In 1996, Congress replaced the traditional welfare entitlement with the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program -- one of the few government programs that puts cash directly into the hands of its beneficiaries.In exchange for these dollars, which are intended to help individuals as they take steps to re-enter the workforce, participants sign a contract agreeing to certain things:They will actively seek employment.They won't use TANF funds on tobacco, alcohol, adult entertainment or other prohibited items.They will abstain from illegal drugs, including cocaine, heroin and marijuana.In return, the government provides direct cash assistance -- between $93 and $514 per month, as determined by family size and income.This month, I pre-filed SB11 to ensure that contract is honored and, more importantly, that TANF is putting individuals on a path to self-sufficiency.SB11 tightens exemptions from work requirements so that those who can work are seeking employment. It strengthens our efforts to prevent TANF funds from being spent on prohibited items. Because drug abuse is a barrier to employment and self-sufficiency, SB11 also requires drug testing for applicants deemed at high risk for drug abuse through a screening tool that will be developed by the Health and Human Services Commission.There are low- or no-cost screening tools available. The drug test costs $35. While I fully expect SB11 to provide a cost savings, the primary reason we need this legislation is to make sure these individuals can transition from welfare to work.With 80 percent of employers requiring drug tests as a condition of employment -- and with a 2010 survey by the federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration showing that 17.5 percent of the unemployed who responded having used drugs the previous month, more than twice the rate for those working full time -- there is a compelling public interest in encouraging TANF recipients to remain drug-free.Individuals who fail the drug test can reapply after one year or, if they undergo drug treatment, six months. Medicaid and other state programs offer substance abuse treatment to those who need it. It is important to note that SB11 in no way affects food stamps, unemployment or other public benefits.Some have raised questions about the potential impact this legislation will have on children. During our hearings, I want to delve deeper into this issue, but I'm not convinced that putting cash directly into the hands of drug abusers provides any benefit to children.Since May 2011, seven states have instituted drug testing in their TANF programs using various approaches. These laws are relatively new, and their impact is still being studied. Opponents point to the Florida law, which is in litigation. Unlike SB11, which would test only new and renewing applicants deemed at high risk for drug abuse, the Florida law requires testing of all TANF beneficiaries.TANF is not payment for actual work. It differs from other government programs in that it provides direct cash assistance to qualifying individuals who commit to a path toward self-reliance. Ensuring these individuals are drug-free and therefore able to re-enter the work force is a goal we should all share.Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, represents District 12, including parts of Denton and Tarrant counties.