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Texas Republicans Attempt to Embarrass and Humiliate Needy Texans

Republican State Senator Jane Nelson has pre-filed a ridiculous bill for the upcoming legislative session that requires drug testing just about everyone who applies for TANF: Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

TANF funds are handed out to to very low income families with children under age 18; they're meant to help with things like food, clothing, utilities, and housing. The payments in Texas are pretty modest. A single parent with one child in the house, for example, qualifies for a maximum of $113. A two-parent family of four could receive $334. Adults can receive TANF assistance for up to 36 months; if the payments are just to support children, there are no time limits.

But for Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst - this bill just doesn't go far enough in attempting to embarrass and humiliate the most needy Texans. Both have called to expand the bill  to include drug-testing anyone hoping to collect unemployment benefits.

“Texas taxpayers will not subsidize or tolerate illegal drug abuse,” said Perry. “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.” To which Dewhurst added, “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.”

The NY Times wrote a great story that details how much the Florida version of this law just didn't work:

The law in Florida, where the average recipient receives $253 a month for less than five months, is more expansive. It requires applicants to pay for their own drug tests, which the state says costs up to $40, and the state will reimburse those who pass...

Since July, 7,030 passed, 32 failed and 1,597 did not provide results, according to the state...

A decline in the number of applicants appears to have accelerated since the testing started, according to a spokesman for the Florida Department of Children and Families.

ACLU of Texas has responded to the Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst's announcement with the following statements:

AUSTIN – Responding to Gov. Rick Perry and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst press conference calling for enactment of a proposed law that would require drug testing of applicants for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF):

ACLU of Texas Executive Director Terri Burke said, “How sad that our state’s highest elected officials have embraced this mean-spirited measure that would punish innocent children for their parents’ conduct. This proposal is a costly, ineffective, inhumane and punitive effort by state government based on stereotypes about our state’s neediest Texans.”

ACLU of Texas Legal & Policy Director Rebecca Robertson said, “Drug tests are particularly invasive searches, and under our Constitution, the government cannot conduct such searches unless it has a good reason to believe a person is actually engaged in wrongdoing. This law authorizes government over-reach by allowing arbitrary searches without any suspicion that a crime is being committed.”

ACLU of Texas Policy Strategist Matt Simpson said, “The possible benefits of this proposed invasive and discriminatory testing are far outweighed by the costs. We’ve already seen this kind of approach fail: a similarly ineffective fingerprinting program for food stamp recipients was abandoned by the State of Texas as too costly. We don’t need to go down that road again.”