In the state of Texas there are fewer than 63,000 (less than one percent of the entire state’s population) enrolled in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program – a program that provides cash assistance to pay for things like housing, food and utilities – you know, basic necessities of life. Of the people who benefit from the program, the vast majority are children – 54,247 of them.
That’s means that in Texas, over 90 percent those who benefit from TANF are children. This is important to note. Keep reading. . .
It’s also important to mention that Texas already has one of the strictest requirements in the country to qualify for this assistance, so the people who do actually receive this help are considered the poorest of the poor.
90 percent children. . . poorest of the poor.
Yet, the lawmakers are of the Lone Star State are pushing a measure that seems to be commonly lusted after by conservatives across the country: Drug testing of welfare recipients.
Florida attempted the same thing by passing a law that required urine tests for all TANF applicants, but it was thrown out by federal courts in 2014. It was considered an invasion of privacy to test every single person who applied, so, the conservatives have found a way around it. Several states have been able to pass and keep their laws of “screening” and then drug testing TANF applicants; and the list isn’t all that shocking. Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Oklahoma, North Carolina and West Virginia have all implemented some form of drug screening that then escalates to testing of those applicants suspected of drug use.
Here is the real kick in the teeth though, according to Think Progress, the states who have implemented these programs have spent more than $850,000 to uncover 321 positive tests, and in several of those states who spent money to screen and test they netted a big fat ZERO positive drug tests. Clearly, this spending isn’t decreasing the costs associated with TANF.
In other words, this witch hunt for poor drug users costs more than it saves and benefits no one (other than drug testing companies).
Rebecca Robertson of the ACLU of Texas told The Texas Tribune:
TANF only goes to a very small number of Texans, and those are the neediest people in our state. There’s this misperception we have this large class of people taking advantage of the benefit to support drug habits, and that’s not the case.
Senate Finance Chair Jane Nelson, who is of course a Republican, has pushed this bill before, and it has often failed in the Legislature. However, Texas conservatives feel they have momentum right now, so she filed the latest bill on December 5. If it passes, TANF applicants will all be screened and will undergo testing if they are seen “at risk” or are suspected of drug use.
If an applicant fails their drug test, they will be disqualified from receiving assistance for six months. A second failure would be a year’s suspension of benefits and could only be considered after being enrolled in a substance abuse program. Information on programs will be provided, but funds to actually pay for substance abuse counseling isn’t included in the legislation.
You know what is though? The costs to pay for the testing. The Texas proposal that is currently in the legislature would actually use money from TANF to pay for these drug tests that net fewer positive results than they are worth.
Yes, that’s right. Money that would otherwise be used to pay for the 54,247 children who currently receive benefits from TANF will now go to drug testing companies to find scant amounts of drug abuse.
Way to go, Texas.