Michigan may link welfare to drug tests

Dec. 29, 2011 at 10:15 AM   |   Comments

LANSING, Mich., Dec. 29 (UPI) -- Michigan is considering a plan that would deny benefits to welfare recipients who fail drug tests, officials say.

The state's Department of Human Services says the program would require drug screening for those who get or seek aid from the Family Independence Program, which helps pregnant women and low-income families with children, The Detroit News reported Thursday.

The state began linking welfare to drug testing about a decade ago, but a federal appeals court halted the testing in 2003. The court sided with the American Civil Liberties Union, which argued the program was unconstitutional because it did not require "individualized suspicion" to justify testing.

The News said a DHS study addresses previous legal issues over drug testing in the state and plans to work with the state legislature to develop the plan, starting with a pilot program.

David Akerly, director of marketing and public relations for DHS, said precisely how and when the program would proceed have yet to be determined. "It is very early in the process," Akerly said.

The DHS says in the study drug abuse is an obstacle to getting jobs and being self-sufficient.

Critics, however, say singling out poor people for drug testing is unconstitutional and argue the state should provide treatment for people with substance abuse problems, not deny them benefits they need for food and shelter.

Under the DHS plan, if initial screening -- which could mean as little as answers on an application -- leads to a reasonable suspicion of illegal drug use, mandatory drug testing would be required.

Those who test positive would be denied benefits or, if they already receive them, lose their benefits.

The drug testing would have to be paid for by the welfare applicant or recipient, but the cost would be reimbursed if the test comes back negative. The News said urine tests for drugs cost $25 to $44.

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