Lansing follies: Senate passes welfare drug testing program

March 20, 2014
(source: Wikimedia Commons)

(source: Wikimedia Commons)

It’s not too often you’ll hear us agreeing with Nolan Finley of The Detroit News, but he makes a great point in his column today: Michigan roads are in such piss-poor shape that potential business investors are being scared off. Tapping additional funds for road repairs has, ostensibly, been one of Republican Gov. Rick Snyder’s main targets since last year.

That has gone nowhere. Here’s a good example that brilliantly displays the level of progress made on road funding: Asked Tuesday of his thoughts on a possible new proposal emerging, House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) offered this meaningless response:

“I think we need to build a solution, and a solution doesn’t happen all at once,” House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Marshall) said Tuesday. “It happens one step at a time. We’ve taken some of those steps, and I think we need to continue to build more.”

You think? Pal, there’s no thinking involved anymore. If Nolan Finley is suggesting we tax ourselves to fill potholes, then we’re well past the thinking stage. I mean, really, Jase, have you seen this pothole?

Which brings me to my main point. Today, the Michigan Senate passed a bill that would require suspicion-based drug testing for welfare applicants – because priorities, you know?

It’s not just some lefty do-gooders who hate this kind of novel idea. I’ll let the non-partisan Senate Fiscal Agency explain Michigan’s dumb past with drug testing welfare applicants in their analysis of the bill (HB 4118) from last summer:

In 1999, Michigan began a pilot program of random drug testing in certain areas of the State.  The program required applicants to pass a substance abuse test as a condition of receiving [welfare] benefits.  Applicants who tested positive had to participate in substance abuse assessment and comply with a required substance abuse treatment plan.  If an applicant failed or refused to take a test, or failed to comply with a treatment plan, without good cause, benefits were generally denied or terminated.

In 2000, a U.S. District Court found Michigan’s pilot program unconstitutional (Marchwinski Howard, 113 F. Supp. 2d 1134).  The Court held that, in the absence of individualized suspicion, the State had not demonstrated a “special need” that satisfied the U.S. Constitution’s Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable searches.  The Court found that the goals of TANF and FIP were generally to provide financial support to needy families and increase recipient independence.  Since neither program was designed to advance a special need such as public safety, the State had not justified singling out FIP applicants and recipients for suspicionless drug testing.  Ultimately, an equally divided panel of the U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the District Court’s ruling.

Many people continue to believe that individuals should not receive public assistance if they use illegal drugs, and suggest that Michigan should implement a program of suspicion-based drug testing of FIP applicants and recipients.

The state Senate apparently thinks that by setting up a pilot program in three counties, we, the taxpayers, will be flabbergasted by the savings it will generate.

Well, that’s not the case. For example, Florida tried out a similar program that delivered minimal results — only 2.6 percent of applicants tested were found to have been using narcotics. With an average screening cost of $35, the Sunshine State’s taxpayers forked over more than $118,000 to support the program, delivering a net loss of $45,000. 

Arizona’s program drew even worse results: Officials contended the program, implemented in 2009, would save the state $1.7 million a year. Three years later, after 89,000 applicants were screened, only one person tested positive for narcotics. But, hey, fuck that guy, right?

So we have potholes the size of the moon, but Lansing feels a more urgent issue to address is the nonexistent problem of addicts using their welfare checks to buy drugs. Come on.

As Salon notes, the thinking behind this sham goes: taxpayers support welfare programs, welfare recipients use drugs, so therefore we need to protect taxpayer dollars from welfare recipients who use drugs. Yeah, some people who receive welfare assistance use drugs. But here’s the thing:

“…So do people from every socioeconomic level. People on welfare also receive taxpayer money. But so do people from every socioeconomic level. If the goal is to stop people from potentially using taxpayer money to purchase illegal substances then we should apply these programs to every person receiving government funds.”

We should. When Sen. Bert Johnson (D-Detroit) proposed an amendment that would force lawmakers to also take a drug test — those people who draw pensions and health care benefits off the backs of taxpayers —  it should’ve been passed.

But, it wasn’t. Remember, it’s not about state lawmakers.

And that’s too bad. I seem to recall a Florida state representative who resigned last year after being charged with cocaine possession, who earlier voted to require drug tests for food stamp applicants. What a guy.

The bill still needs to head back to the state House for a vote. We can only hope House Speaker Bolger believes this bill is a “solution” that requires some more thought. That is, perhaps it should be left to die in the House chambers.

In the meantime, we really could use some help with those roads.

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  • javierjuanmanuel

    Look at studies about the percent of people that use drugs. Does the author believe people getting free money, use it more wisely? Or could it be that people on drugs know they will fail and do not take the test.

    By the way, one person on welfar, pretty commonly will get 12-14k. It costs 45-55k for them to be on there because of all the hand holding government workers and administration. No doubt a couple hundred people, if not thousands did not attempt to get on welfare. It would only take 20 people at 55k to equal 1.1 million.

    Anyways what is the point of this, that people are owed free money, to take illegal drugs, sit around, not try to get a job (where people have to pass drug tests by the way), and then we can send costly cops and federal agents all over the place trying to bust drug dealers, that are supported very nicely by people on welfare spending their money on drugs?

    People on welfare should not even be buying alcohol or cigarettes. The idea that people support them buying drugs is crazy.

  • jj

    Follow the money and see who owns these testing facilities, then you’ll have a real story

  • Krystal Wilson

    I buy food stamps from someone on Welfare for 50 cents on the dollar. I hope they don’t get caught or these goes my cheap meal ticket.

  • javierjuanmanuel

    why does one of my posts say its waiting moderation for an hour and there are two new posts by other people ?

  • javierjuanmanuel

    ill try it with out the link to a gov web site. You can search on it yourself.

    in 2012, an estimated 23.9 million Americans aged 12 or older—or 9.2
    percent of the population—had used an illicit drug or abused a
    psychotherapeutic medication (such as a pain reliever, stimulant, or
    tranquilizer) in the past month. This is up from 8.3 percent in 2002.
    The increase mostly reflects a recent rise in the use of marijuana, the
    most commonly used illicit drug.

    So you basically believe they are better people? Looks like you have spent no time in the hood, and know zero social workers.

    A good 30% of the people in the hood are on drugs. That is just reality.

  • javierjuanmanuel

    well they existed before this program, so whats your point. Its not like they legislated the industry into existence.

    Also if everyone else in private industry jobs has to take tests, again, whats your point. Its like say look who owns the X that the government buys poor people. Mind you its something that everyone needs to use.

    Nice conspiracy theory.

  • Z54

    OK ,if people on public assistance are going to have to take drug tests, then our politicians should be the first ones in line!

  • Mucking_Forons

    Republicans it’s time to stop calling yourselves fiscal conservatives.

  • Edjusyou

    Three words – PART TIME LEGISLATURE. Those clowns in Lansing have too much time on their hands and are collecting too much money for it. I’m not in favor of drug testing anyone for anything. By the way, does their drug testing plan include alcohol? Are our elected officials who take public money going to be peeing in a cup to see if they qualify for public funds? Anyhow, please support a part time legislature for Michigan so the state can spend money on the things that benefit the citizens.

  • Steve

    I keep trying to “join the discussion” but they keep disappearing, not sure why its happening or how.

  • Steve

    Who is going to “police” it? The government? They did the tough on crime politically correct thing about a year ago by passing a law that states if you have warrants out for your arrest, your bridge card gets turned off. Hasn’t happened, social services doesn’t have the manpower to track down all these people.
    So, where will the money come for drug testing? The taxpayers. The welfare recipient’s won’t be paying for it. Then, if they are in violation what is the next step?
    This is an example of government chasing its own tail, bondoggle program chasing boondoggle program.
    If we had government surplus store, instead of credit card that people can sell and manipulate it would be cheaper.
    Adding drug testing mandates to a program already adrift in its own beaureacratic nightmare will not “solve” the problem.
    Because, the problem is government, its easy for elected officials to keep hating poor people, and firing up people based on “handouts” what that does is keeps your eye off the ball, while they pad their pockets and steal us blind. Even with The Nerd in office, the working people are getting the pipes put to us, the poor people are made into scapegoats, the cheats cannot be caught and the cycle of stupid government, by the governed continues.

  • Matt

    This is what needs to happen.

    Marijuana needs to be legalized for recreational use, all those imprisoned for marijuana-related charges released immediately, sorry sucks to be them, but hey, it was a law when they were sent there.

    After this, tax the shit out of it like booz or smokes, a side-effect will be improving quality/purity of the weed (which isn’t a huge issue, but eh, added bonus), thus increasing revenue on the state level.

    Another side-effect of releasing those imprisoned is that we no longer have to pay for them to sit in prison, I remember reading somewhere it’s about 40k/yr per inmate, so….even if there are only 100 inmates released we’re talking about 4 million dollars we don’t have to spend every year that we can spend on oh, I don’t know, our fucking roads.

    That being said, I don’t think welfare recips should be allowed to misuse narcotics and receive taxpayer money. I don’t believe in a state-funded long-term welfare program except for the disabled but realize this isn’t a perfect world and private charity alone doesn’t cut it.

    Tl;dr version:

    Legalize pot, release pot-related inmates, use money to fix our roads, welfare has good intentions, but misused.