Welfare recipients in some Michigan counties will soon be tested if they’re suspected of using drugs, under a set of bills signed into law by Gov. Rick Snyder this week.
The Senate and House bills, which were signed into law Friday, will create a yearlong pilot program in three counties that will screen welfare recipients and applicants to determine whether or not they’re suspected of using drugs. If they are, the applicants or recipients must submit to a drug test. If the test comes back positive, they will be referred to a treatment program, and if they choose not to enter the program, they will lose their welfare benefits. Applicants and recipients will also lose their eligibility for welfare benefits for six months if they refuse to take a drug test, but according to a statement from the governor’s office, the benefits can be restored once they submit to and pass a drug test.
Snyder’s office says the program, which will be completed by September 2016, will help “remove barriers” keeping Michigan residents from finding work and supporting their families.
“This pilot program is intended to help ensure recipients get the wrap-around services they need to overcome drug addiction and lead successful lives. We’ll then have opportunity to assess effectiveness and outcomes,” Snyder said in a statement.
But research has shown that drug testing welfare recipients can be costly. Last August, state figures showed that Utah had spent $30,000 to screen for and test welfare recipients who were suspected of abusing drugs, and had found only 12 people who had tested positive for drug use. In Florida, where a law requiring drug tests on welfare applicants was struck down last December, just 2.6 percent of the people tested by the state in 2011 were found to be using narcotic drugs. That program, according to state records, cost the state more money than it saved. And in August, after about a month of testing applicants for welfare, Tennessee had tested just one welfare applicant positive for drug use, and had disqualified four others from benefits for refusing to take part in the drug testing process.
Some state legislators in Michigan weren’t happy about the bills’ passage.
“This is the war on the poor. Are we going to drug test other people who receive tax dollars? I don’t think so,” Coleman Young II (D) said earlier this month after the bills passed the Senate. “We’re going after a law that has been found unconstitutional in Florida and other states.”
Still, Michigan isn’t the only state to consider drug testing recipients and applicants for welfare and other benefits in recent years. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has said that he wants to make drug testing of applicants for food stamps and unemployment benefits a priority in the next legislative session. There aren’t many details yet about Walker’s proposal, but creating a way of drug testing these applicants was something he promised to do as part of his re-election campaign. In 2014, at least 18 states introduced proposals or addressed bills that would require some form of drug testing or screening for applicants for or recipients of public assistance. In total, at least eleven states — now twelve, counting Michigan — have passed laws on drug testing for public assistance applicants or recipients, though Florida’s has since been halted.