Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder OKs Drug Testing Welfare Recipients

Leah Barkoukis
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Posted: Dec 31, 2014 12:21 PM
Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder OKs Drug Testing Welfare Recipients

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder signed a one-year pilot program into law on Friday that tests welfare recipients and applicants suspected of substance abuse.

Those suspected of using drugs will be tested using an “empirically validated substance abuse screening tool.” If the results come back positive, they’ll be referred to a treatment program and will have to continue submitting periodic drug tests. When those tests come back negative, their benefits can be restored. Those who refuse to comply will be suspended from receiving benefits for a six-month period.

The program will initially start in three yet-to-be-determined counties.

The legislation passed the Michigan House of Representatives earlier this month despite pushback from Democrats and criticism from some in the local press who say the concept unfairly stigmatizes the poor as drug addicts. […]

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 11 states over the last four years have enacted legislation that allows for the drug testing of welfare recipients and applicants. The federal government paved the way for the practice with welfare reform in 1996. States began proposing mandatory drug testing shortly after, but many early proposals failed to pass.

In the late 1990s, Michigan enacted the country’s first law requiring drug tests for welfare recipients. But following a legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union -- and the ACLU of Michigan -- a federal judge struck down the law as unconstitutional, mainly because it relied on random testing without suspicion of drug use.

The new legislation was more carefully crafted, allowing for drug testing only upon “reasonable suspicion.” It was sponsored by Michigan Rep. Jeff Farrington, Republican of Utica, who told the AP earlier this month, “People want to make sure that we give a hand up to those in need, but they're tired of giving their tax dollars to people that waste it on drugs.”

“We want to remove the barriers that are keeping people from getting good jobs, supporting their families and living independently,” Snyder said in a statement. “This pilot program is intended to help ensure recipients get the wrap-around services they need to overcome drug addiction and lead successful lives. We’ll then have opportunity to assess effectiveness and outcomes.”