Michigan has become the latest U.S. state to approve the controversial practice of testing welfare recipients for substance abuse. In a one-year pilot program signed into law Friday by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, welfare recipients suspected of substance abuse will be required to submit to a drug test or lose their benefits eligibility for six months.
The legislation passed the Michigan House of Representatives earlier this month despite pushback from Democrats and criticism from some in the local press who say the concept unfairly stigmatizes the poor as drug addicts.
The suspicion-based program will be rolled out in three yet-to-be named counties. Under the law, welfare applicants will be screened for suspicion of drug abuse using an “empirically validated substance abuse screening tool,” which the legislation does not describe in detail.
As the AP reported Friday, recipients who test positive for controlled substances will be referred to state treatment programs and must pass a future drug test before having their benefits restored.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 11 states over the last four years have enacted legislation that allows for the drug testing of welfare recipients and applicants. The federal government paved the way for the practice with welfare reform in 1996. States began proposing mandatory drug testing shortly after, but many early proposals failed to pass.
In the late 1990s, Michigan enacted the country’s first law requiring drug tests for welfare recipients. But following a legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union -- and the ACLU of Michigan -- a federal judge struck down the law as unconstitutional, mainly because it relied on random testing without suspicion of drug use.
The new legislation was more carefully crafted, allowing for drug testing only upon “reasonable suspicion.” It was sponsored by Michigan Rep. Jeff Farrington, Republican of Utica, who told the AP earlier this month, “People want to make sure that we give a hand up to those in need, but they're tired of giving their tax dollars to people that waste it on drugs.”