POLITICS
11/13/2012 06:26 pm ET Updated Nov 13, 2012

Rick Perry Calls For Drug-Testing The Poor And Jobless

Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) wants the poor and unemployed to prove they're not on drugs in order to be eligible to receive benefits from the government.

"Texas taxpayers will not subsidize or tolerate illegal drug abuse," Perry said in a statement on Tuesday. "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."

During a press conference, Perry did not say there was rampant drug abuse among Texans receiving unemployment insurance or welfare dollars, but nevertheless stressed it was something the state should prevent.

"Unemployment benefits are meant not to be a way of life," Perry said.

Florida and Georgia are the only states requiring all applicants for welfare, formally known as the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, to prove they're not on drugs. A federal court halted such testing in Florida, citing the U.S. Constitution's protections against unreasonable search and seizure, and mocking the state for its claims that the testing would save money. Georgia halted its testing scheme to wait and see how the Florida challenge shakes out.

Before the judiciary put a stop to the testing, results from Florida's drug testing program suggested TANF applicants were much less likely than the general population to use drugs.

Federal law does not allow states to implement blanket testing of unemployment claimants, but Congress recently said states could test in certain circumstances (the U.S. Department of Labor has not yet issued guidance on which circumstances are okay for testing). Twenty states already deny benefits to people who lose their jobs for drug-related reasons, according to the National Employment Law Project.

Republicans in the Arizona State Legislature briefly pursued a drug testing bill earlier this year, but gave up after the Labor Department notified the state that the measure would jeopardize federal unemployment tax credits for the state's businesses.

Terry Burke, director of the Texas chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, which successfully challenged Florida's law, called Perry's drug testing push "sad" in a statement on Tuesday.

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

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