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Residents React Over Possible Drug Testing For Some Recipients of Welfare

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By Sylvia Gonzalez
NewsWest 9

ODESSA - Drug testing for those on Welfare has been a hotly debated issue. At this point, Arizona and Missouri already have those requirements and it looks as though the Lone Star State may not be far behind.

On Wednesday, the Senate unanimously passed Senate Bill 11, which would require those who ask for assistance to be drug free.

Some Odessa residents feel this action should have been taken several years ago.

"I think drug testing for services is actually very commendable and should have been enforced a long time ago," one Odessa resident, said.

Texas' Welfare Program currently provides basic needs such as food, clothing and housing.

It's estimated that $90 million is distributed to 100,000 Texans a year but a current bill on the table could make it harder to receive those benefits. It would require a lengthy questionnaire and possibly a urine test.

Linda Gockel, Spokesperson for the Texas Health and Human Services Commission, explained who would be drug tested if the bill passes.

"If the legislation passes, it would require everyone who applies for cash TANF benefits to be screened. It's a questionnaire and that will determine who should be tested for drugs," Gockel said.

If the person fails the first drug test, they would be ineligible for benefits for six months. If they fail it a second time, benefits will be suspended for a year and a third positive drug test means they will be permanently barred from receiving any Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits.

NewsWest 9 spoke with several people on the streets who believe if you're getting help from the government, you should have to submit to a drug test.

"They should definitely be drug tested and anybody on welfare should be drug tested regularly," another Odessa resident, said.

"If you can't afford to pay for your rent, your groceries, your health services things like that how on earth can you afford to purchase drugs," another Odessa resident, said. 

Although the bill hasn't passed yet, Gockel has a prediction on how many people will actually be drug tested.

"We're expecting maybe 72,000 to 73,000 people a year to be screened but about 5,000 of those to be tested for drug use," Gockel said.

A resident NewsWest 9 spoke with on Thursday says she hopes this new bill ends up helping some people improve their lifestyle.

"Maybe enforcing something like this, it might just actually help some of them," the resident, said. 

Gockel says the state would pay for the drug test which would cost about $35. The new changes could take effect as early as September of this year.