New Bill Would Mandate Drug Testing for Needy Adults Before They Apply for Benefits

A newly-filed bill would mandate drug testing for adults applying to TANF if they’re deemed at-risk, have a felony on record or have previously tested positive for substance use.

By Rhonda FanningDecember 19, 2016 10:10 am,

Federal law doesn’t allow states to drug test food stamp recipients, but there is no such law for another program that gives federal grant funds to states to provide families with financial assistance and other support services. Nine states currently require either screening or drug testing for adults seeking to receive the federally funded Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF). Now Texas wants to join them.

Low-income adults who are between jobs or unemployed can use TANF funds for paying rent, utilities and for groceries – whatever will help provide basic needs for their families.

Sen. Jane Nelson (R-Flower Mound) has filed a bill to mandate TANF applicants undergo drug screenings and – if they’re deemed at-risk, have a felony on record or have previously tested positive for substance use – get tested for drugs. Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) has filed a similar bill in the House.

Marissa Evans with the Texas Tribune describes the bill:

“Essentially what the bill’s saying is that if you – if they suspect that you might be using drugs, you will be sent to a drug test,” she says. “If you test positive, you’ll be denied benefits for six months. But the bill does have a caveat that allows, say, a protective payee, if there’s a child involved, to accept the benefits on behalf of the child. But that person will have to get drug tested too.”

The bills would not pay for substance use treatment if the applicant does test positive. The bills would also use TANF funds to pay for the drug screening and testing.

“You’ll get a sheet of paper with all the substance abuse treatment centers in your area, but that’s as far as the state will go with this particular legislation,” Evans says.

Without the proposed additions to the application process for TANF, Evans says accessing the benefits is already difficult enough for families – not many adults currently qualify for it. In Texas, 8,000 adults and more than 54,000 children are receiving TANF.

Republicans have tried multiple times in the past to pass similar bills, but none passed into law.

“Republicans have always said if you can afford drugs like marijuana or cocaine or methamphetamine, you should be able to afford to help your family with things like food, rent utilities and basic needs,” Evans says. “You shouldn’t need to come to the federal government for a handout.”

Drug screening and testing for drugs is very much a partisan issue, Evans says.

“Republicans are all about making sure people are taking personal responsibility for their own issues and making sure that they’re not using the federal government to help a habit,” she says. “And Democrats and other, more liberal think tanks are saying ‘Well, no we need to actually find these people and get them in here and help them with their addiction problems.’”

Post by Beth Cortez-Neavel.