Michigan lawmakers are pushing for drug testing of welfare recipients. The Republican-backed legislation previously passed the Senate in a vote of 26-10. It was then backed by the House. It is now up to Governor Rick Snyder to approve the controversial program.
If approved, the program would require adult welfare recipients to submit to drug testing if they are suspected of using an illegal substance. However, it is unclear what parameters will be used to identify the suspects.
Those who test positive will have the option of entering a drug treatment program. Repeat offenders will lose their cash benefits until they submit a negative test. As reported by My Fox Detroit, Michigan welfare recipients who refuse a drug test will lose their cash benefits for a period of six months.
If approved by Governor Rick Snyder, the program will be implemented in at least three counties for a period of one year. Supporters of Michigan’s plan to perform drug testing on welfare recipients believe the program will save the the state money. Those who oppose the program argue that it is a waste of time and money.
As reported by the National Conference of State Legislatures, eleven states, including Alabama, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah have approved legislation to require drug testing for residents who receive public assistance.
Like Michigan’s proposed program, many states limit the testing to those who are suspected of illegal drug use. In Kansas, for example, there must be “reasonable suspicion” of drug abuse. According to Kansas SB 149, reasonable suspicion can be determined “based on a person’s demeanor, missed appointments, police records, termination from previous employment due to substance use or prior drug screening records.”
On the surface, it seems to make sense. Nobody wants to see welfare recipients using public assistance to buy drugs. However, several states have found that the programs simply do not work.
In Utah, a total of 4,730 public assistance applicants were asked to fill out a survey, which was designed to indicate possible drug use. Of those surveyed, 466 applicants were flagged as suspected drug users.
As reported by the Associated Press, the surveys cost the state around $6,000. It cost “more than $25,000” to test the 466 suspected drug users. Only 12 of those applicants tested positive for illegal drugs.
The state of Oklahoma spent approximately $82,700 on a similar program. As reported by News OK, a total of 537 welfare applicants were required to submit drug tests. Of those applicants, fewer than five percent tested positive for illegal drugs. Similar results were experienced in Florida, Kansas, and Mississippi.
In addition to being costly and ineffective, opponents argue that Michigan’s plan to impose drug testing on welfare recipients targets the state’s poorest residents. Others have suggested extending the drug testing to include public employees and “business executives whose companies get tax incentives.”
[Image via ACPeds]