On Wednesday, the Texas State legislature, currently composed of 19 Republicans and 12 Democrats, unanimously passed Senate Bill 11, which mandates that every Texan applying for food assistance through the TANF (Texas Assistance for Needy Families) program, submit to an undefined "screening process" and possible drug test before receiving benefits if the screener finds "good cause" to even suspect that person is... or is likely to... abuse any "controlled substance" -- despite the fact that there is no evidence at all that people seeking assistance are more likely to do drugs.
According to the bill’s author, Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound), the purpose of the bill:
“It ensures that TANF, formerly known as welfare, supports its core purpose of helping families to achieve self-sufficiency,” said Nelson, as she introduced the bill. “We found common ground to support a plan that makes sure state resources aren’t used to support a drug habit while at the same time making sure children receiving benefit in a productive environment.”
The state of Florida passed an almost identical testing procedure that ran from 1999 to 2001 and was reintroduced in July of 2011 that was struck down by the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta the following month, citing the fact:
"there is nothing inherent to the condition of being impoverished that supports the conclusion that there is a `concrete danger' that impoverished individuals are prone to drug use."
The Tampa Tribune investigated the results of those July 2011 drug tests and found that "96 percent proved to be drug free", another 2 percent never bothering to complete the lengthy application process, and 2 percent actually failing drug testing. At an average cost of $30 per test, the state was hemorrhaging tax dollars at a rate of "$28,800-$43,200 monthly"... FAR out pacing the supposed "savings" from preventing drug-abusers from gaming the system to buy drugs.
(Another analysis of the Florida program also found it to be a costly & colossal failure.)
The Texas bill is a bit more insidious than the Florida program, leaving the decision whether or not to submit an applicant for the confiscation and testing of their bodily fluids up to an ambiguous "good cause" determination by an unspecified process.
Terri Burke, executive director of the ACLU of Texas, said she was shocked to see the measure pass unanimously when it clearly singles out poor Texans as more likely to abuse drugs when federal surveys find no difference in use across any income groups and given the clear experience of Florida that such measures cost more money than they save.
This is just further perpetuation of the stereotype that poor people are all lazy drug-abusing scam-artists, rather than just people that have fallen on hard times seeking assistance. The results of these programs is always the same. Legislators are "shocked" to discover that PEOPLE WITH NO MONEY CAN'T AFFORD TO BUY DRUGS. Pick up any tabloid or turn on the TV, and the biggest drug abusers are the rich & famous (see: Lindsay Lohan), star athletes and the rich spoiled children of corporate executives, not the Average Joe who lost his home after his multi-billion dollar bank got bailed out -- and he didn't.
Addendum: Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) has proposed, not only taking this costly & ineffectual program national, but extending it to those seeking unemployment benefits as well.