Bills to Drug Test Welfare Applicants Up for Debate

By: Justin Dehn and Alana Rocha, Texas Tribune
By: Justin Dehn and Alana Rocha, Texas Tribune

After little debate, the Texas Senate on Wednesday voted unanimously to pass a bill that requires applicants to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to pass a drug test to receive benefits.

“This bill makes sure state resources are not used to support drug habits, while ensuring children continue receiving benefits in a safe environment,” said Sen. Jane Nelson, the author of Senate Bill 11, which now goes to the House.

The protective payee provision that was included in SB 11 drew praise among some members in the upper chamber.It provides for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission to designate another person to receive TANF benefits on a child’s behalf if the child’s parent tests positive for drugs.

Nelson told her colleagues that the provision is the reason the bill passed unanimously out of committee, with bipartisan support.

Sen. Eddie Lucio, D-Brownsville, expressed concern that the bill creates a “three strikes, you’re out” model. The first time a person tests positive for drugs, he or she is ineligible for financial assistance for six months; the second positive test triggers a 12-month penalty; the third positive result deems the applicant permanently ineligible for TANF benefits.

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