Michigan's Welfare Drug-Testing Program Will Ultimately Harm Kids, Critics Say

Gov. Rick Snyder speaks at a election night party in Detroit Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014. Snyder won a second term Tuesday, defeati
Gov. Rick Snyder speaks at a election night party in Detroit Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014. Snyder won a second term Tuesday, defeating Democrat Mark Schauer after a race in which the Republican touted an economic and fiscal turnaround and promised to keep Michigan on the right path. (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

A new Michigan law that creates a suspicion-based, drug-testing pilot program for welfare recipients has been condemned by state groups and lawmakers as harmful to children.

Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder (R) signed Public Acts 394 and 395 Friday. The laws require the state Department of Human Services to create a one-year pilot program in which recipients of Family Independence Program benefits who are suspected of drug use will have to submit to drug testing.

If a test shows substance abuse, the individual will be compelled to enter a treatment program. He would only have his benefits cut off if he refuses to get treatment. If a person tests positive a second time, he becomes ineligible for assistance; however, the person can later receive benefits after passing a drug test. Refusing to take a test will make a recipient ineligible for benefits for six months.

In a statement, Snyder said the pilot program was intended to help welfare recipients overcome drug addiction and lead successful lives. “We want to remove the barriers that are keeping people from getting good jobs, supporting their families and living independently,” he said.

While those in favor of the pilot program said it would protect children whose parents are abusing drugs, others like American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan Executive Director Kary Moss said it would do the exact opposite.

“While the goal may be to prevent taxpayer funds from being used for illicit purposes, these kinds of programs may instead throw families who are already in extreme distress and poverty into even worse shape, harming children who the state should help protect,” Moss told The Huffington Post in an email. “Drug testing is also very costly, rife with false positives, and not a proven deterrent to drug use. What it will reveal is that the resources are not in place to help those with drug problems.”

More than a decade ago, Moss and the ACLU of Michigan won a battle against a Michigan law that mandated randomized drug testing for welfare recipients. The law, the only one of its kind at the time, was ruled unconstitutional by a federal appeals court in 2003. Now, Moss wonders how the state will determine “suspicion” of drug use and whether using a broad criterion could still result in unconstitutional drug testing.

Michigan League for Public Policy CEO and President Gilda Jacobs urged Snyder to veto the legislation in a letter earlier this month.

"While these bills talk about adults, as you know, the majority of those benefiting from cash assistance are children,” Jacobs wrote. “Cutting off heat and the ability to pay rent will destabilize the households, leading to the breakup of families, an event that’s particularly damaging to children.”

Jacobs also questioned whether the state had adequate resources to treat addiction or even public transportation to get people to treatment centers.

The legislation, originally introduced by Republicans in the state House and Senate, was roundly condemned by Democratic lawmakers like state Sen. Vincent Gregory (Southfield), who said it amounted to an attack on Michigan’s low-income residents.

“The companies we give tax breaks to are not required to be drug tested,” Gregory said, according to the Detroit Free Press. “We give out tax credits to schools, students and police and fire [departments], and now the only ones subject to drug screening are the poorest of the poor.”

In an earlier version of the legislation, an amendment introduced by Gregory allowed children to receive benefits through a third party if their parents failed a drug test. That amendment was stripped in the final law.

Other states that have introduced drug testing programs have seen negligible results. In 2013, Utah’s drug testing program for welfare recipients caught 12 drug users out of the 4,700 people who were screened that year. Similarly, in the first month of a drug testing program that began in Tennessee this summer, one person tested positive for drugs and four refused to be tested out of 812 individuals who applied to the program.

Michigan’s Family Independence Program provides cash assistance for families with children and doles out about $400 monthly to 44,400 people, according to the Detroit Free Press. The drug-testing pilot program is to be created by next fall in at least three undetermined counties. Two months after it has been completed, the Department of Human Services will issue a report to the legislature.



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