LANSING (WWJ/AP) - Michigan lawmakers are planning to consider a bill that would require welfare applicants and recipients to pass drug tests.
Republican-sponsored legislation being considered Wednesday by a House committee would establish a program of suspicion-based substance abuse screening and testing for Family Independence Program applicants and recipients who are at least 18-years-old.
According to the bill, if the applicant or recipient tests positive for illegal use of a controlled substance, they may choose to proceed in one of the following ways: (a) He or she will be ineligible for state assistance, but may reapply after 6 months, subject to another substance abuse screening; or (b) He or she shall enroll in a substance abuse treatment program.
During participation in the substance abuse treatment program, the applicant or recipient is ineligible to receive state assistance. After 90 days in the program, the applicant or recipient may retake the drug test. If they test negative for illegal use of a controlled substance and meet all other eligibility requirements, they are eligible to receive state assistance.
If, at any time after participating in the substance abuse treatment program, the applicant or recipient tests positive for illegal use of a controlled substance, they’ll remain ineligible to receive assistance and will not be allowed to reapply for state assistance and retake the drug test for 12 months.
The bill says the cost of administering the drug test to the applicant shall be deducted from their first family independence program assistance payment.
A similar bill won approval last year in the House but died in the Senate. At the time, the Michigan Department of Human Services said the testing would be “feasible” and could include a possible pilot program for suspicion-based drug testing of welfare cash assistance applicants and recipients. Suspicion would be based on the results of drug screening, which could range from questions on welfare applications to “professional screening tools.”
Supporters of the plan consider it a safeguard of taxpayer money, not a punishment for welfare recipients. But some groups question why the state might move to single out welfare applicants for drug testing as opposed to other recipients of taxpayer money.
Some previous plans to drug test welfare applicants have run up against constitutional protections against unreasonable search and seizure.
Michigan briefly ran a pilot program to drug test welfare recipients in late 1999. The American Civil Liberties Union sued, and a federal appeals court eventually ruled the drug testing plan violated the constitution. Part of the legal challenge was based on the claim that constitutional rights were violated because testing was done without “individualized suspicion.”
Florida last year approved a law requiring drug tests for welfare applicants, but it’s on hold because of a legal challenge. Other states have tried different approaches.
Missouri enacted a law that requires the state’s social services agency to develop a program for screening welfare applicants and recipients, and then test those for whom there is reasonable cause to suspect illegal drug use. People who refuse to be checked, and those who test positive and do not complete a substance abuse program, will be ineligible for benefits through the welfare program for three years. While participating in a substance abuse program, people could keep their benefits.
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