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Michigan Senate Approves Drug Testing of Welfare Recipients

Despite the stigmatization of welfare recipients and the failure of testing programs in other states, Michigan went ahead and passed the bill anyway.

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By McCarton Ackerman

03/24/14

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Michigan could become the latest state to approve the drug testing of welfare recipients. The state Senate approved the second of two bills which would allocate $500,000 for the Department of Human Services (DHS) to create pilot testing programs in at least three counties.

The proposed plan calls for DHS to use a substance abuse screening tool on select welfare recipients. Those suspected of using illegal substances would then be required to take a drug test. A positive test would result in the recipient being referred to a regional substance abuse agency for intervention, with a second positive test or refusal to participate resulting in the recipient having their benefits taken away for at least six months.

"The vote you are about to take is not a vote against the poor of this state. This vote is for the children," said Sen. Rick Jones (R-Grand Ledge). "Children are starving. They're hungry in this state. We have to feed them at school because their parents are abusing drugs at home."

All eleven Democrats at the hearing opposed the testing out of fear that it stigmatized welfare recipients, whose rate of drug use is no different than that of the general population. "I'm continually frustrated by the priorities of this Legislature, in particular the ongoing attacks on low-income families," said State Sen. Vincent Gregory (D-Southfield). "Michigan gives businesses nearly 40 billion in tax handouts, yet those companies are not required to be drug tested, let alone to create the jobs they promised."

Democratic senators did successfully add two amendments to the bill that would allow guardians to receive benefits for children if their parents were kicked off welfare, as well as protecting certified medical marijuana patients from punishment. Nine states currently test welfare recipients for drugs, but current data suggests that the programs actually cost more money than they save since only a small percentage of welfare users end up testing positive.

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