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"Likely" drug-using welfare applicants could be drug-tested

The state Department of Human Services is developing a policy to screen for drug use among applicants for cash assistance welfare benefits, and to drug-test those deemed likely to be substance abusers.

DHS officials say they want the new policy to be part of an overhaul of the state’s welfare-to-work program in the spring of next year.  The department submitted a report with its recommendations to the Legislature earlier this month.

Previous efforts in Michigan and other states to test all welfare applicants for drug use have been struck down by courts for being too sweeping. But DHS Deputy Director Brian Rooney says a policy that screens applicants to only test likely drug users is fair, and helps them get off public assistance.??

"Employers do not want anybody working for them that has substance abuse problems," says Rooney.  "So that is part and parcel of becoming self-sufficient."

Rooney says applicants who test positive for drug use would have the chance to re-apply for cash assistance after completing a treatment program. He hopes the Legislature will vote on the policy before April.

Human services advocates say even targeted drug testing may not be worth the cost of the program, 

They also say it's difficult for low-income and indigent people to find a treatment program.


Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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