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Michigan lawmakers discussing drug testing for welfare recipients

John Andrews of MASACA testifies before the State House Committee on Families, Children and Seniors
(photo by Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio)
John Andrews of MASACA testifies before the State House Committee on Families, Children and Seniors

State lawmakers are taking testimony on legislation to require some state welfare recipients to undergo drug testing.

Michigan tried before to require drug testing of welfare recipients.    That law mandated random drug testing.    But the courts stopped that program a decade ago.

Some legislators want to resurrect the idea, though this new program would focus on cash assistance recipients who are suspected of using illegal drugs.

“Hard earned tax dollars should be used efficiently,” says Utica State Representative Jeff Farrington.  He’s the bill’s sponsor.   “There are limited resources as we all know. Those resources should go to those in highest need. If someone is using cash assistance for their illegal drug habit that’s not a good use of our resources.”

Substance abuse treatment and welfare advocates oppose the drug testing requirement.    They say the proposal won’t save the state any money

John Andrews is with Michigan Association of Substance Abuse Coordinating Agencies.    He says a similar program in Florida showed a limited effect.

“The results of the Florida program were that two percent of the people tested proved positive.   Another two percent refused the test. That’s a pretty small population,” says Andrews.

Gilda Jacobs of the Michigan League for Human Services says the bill does nothing to help people who test positive.

“It really makes…it more difficult for those with substance abuse problems to get treatment,”   says Jacobs,  “And if the purpose is to truly help families. Substance abuse needs to be treated as any other barrier to employment. “]

They also say the program could put children at risk in homes with a positive drug test.  Supporters say the children are already at risk since the drug abuser is likely spending their cash assistance on illegal drugs and not the children.

Steve Carmody has been a reporter for Michigan Public since 2005. Steve previously worked at public radio and television stations in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky, and also has extensive experience in commercial broadcasting.