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Gov. Perry Wants Drug Testing For Those Receiving Welfare, Unemployment Checks

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If Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst have their way hundreds of thousands of Texans would have to pass drug tests to get public assistance.

Gov. Perry would require drug testing for low income Texans with children who receive cash benefits under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program known as TANF. A family of three can earn no more than $188 a month to qualify for TANF.

Perry also wants drug testing for those receiving unemployment checks because they lost their jobs. Right now over 300,000 receive benefits through those programs.

“This will help prevent tax dollars from going into the pockets of drug abusers or drug dealers and instead ensure this money goes to the people who truly need it,” Perry said.

Republican State Sen. Jane Nelson from Flower Mound has drafted legislation calling for the drug testing and the Texas Association of Business supports it.

But the executive director of the Center for Public Policy Priorities, which advocates for low income citizens, says there are reasons similar measures have failed in the past.

The Center’s Scott McCown says there’s no evidence low income people and those who’ve lost their jobs are more likely to use drugs.

McCown adds that required testing and drug treatment for those who fail the test will cost taxpayers plenty.

“You know the real winners here are the drug testing companies because drug testing is very expensive. So, we’re going to be spending scarce taxpayer dollars on drug testing and a state bureaucracy to keep track of all this when we have no evidence of a particular problem,” said McCown.

McCown says children who benefit from these programs would be hurt if their parents are denied help.

A National Conference of State Legislatures’ report says at least seven states have passed laws requiring drug testing for those receiving public assistance. Nearly two dozen more have proposed it.

Former KERA staffer Shelley Kofler was news director, managing editor and senior reporter. She is an award-winning reporter and television producer who previously served as the Austin bureau chief and legislative reporter for North Texas ABC affiliate WFAA-TV.