Texas Will Keep Pushing For Welfare Drug Testing

By McCarton Ackerman 11/12/14

Despite overwhelming evidence that drug testing welfare recipients doesn't work, the Lone Star State will push ahead with its own program anyway.

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Like many Republican-controlled states, Texas will continue its push for drug testing welfare recipients by filing bills that could make it a reality as early as next year.

Though some welfare applicants in Texas are already subject to drug testing, a new bill just filed for review would require it for everyone receiving government assistance. The state senate previously passed a bill in April 2013, which requires applicants to fill out a questionnaire and submit a screening assessment to determine their risk of drug use. Anyone deemed a risk would be required to be drug tested, as would anyone with a previously failed drug test or felony drug conviction.

The Texas State Senate approved that bill by a 31-0 margin and it was passed by the House the following month. "Taxpayer money should not be used to subsidize someone's drug habit," said bill sponsor Sen. Jane Nelson (R). 

Applicants who test positive would be barred from collecting benefits for 12 months, but could reapply in six months if they completed a substance abuse treatment program. Three positive tests would result in a permanent ban on benefits. However, the bill did not impact children of those who tested positive by allowing them to continue receiving benefits through a designated third party.

Opponents of welfare drug testing believe that it essentially classifies an entire population of people as criminals who are unmotivated to better themselves. In endorsing the bill that was approved last year, Texas Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst further demonized welfare applicants by declaring that "welfare should never subsidize the irresponsible choices of otherwise capable people who instead elect to stay at home, play video games, and get high with their friends."

The states that have introduced welfare drug testing so far have seen few, if any, results come from it. In April 2012, findings showed that only 108 out of 4,086 welfare applicants (2.6%) who were drug tested in Florida showed positive results. Some have also seen those programs shut down for being unconstitutional. Florida Gov. Rick Scott was exposed last June for spending nearly $400,000 in taxpayer money to challenge his welfare testing program being deemed unconstitutional. Shalini Goel Agarwal, staff attorney for the ACLU in Florida, called Scott’s efforts “a costly and embarrassing boondoggle for Floridians."

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.