San Antonio.- In a press conference Tuesday at Austin Glass and Mirror, Gov. Rick Perry called for reforms in the state’s welfare programs.
The new normal continues to change as welfare applicants might be required to undergo drug screening in order to obtain benefits. Today most job applicants must undergo drug screening, so the new proposal could be considered an added benefit for those who seek help or are currently unemployed.
At the news briefing, the Governor and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst specifically called on the Texas Legislature to enact reforms to the state’s welfare and unemployment benefit programs, including authorizing drug screenings for those applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits.
State Sen. Jane Nelson pre-filed a bill for the upcoming legislative session to require drug screening for TANF applicants. Nelson is a businesswoman and a former teacher who represents Senate District 12, encompassing parts of Denton and Tarrant counties.
“Texas taxpayers will not subsidize or tolerate illegal drug abuse. 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, child care or medicine,” Gov. Perry said. “Being on drugs makes it much harder to begin the journey to independence, which only assures individuals remain stuck in the terrible cycle of drug abuse and poverty.”
The governor explained that the purpose of TANF and UI is to provide temporary assistance to individuals and families, not a permanent replacement for employment. Drug testing ensures individuals are using these benefits for their intended purpose and that individuals are ready and available for employment by remaining drug free.
“We owe it to Texas taxpayers to structure our welfare and unemployment programs in a way that guarantees recipients are serious about getting back to work,” Lt. Gov. Dewhurst said. “It’s beneficial to welfare recipients for us to reform and strengthen our job training requirements and require them to be drug-free so that we can help them get back on their feet and back to work.”
La Prensa could not learn the potential cost of the new program before press time, nor how many individuals the new approach will affect. However State Senator Leticia Van de Putte, a pharmacist for more than 32 years, who also represents a large portion of San Antonio and Bexar County (District 26), took a moment to weigh in on the matter with La Prensa.
Van de Putte explained that so far, drug screening has only been tried in one other state, Florida, where they found the cost of testing added expense instead of saving that state money.
“I understand the sentiment,” Van de Putte said. “But it’s unlikely that such a program will have a positive payoff. Less than 2.6 percent failed the drug tests in Florida and less than one-tenth of one percent refused to take the test, so the only data we have is that it cost more to implement the drug screening. So for me, we may be better served by not slashing prevention and drug treatment programs because it appears the drug screening will not save the state money, although it may serve to make a point.”
On the other hand, Nelson believes the state is responsible for ensuring tax dollars are used to help people on the road to self-reliance.
“I appreciate Gov. Perry’s support as we work to ensure that taxpayer dollars are used responsibly in our welfare system,” Sen. Nelson said at the press conference. “We must ensure that recipients of these public funds are drug-free and, in keeping with the mission of this program, on a path to self-sufficiency.”
TANF provides temporary cash assistance to needy families with children as families pursue financial independence. UI benefits are paid to eligible individuals who have lost their jobs from taxes paid by employers. The system insures employees against loss of wages when they lose their job through no fault of their own, providing financial assistance for a fixed period of time while the individual seeks new employment.
Angela Covo is a reporter for La Prensa de San Antonio. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.