Drug Tests for Welfare Recipients
Cash assistance recipients who are suspected of drug use can be tested under a bill approved today by the house, 71-37.
HB 5223, sponsored by Rep. Jeff FARRINGTON (R-Utica) puts the Department of Human Services (DHS) in charge using "reasonable suspicion" to determine if a welfare recipient is using drugs. The $50 cost of the drug tests will be deducted from a recipient's cash assistance benefits if the test is negative. If positive, the recipient will be removed from the cash assistance program for a period of at least six months and the state pays for the test (See "Drug Testing For Welfare Recipients Moves," 5/15/12).
Farrington added three amendments to the bill, several of which had been proposed by Democrats. He said his amendments added reporting, clarified language to ensure privacy and offer a free treatment program through Medicaid for those who want help.
"We believe for those who want to help themselves, this is truly a step in the right direction," he said.
The bill also calls for reasonable suspicion, as determined by DHS, for the drug testing, he said.
Farrington urged support for the bill, saying it aims to use taxpayer dollars efficiently and follows a principle brought up by constituents who ask why they have to take a drug test to get a job yet someone on assistance does not have to be tested.
He noted that if someone on cash assistance tests positive for drugs, they can still receive food assistance and medical care through Medicaid.
Rep. Tom MCMILLIN (R-Rochester Hills) offered an amendment to tie-bar the drug testing of welfare recipients to his bill that would require drug testing for "corporate welfare."
"I think it's very important that we are consistent. Welfare is welfare," he said.
His amendment was not adopted without a vote.
Democrats offered nearly 20 amendments, all of which were struck down without a vote.
Reps. Alberta TINSLEY-TALABI (D-Detroit), Fred DURHAL (D-Detroit), Maureen STAPLETON (D-Detroit), DianSLAVENS (D-Canton Twp.) and Rashida TLAIB (D-Detroit) offered the amendments, which ranged from aiming to give treatment to those who test positive for drugs to requiring legislators to undergo drug tests. Other amendments aimed to exempt people who tested positive due to prescription drugs and exempt people age 65 and older from the tests.
Talabi said the state must "take care to protect the children who through no fault of their own find themselves victims."
"Let's not further victimize children by denying them the assistance they need and deserve from this state," she said.
Tlaib said legislators should be held to the same standard because they also receive public dollars.
"I've heard people say to me that with all of the things that go on in this chamber we must all be on drugs," Tlaib said.
Rep. Vicki BARNETT (D-Farmington Hills) also proposed an amendment that would have required DHS to document behavior, action or other causes before a drug test. It failed without a vote.
Rep. Lisa HOWZE (D-Detroit) spoke against the bill on the floor. She talked about her childhood, growing up with a single mother of five children who was on food stamps.
She asked her colleagues to imagine what it would do to the self-esteem of someone busy trying to provide for their children if they had to take time out of their schedule to take a drug test.
Rep. Dave AGEMA (R-Grandville), speaking in support of the bill, said he had to undergo drug tests while he was in the military and when he was a commercial pilot.
"Taxpayers for years have been frustrated by welfare recipients who have money for drugs, but not for food," Agema said. "Taxpayers deserve to know if their money is being used on drugs. If you have money for drugs, you have money for necessities, and you should not be on assistance."
Rep. Shanelle JACKSON (D-Detroit) asked people to think about the children. She said the legislation shows a lack of understanding for "the reality for a lot of the families receiving FIP assistance."
She said legislators should go back to the drawing board on the concept.
House Majority Floor Leader Jim STAMAS (R-Midland), in a rare move, spoke in support of the bill. He said that it is about the children, and any parent on drugs is not being the parent they need to be.