Proposals to Drug-Test the Unemployed Gain Momentum in Texas

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Losing a job is never easy -- but if you end up receiving unemployment -- how would you feel if the government required you to take random drug tests in order to keep receiving those benefits? That proposal is being considered in Austin today as Governor Rick Perry continues his push to make it a requirement across the Lone Star state.

"Being unemployed is not a crime; being unemployed doesn't mean you did something wrong; being unemployed means your job is gone for the most part in this recession,” said Brazos Valley Council of Government Executive Director Tom Wilkinson.

Unemployment in Texas sits at 6.9; overall unemployment for the seven county Brazos Valley region is right at six percent. While that number is a little less than it was a year ago, Wilkinson says the rate is a step in the right direction.

Tom Wilkinson says that rate is heading in the right direction.

Currently, College Station sits at 5.5-percent while Bryan has a six percent unemployment rate.

“We're usually third in the state as far as the lowest unemployment,” said Wilkinson. “But Texas as a whole is lower unemployment rate than the nation, so you know, we're ahead as the state and then we're ahead of the state, so it's good to be here in the Brazos Valley.”

“It's hard,” said Mary Garcia. “I just started working back again but it's hard.”

Bryan native Mary Garcia says she's blessed to find work after fighting the unemployment battle.

“There are times that are hard and sometimes you can't afford to live,” lamented Garcia. “But you still have to struggle and work to get by.”

One of the number one requirements for Garcia's job was a drug test. .

“If you're going to be receiving benefits I think they should do drug tests,” Garcia said. “Absolutely.”

Drug testing the unemployed has become a heated question and debate at the capital: should drug screenings be mandated for those receiving unemployment benefits?

“I would personally rather see a drug screening process done where before we spent money helping you find a new job, or retraining for a new job,” Wilkinson added.

The bill is expected to save more than $13 million over the next five years from people expected to be dropped from the rolls for a short period of time after failing the test (an estimated rate of about 3.5 percent, based on stats of pre-employment screening fails from the Texas Workforce Commission.)

“I think they should get drug tested. Regardless; I mean, everywhere else asks for drug tests,” said Garcia.

While Garcia is ‘for’ the idea, many others are hoping the proposal will soon get flushed.

For those recipients who fail the drug screening -- Governor Rick Perry says the benefits will be denied for 12 months or until the recipient completes a drug treatment program.

Perry's backing could help the bill work its way through the legislature, but lawmakers have said if it passes and is in fact implemented, the state could face the same kind of lawsuits that have dogged similar drug testing programs across the country.

There are seven states currently with some form of drug tests for benefits programs. But a 2003 ruling by the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals said testing everyone in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, or TANF, without reason to believe that drugs were being used - was unconstitutional.

Texas may be trying to get around this ruling by proposing to only test only those who create suspicion of drug use during a screening questionnaire. But beyond any looming legal battles, Perry's backing could help the bill work its way through the legislature.