Michigan, which is fast becoming Florida without the year-round warm weather, becomes just the latest in a long line of states to use a program that screens welfare recipients for drug use. And while the one-year pilot program requires the Department of Human Services to screen only those suspected, we know who the majority of the “suspects” are going to be.
The program, which will be launched in three counties by October of 2015, would apply to residents enrolled in or applying for the Family Independence Program. A recipient suspected of drug use and who failed an initial test would be referred to a treatment program. And while I can support that — it’s a step towards treating drug addiction as a disorder and illness rather than a personal failing — I can’t support the penalty for failing a second test: termination of benefits.
This is the second time Michigan has implemented a welfare recipient drug testing plan; the first time was in 1999, federal courts struck it down as unconstitutional. What makes this one different, however, is that it’s a “suspicion-based” program, and such “suspicion-based” programs have survived in other states. The new Michigan Law requires “an empirically validated substance abuse screening tool” to be employed prior flagging individuals as “suspect.”
Speaking of the law, Snyder said on Friday that, “We want to remove the barriers that are keeping people from getting good jobs, supporting their families and living independently,” and, “This pilot program is intended to help ensure recipients get the wrap-around services they need to overcome drug addiction and lead successful lives. We’ll then have opportunity to assess effectiveness and outcomes.”
The potential fiscal impact of the pilot program isn’t immediately clear, but according to MLive, the DHS is required to report results and costs back to the Legislature. The cost of a statewide program could vary between $700,000 and $2.4 million, according to the non-partisan Senate Fiscal Agency, which said that any costs or savings from the pilot version would depend on the counties selected and the number of recipients that lose benefits — which is the whole point of a program like this.