Target: Texas Governor Rick Perry and Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst
Goal: Don’t require welfare applicants to submit to drug testing.
Recently, Texas Governor Rick Perry and Lieutenant Governor David Dewhurst publicly announced their support for a bill requiring individuals applying for public assistance to undergo a urine-analysis drug test. Individuals who fail the test would be denied public benefits for one year, or they must enter a drug rehabilitation program paid for through Medicaid. The bill, originally proposed by State Senator Jane Nelson and pre-filed for the 2013 legislative session, is targeted at individuals applying for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. However, Perry and Dewhurst are advocating for broadening the bill to require individuals applying for unemployment benefits to undergo drug testing as well.
Last year Florida Governor Rick Scott enacted a similar policy of drug testing for welfare applicants. The testing went on for several months before a federal judge halted the program. In the end, the program itself cost the taxpayers more than the money saved by denying services to drug-using welfare recipients. With only 2.6% of public assistance applicants failing the drug test, the program was hugely unsuccessful. Drug testing is costly, and the state had to reimburse those who were forced to pay for the test out of pocket who passed the test. If such a policy comes to fruition in Texas, whose population is much larger than Florida’s and who has more citizens living in poverty, the potential economic benefits of the bill are tenuous at best.
Aside from concerns for the taxpayer, children who rely on public benefits could be denied the services they need at no fault of their own if the adults in their lives are denied public assistance. Moreover, the test is unconstitutional and an invasion of privacy. According to Rebecca Robertson, policy director of American Civil Liberties Union Texas, “This law authorizes government over-reach by allowing arbitrary searches without any suspicion that a crime is being committed.” This bill needs to be stopped before it passes through the Texas legislature next year.
Dear Governor Perry and Lt. Governor Dewhurst,
Both of you admit there are no statistics showing public assistance recipients use drugs at a higher rate than the general population. Nevertheless you are unfairly targeting these individuals in hopes of fixing a problem for which there is no evidence of existing. Such targeting reinforces stereotypes about the poor and will potentially harm your state’s neediest citizens. You say the drug testing policy “is a way to force some individuals to be responsible,” but what about the responsibility you have to your constituents? With no cogent plan for covering the costs of testing, and the potentially devastating effects such a policy could have on Texas’ most vulnerable, you must make the responsible decision to stop this bill from passing through your legislature.
We do not deny that drug use and abuse is a problem, but punishment is not the answer. Do not penalize the children who rely on these benefits through the adults in their lives. If you want to reduce drug abuse you should work to strengthen the infrastructure in Texas communities, to improve education and vocational opportunities for young people. You insist you are not punishing anyone, but as proven through Rick Scott’s failure in Florida, by supporting this bill you are in fact punishing the taxpayer, vulnerable populations, and devaluing the civil liberties provided to us as Americans through our Constitution.
We hope that you reconsider supporting this bill and look to other more productive ways to lower spending and reduce drug abuse in your state.
[Your Name Here]
Photo credit: jmtimages via flickr