Stateside
6:32 pm
Thu April 18, 2013

Welfare drug testing bill moves forward in the State House

Some controversial legislation is moving forward in the State House.

Under a bill approved yesterday by a State House panel - the Families, Children and Seniors Committee - Michigan would begin suspicion-based drug-testing of people who receive welfare benefits.

The legislation would allow the state to take away the benefits from people who test positive for drugs.

Under the measure, the drug testing program would go through a one-year trial period before being made permanent.

Republican Representative Jeff Farrington introduced the legislation. He says the government should not pay for people’s drug habits.

“People are tired of applicants getting welfare payments when they’re used for illegal drug use," said Farrington. "We want to make sure that they get on the right track, they receive their treatment going forward, and they get on the right path to success.”

Supporters also say people would have to pay for the drug test only if they test positive.

Critics of the plan say it demonizes the poor and unfairly hurts children of addicts.

Former social worker and Democratic Representative Marcia Hover-Wright says the bill is flawed.

“I don’t think there’s enough understanding on the other side of people with addictions and what’s their course... I’ve worked a lot with people with substance abuse problems, and to have the whole family suffer because the adult has a substance abuse problem, I find really problematic," said Hover-Wright.

Under the most recent version of the bill, people who test positive for the first time could enroll in an addiction treatment program and still receive their benefits during that time.

Only people who test positive would have to pay for the cost of the tests. That means the program could cost the state more money for testing and screening than originally anticipated.

On the other hand, it potentially could save the state some money on welfare benefits.

Democrats unsuccessfully tried to add several amendments to the bill. Among other things, they would have exempted medical marijuana patients and seniors from the penalties.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Detroit) last year proposed state lawmakers should have to undergo testing and screening for substance abuse if welfare recipients are required to do so.

Her idea did not advance in the Legislature.

Jake Neher, reporter for the Michigan Public Radio Network was at the hearings. He gave us an update on the newest version of this legislation and just how this would work for folks who collect welfare benefits from the state.

Listen to the full interview above.