WUOMFM

How many welfare recipients have tested positive in Michigan's drug-testing program so far? None.

Jun 23, 2016

Zero. That's how many welfare recipients have tested positive for banned drugs since Michigan started drug testing welfare beneficiaries, according to The Guardian.

Governor Rick Snyder signed the legislation in December 2014, and the one-year pilot program began last fall.

The suspicion-based program covers Allegan, Clinton, and Marquette counties. In these counties, all adults applying for or reapplying for payments from the Family Independence Program -- the state's temporary cash assistance program -- are screened for drug abuse using a 50-question questionnaire.

If the screening prompts state health officials to suspect an applicant uses a controlled substance, the individual must be tested for substance abuse. Under the program, anyone who tests positive is directed to a drug treatment program.

As of May, a total of 303 applicants and recipients have participated in the program and none has tested positive.

We've been here before

This is not the state's first time experimenting with these drug testing requirements. In 1999, Michigan became the first state to try widespread and random drug testing on welfare beneficiaries. The program only lasted about five weeks before the courts stepped in to stop it.

According to the ACLU, of 268 people tested during the five weeks, only 21 tested positive for drugs and all but three were for marijuana. A federal judge ultimately killed the requirement after a four-year legal battle.

The current pilot program is a lot different from the 90's program, but is still facing scrutiny. Rana Elmir is deputy director of the Michigan ACLU chapter. She said in an email to The Guardian:

This program was voluntarily scrapped by the state because it proved to be unproductive and expensive. It is foolish for the state to do the same thing today, yet expect different results. We call on DHHS to end this ineffective program immediately. Not only are they humiliating and potentially unconstitutional, such programs are clearly a flagrant waste of resources that reinforce stereotypes about poor people.

Does drug testing welfare applicants work?

In a December 2014 statement, Gov. Snyder said of the program:

We want to remove the barriers that are keeping people from getting good jobs, supporting their families and living independently. This pilot program is intended to help ensure recipients get the wrap-around services they need to overcome drug addiction and lead successful lives.

Results from states that test government benefit recipients have caught few abusers, and welfare recipients don't seem to be any more likely to use drugs than those not receiving benefits. According to The Daily Beast, one of the most notable failures was in Arizona, which passed drug testing laws in 2009:

In 2012, an evaluation of the program had startling results: After three years and 87,000 screenings, only one person had failed the drug test, with huge costs for the state, which saved a few hundred dollars by denying benefits, compared to the hundreds of thousands spent to conduct the tests.

The states that have tried drug testing of welfare recipients also haven't found they save any money.

Wisconsin Congresswoman Gwen Moore has proposed legislation to require drug tests for tax returns with itemized deductions of more than $150,000, in response to the state's suspicion-based testing of welfare beneficiaries -- what Moore calls a "criminalization of poverty."

"We’re not going to get rid of the federal deficit by cutting poor people off SNAP. But if we are going to drug-test people to reduce the deficit, let’s start on the other end of the income spectrum," Moore told The Guardian.

According to a spokesperson for Moore:

Congresswoman Moore finds it shameful that states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida continue to push these discriminatory policies under the guise of fiscal responsibility. Drug-testing struggling families and individuals as a condition of eligibility for vital, life-saving social services is blatantly unacceptable and the insinuation that those battling poverty are somehow more susceptible to substance abuse is as absurd as it is offensive.

The Michigan pilot program ends September 30, so there's still time before its ultimate effectiveness can be assessed. When it's over, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services will have 60 days to produce a report on its results.

Do you think welfare recipients should be screened for substance abuse?