Lansing follies: Senate passes welfare drug testing program
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 v 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.