Perry Supports Drug Tests Before Benefits
Texas Gov. Rick Perry has given his support to a bill that would have recipients of unemployment benefits and the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program submit to drug tests. Failing the test would mean a denial of benefits for 12 months, or until applicants completed a drug treatment program.
Governor Perry said every dollar the state takes from its citizens counts. And that, he said, is why he’s pushing lawmakers to pass legislation that would demand drug testing for TAN-F and unemployment benefits.
“Every dollar that goes to someone who uses it inappropriately is a dollar that can’t go to a Texan who needs it for housing for childcare or for medicine,” Perry said.
Bill Hammond heads up the Texas Association of Business, a conservative business advocacy group. He said that across the country 80 percent of employers compel drug tests. He added that passing a state drug test could mean a leg up when it comes to getting a job.
“I mean if you have someone certified as being drug free, which we hope will be a part of this project, then they go to the top of the list and they get hired,” Hammond said.
Seven states currently have some form of drug test requirement for benefits programs. But a 2003 ruling by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said testing everyone in the TAN-F without reason to believe that drugs were being used, was unconstitutional. Scott McCown is with the Center for Public Policy Priorities, a progressive think tank.
“What the courts have said, looking at both the unemployment insurance pool and the TAN-F pool, is that there’s no reason to think that these pools of people are any more likely to be using drugs then the general population,” McCown said.
The proposed law for Texas may be trying to get around the court ruling by proposing to only test benefits applicants who create suspicion of drug use during a screening questionnaire. But beyond any looming legal battles, McCown says the states that have implemented similar programs have discovered they’re just not very cost effective.
“You have to create a state bureaucracy to administer all this,” McCown said. “You have to pay for these drug tests which are expensive.”
Gov. Perry hopes the potential for a drug test gets people to stop using before they must submit to a test. He thinks a low percentage of people testing positive would just show the deterrent has worked.
“We’re interested in getting these people off of drugs and getting them into a job that can take care of their family,” Perry said.
Perry’s backing could help the bill work its way through the legislature. But McCown says if it passes and is implemented – the state could face the same kind of lawsuits that have dogged similar drug testing programs across the country.