The Texas GOP Wants to Test Welfare Recipients for Drugs

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The new Texas GOP platform proposes requiring that welfare recipients remain “substance-abuse free” in exchange for their benefits. And in order to prove it, they would have to submit to random drug testing. While this proposal is nothing new, and is a fairly popular one among Republicans around the country, there are several major problems with it.

The most troubling issue is that kids are the ones who are really punished when their parents lose assistance. Of the roughly 88,000 people receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) in Texas, most – 77,000 – are children. That's because the program is designed to help kids. So when their parents are cut off the rolls, their kids are the collateral damage.

It's also completely discriminatory. There is no interest in, say, drug testing students who receive federal student loans or grants, or people who receive tax breaks to buy homes or start small businesses. Welfare recipients are targeted because they're poor and they're disproportionately people of color, and the Republican Party of Texas has determined that makes them more likely to use drugs.  

And at the end of the day, drug testing TANF recipients just doesn't work. The other states that have tried it have actually spent more money on drug testing than they have saved from terminating assistance to drug users.

See how drug testing welfare recipients has worked out for other states after the jump.When Arizona began drug testing TANF recipients, they saved a laughable $560 from cutting off assistance to exactly one drug user. In order to find him, they tested 87,000 people. What saved the state more money – $200,000 – was the 1,633 people who never returned their drug use questionnaires.

Florida had a particularly outrageous program that required the TANF recipients to pay $30 – 40 out of pocket for their own drug tests – a significant cost for people living on very restricted incomes. One of the recipients – a single father and veteran who was finishing his college degree – refused to submit to the drug test and ended up suing the state. The court found that the program violated the Fourth Amendment by amounting to illegal search and seizure without probable cause. But the state has since spent $400,000 of taxpayer money appealing the decision, on top of the $46,000 it spent finding the 2.6 percent of welfare recipients who were using drugs. That's because the Florida GOP, much like the Texas GOP, believes that being poor is probable cause enough.

Utah spent over $30,000 to catch twelve drug users. These twelve people represented a drug usage rate of 2.6 percent among their TANF recipients, compared to the national rate of 8.9 percent.

The list goes on and on. But fortunately some states are starting to see the light. Virginia, for instance, rejected a similar proposal upon learning that it would cost $1.5 million to save about $200,000.

But despite the abundant evidence that these programs simply do not work, the Texas Republican Party is still interested in pursuing an expensive and invasive program in order to further stigmatize the poorest Texans. Were it to become the law, it would be big government at its worst.  


About Author

Emily Cadik

Emily is a Texas ex-pat and proud Longhorn living in Washington, DC, where she remains connected to the Lone Star State through her work on BOR and her enthusiasm for breakfast tacos. She works on affordable housing policy, and writes about health care, poverty and other social justice issues.

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