Starting off the early filings before the upcoming legislative session, Texas Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst announced their support for a bill that would allow drug testing for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and unemployment benefit recipients.
We have to ask: What are they smoking?
The governor should certainly discourage illegal drug use, but drug testing welfare recipients is one of the least effective and most expensive ways of doing so. Other states have tried this policy, and it simply does not work.
Texas tried a similar plan before, in a multi-million dollar program to test student athletes for steroids. After 51,000 drug screenings revealed only 21 testing positive, the funding was cut as an inefficient use of resources.
Other states have had similar issues with mass drug tests.
Earlier this year, Florida implemented mandatory drug tests for people seeking welfare benefits, and the state saw no direct savings, caught few drug users and had little effect on the number of welfare applications.
Over the program's first four months, Florida spent $45,000 more on drug tests than the screenings saved. And by that point the program was halted due to lawsuits alleging the state was violating the Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure.
Texas should want none of this.
Beyond the unnecessary costs, mandatory screenings would potentially punish not the drug users themselves, but their children, who are supposed to be the real beneficiaries of TANF payments.
A program of drug testing welfare recipients also seems to rely on a presumption that drug use is a problem among people on welfare. While no American demographic is drug-free, global studies by the World Health Organization show drug use actually has a correlation with higher income.
The Florida program found about 4 percent of applicants either tested positive for drugs or withdrew before screening, below the 2010 National Survey on Drug Use and Health estimation that 9 percent of the U.S. populace uses drugs on a regular basis.
One of the reasons poor folks are associated with drug use is low-income neighborhoods often house the criminal drug markets that serve the rest of society.
Texas shouldn't spend taxpayer dollars to further burden the poor, who already suffer the brunt of our national drug sins. If anything, our state should spend that money on job programs to help people get off welfare or on education programs to provide bootstraps for the next generation, rather than as a payout to whatever private company would benefit from the drug testing contract.
Drug testing welfare recipients is one of those ideas that may sound good at first, but in reality simply doesn't work. And that should be the end of it.
— Houston Chronicle