole lot of drug abusers. Only about two percent of TANF recipients failed the drug test, with the most common reason being marijuana (alcohol, cocaine, and even heroin clear the body faster, and prescription drug abuse is harder to detect).

It's not just libtards like the Times making a case against drug testing, though. The non-partisan Congressional Research Service released a report in September which looked at TANF, SNAP and housing assistance restrictions around the country. It found that 19 states have some kind of drug testing requirement for TANF recipients, but only two, Florida and Georgia, require drug tests for everybody.

The CRS pointed out that "suspicionless" drug testing has a history of being challenged in court. The ACLU has sued Florida, for example, arguing that the law there violates the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits "unreasonable search" by the government. They suggest that lawmakers who wish to avoid "running afoul" of the Fourth Amendment will need to have some reason for doing drug tests.

In other words, in order for this bill to not create legal and logistical headaches for Texas, Nelson, Perry et. al will need to define what "good cause" for a drug test actually means. And no, poverty doesn't count.

Update, 1:30 p.m.: ACLU of Texas has already responded to the proposed measure, calling it both unconstitutional and "mean-spirited." Quoth executive director Terri Burke, "How sad that our state's highest elected officials have embraced this mean-spirited measure that would punish innocent children for their parents' conduct. This proposal is a costly, ineffective, inhumane and punitive effort by state government based on stereotypes about our state's neediest Texans."

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89 comments
topper
topper

Let 'em pass it...  Texas will turn Blue overnight. 

Ron.Polyp
Ron.Polyp

It's not like Rick Perry Meek & Mild has a history of handing out cash, contracts, and other sweet deals to his pals and campaign donors or anything. I'm sure he's just trying to do right by the good people of the state of Texas. Totally legit.

batgirl
batgirl

I look at it this way, I have worked many different jobs, hangin on by the skin of my teeth in many cases sucky ones I didn't even kinda like to make ends meet and support myself. From the 90s on almost of of my jobs have demanded drug tests to get hired. If I have to take drug tests to half kill myself to work why the heck should someone be allowed to get any state or federal assistance without taking a damn drug test?????????????????????

postter
postter

"libtards"?  with that one gutter term, your article lost a lot of credibility.

leary
leary

Sour Grapes.  And unconstitutional.   It boils down to simply refusing to help people in need because they "might spend it on drugs."   The PTB are angry because too many people are refusing to waste their lives toiling for low salaries and little or no health coverage and no child care.  See this move for what it is: another attempt to water-down public assistance.  If you do let them pass it, don't complain when they come knocking in a few years wanting to apply the very same idea to EVERY government run assistance program, including your retirement, and government backed student financial aid packages.  Wake the **** up!   The fox is eating the chickens!!!

randi.trollop
randi.trollop

I am okay with this as long as everyone sucking on the public teat has to take the tests, politicians included.

JaneNelsonisaWhore
JaneNelsonisaWhore

Pot shows up on drug tests, alcohol does not.  So this is just another Republican bill that creates more social problems than it cures.

roo_ster
roo_ster

There is no right to other people's money.  If they want to suck on the taxpayer's teat, they can jump through a few hoops.  The more hoops the better. 

 

About the only freebie I am for without qualification is free sterilization.  Heck, maybe even pay a bounty of $1000 for folks to tie their tubes or get a vasectomy.

khkolb
khkolb

This type of legislation was declared unconstitutional 10 years ago when Michigan tried it. Florida's attempt to pass the same unconsitutional legislation was riduculed by a Bush #2 federal judge appointee who pointed out that the Florida legislature's own data showed the incidence of drug use among welfare users was a fraction of that of the general population (thus there was no demonstrable need for the testing), that the legislation only required testing at the time of application for benefits (and thus did nothing to deter drug use after benefits were granted and appeared solely directed to reducing the number of welfare applicants, not deterring drug use), and that the Florida legislature relied on REVERSED case law to justify its adoption of the proposed legislation. The net effect of Governor Scott's effort has been to shift several hundred thousand dollars of tax payer money from the state's general revenue fund to the ACLU - quite a victory.

One comment above suggested that the legislature be drug tested. A great idea, but unfortunately, the same thing was tried in Georgia 5-7 years ago and declared unconstitutional essentially for the same reasons testing of welfare recipients is unconstitutional - the test is a search under the 4th Amendment and the government must have a constitutionally defensible reason to conduct the search. The lilliputian desire for a drug free society is not such a reason.

The bottom line is that Republican led legislatures, despite their flag waving pro-Constitutional small government rhetoric, show no compunction against plowing holes through the Constitution with large government bureaucracies when it is in their political interests.

James080
James080 topcommenter

Why don't we drug test all of the children of elected politicians for illegal use of prescription drugs they've pilfered from their parents medicine cabinet?

ozonelarryb
ozonelarryb

As long as we get to Breathalyze the Lege , City Councils, School Administrators, etc

Karl
Karl

Will somebody please set up a petition asking for the immediate drug testing of Gov. Goodhair, Dewhurst, and everybody's favorite AG Abbott?  Then, let's get 80K signatures on it, so that it will make the news.  I'm tired of these idiots in McKinney with their secession petition getting all the press.  And, I wish Barry would just ignore it.  But, no - just like the beer in the Rose Garden, he has to give these nutcases exactly what they want - their 15 minutes.

texasdave601
texasdave601

as a person on parole, NOT on public assistance, I can say this:  The field test i take randomly at the office instantly provides results.  The change to this testing protocol came into being a couple of years back due to the astronomical costs of sending samples to a lab for full work-ups.  The then director of TDCJ-Parole division initiated the change.  He's also a member of the board of the company that won the contract to provide the test kits.  Follow the money.

Eron Linver
Eron Linver

If those that receive welfare need to be tested, then anyone who has their salary paid for by the government needs to be tested also.

Nairb Retseik
Nairb Retseik

Why are people so opposed to being drug tested?

itchyjack
itchyjack

Drug test any person that chooses to have a haircut that looks like a helmet; and then test all politicians at least once a year, and at least 25% randomly on a yearly basis.

Joni Espinoza
Joni Espinoza

What exactly is classified as "welfare"? I don't know anyone except mothers who get any type of assistance....

kduble
kduble

I'm fine with the concept generally. I'm not fine with there not being any provisions in place for drug treatment, counseling or rehabilitation in the case of a failed drug test. I have no problem with the results being reported to the Department of Family and Protective Services, provided they work with the family. All kids belong in a safe environment.

nammer
nammer

sure, if we can start drug testing all legislators as well as anyone who takes a state funds for any other reason

observist
observist topcommenter

They should make an exception for TANF-receiving parents who keep track of their money in Quicken and can show that the child-feeding funds are not co-mingled with the weed-buying funds.

Jennie Harding
Jennie Harding

Wow. I'm curious how many TX citizens signed the petition to secede because our federal govt ignores the constitution yet are okay with this crap? Seems folks only want to follow the constitution when it benefits them. We really are a nation of idiots and assholes.

s.aten
s.aten

I think they should drug test legislators.    Particularly when they are voting on legislation.  Some of these bills could only be supported when under the influence.

Aaron Dietrich
Aaron Dietrich

Welfare wouldn't go up, take it out of their welfare check. Problem solved.....

Luis Cruz
Luis Cruz

Republicans say one thing but act the other. They want to get rid of big government but when it comes to your vagina they are all about big government.

Luis Cruz
Luis Cruz

The company pays for Your drug test when you have a job. Guess who's going to pay for all these tests? The taxpayers.

Chris Churchman
Chris Churchman

I thought republicans wanted to cut spending? A study in Florida showed that only about 2% of folks on welfare tested positive for drug use. Drug testing would cost several millions. If they want to spend money spend it on a program that would help find jobs & educate people on welfare.

Luis Cruz
Luis Cruz

Florida tried it. It didn't work.

Layón M. Robinson
Layón M. Robinson

Rick Perry needs to sit down somewhere. Stories will begin to unfold about him being gay and having a secret relationship w/ one of his workers. Some of you Republicans are a joke. I know a chick who has 2 kids! A fiancé that has a good job in the real estate, he just bought her a new car, showers her w/ gifts 24/7! Just moved in a nice home she voted for Romney and she gets food stamps. Gipping the system. My point is MANY Conservatives love to point fingers cast stones but are the BIGGEST hypocrites and aren't good people. It's sad when people talk down on others who are unfortunate. Many are just still bitter from last weeks election. LOL! Get over it.

Layón M. Robinson
Layón M. Robinson

Wouldn't it cost more money to drug test every person that needs aid? It's obvious a conservative wrote this article because he called "Liberals" libtards.

Edward
Edward

This is yet another swipe at the supposed "takers", devised by people who really, really don't understand the world around them outside of their Mercedes parked in their gated community.

TitusGroan
TitusGroan

And of course, doesn't it cost like $1K for a drug test? So why should the state spend that? Follow the money and see if it leads right back to Ms. Nelson.

cynicaloldbastard
cynicaloldbastard

Anyone running for public office should be drug tested.  No sane, non-drug addled person would want to put themselves through the electoral process.

Christopher Cyrek
Christopher Cyrek

I am 100% certain that Joel JoJo Morrison (and everyone else supporting this dumbshit idea) receives some form of federal financial assistance - the fact is, damn near everyone does. Piss in a cup for everyone!! Wait, we're just talking about poor people?

Anna_Merlan
Anna_Merlan

 @postter Hi. I wrote the article. That was a little joke about one of our more eccentric anonymous commenters on this blog, who likes to call us all "libtards" since we are an alt-weekly publication and often have a socially liberal perspective. He does this in the comments section of every post, usually multiple times. Any source of information he doesn't like is also dubbed a "libtard." He's remarkably consistent, really. 

 

Our regular readers might have gotten a tiny amount of amusement from my joke, although that's not exactly a sure thing. And everyone else probably just thought I was being obnoxious. Sorry about that.  

kergo1spaceship
kergo1spaceship

 @roo_ster 

 

Couldn't have said it better my friend!  want it........get it.  CLAIM it.  I personally know of a Texas state government program that won't grant "funds" unless you jump through some hoops (disclosure, follow up, paperwork, etc.); and I have ZERO problems with that.   want it.......get it.  CLAIM it. 

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

 @Karl Their *cough*medications*cough* are high-grade pharmaceutical quality and prescribed by their well paid courtier physicians.

 

After all, these upstanding citizens would never abuse DRUGS.

TheCredibleHulk
TheCredibleHulk topcommenter

 @observist I think we'd all be surprised at how many might comply with such a requirement.

Double-O-Joe
Double-O-Joe

 @TitusGroan 

I would suspect a higher-than-zero probability that she either own stock in or is a director of a company that provides the tests.

ChrisYu
ChrisYu

 @cynicaloldbastard

 seriously, elected officials should be held to the same standard as the rest of us before they vote themselves another costofliving increase.

trudat
trudat

 @Double-O-Joe  @TitusGroan

 Yes.  Texas politics is generally all about the money trail and the related connections which are often hard to find and/or prove.  If she or Ricky have no direct and obvious connections, then a close friend or relative is probably on the hook for a favor or something in return for this legislation. 

Anna_Merlan
Anna_Merlan

 @TheCredibleHulk You really think that dude could go without using the words "white guilt progressive advocacy journalist bullshit" for that long? I dunno, man... 

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