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Welfare Drug Testing Measure Passes Michigan House

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File Photo. Under a law passed by Michigan's House Thursday, some welfare applicants and recipients would have to pay for their own drug testing to receive benefits. (AP/Dave Martin)
File Photo. Under a law passed by Michigan's House Thursday, some welfare applicants and recipients would have to pay for their own drug testing to receive benefits. (AP/Dave Martin)

A controversial bill that would require those applying for or receiving welfare benefits to submit to drug tests passed Michigan's House Thursday in a 71-37 vote.

Under House Bill 5223, the Department of Human Services would establish a program of suspicion-based drug screening for people over the age of 18 seeking or receiving cash assistance from its Family Independence Agency program.

The agency would use a substance abuse survey or an empirically-validated screening tool to determine whether a person would then be required to take a drug test.

Applicants will also have to pay for their own drug testing -- if they pass. Those who passed the test would have its cost deducted from their first benefits payment. Failing the the test would make a person ineligible for cash assistance for six months or until he or she completed a substance abuse treatment program.

If the bill becomes law, DHS would have to implement a trial program in at least three counties by the end of this year and have the full program in place statewide by 2015.

Rep. Ben Glardon (R-Owosso), who supported the bill, said it would help welfare recipients break their cycle of dependency on drugs.

"Michigan residents can be expected to get drug tested when applying for a job. The same possibility should exist for welfare recipients as well, especially if there are children involved," he said in a statement.

Rep. Maureen Stapleton (D-Detroit) tried unsuccessfully to add an amendment to the bill that would have required the state to pay the cost of drug testing when results showed no evidence of substance abuse.

"Laws like this have been tried in other states, and experience has shown that drug testing aid recipients results in very few positive results," she said in a release. "There is no evidence to suggest that poor families are more likely to abuse drugs, just as there is no evidence that laws like this one result in any real savings to taxpayers."

Michigan lawmakers have long suspected welfare recipients of drug use. In 1999, Michigan Gov. John Engler enacted a policy requiring drug tests for welfare recipients, but the practice was struck down by Michigan courts.

Mandatory drug testing for welfare applicants in Florida was similarly blocked by a federal court in October.

The reliability of drug tests themselves have come under recent scrutiny. In a 2010 study compiling roughly 30 years of research on the subject, Dr. Dwight Smith, of the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Black Hills, S.D., found that drug tests tend to produce false positives in about 5 to 10 percent of cases.

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