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Poor, But Sober: Michigan Fails to Find Addicts on Welfare

— December 2, 2016

In December of 2014, Michigan Governor Rick Snyder (R) passed a law that would allow the state to conduct drug tests on welfare recipients suspected of abusing illegal substances while receiving government benefits. Beginning in October 2015, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (MDHHA) conducted a year-long pilot project based on the law, which concluded on September 30, 2016. Out of the 14 people actually screened, only one recipient “was found by a clinician to have a reasonable suspicion of use of a controlled substance and required a substance use (drug) test.” However, that case was closed for unidentified reasons before any action was taken. The fact the project was conducted at all shows an extremely troubling disconnect between how those with power and wealth consistently view those who don’t.

Poverty does not equate to substance abuse or lack of motivation. It never has, and it never will.

The program, which is based solely on suspicion, was put in place in the counties of Clinton, Marquette, and Allegan; any adult who applied or re-applied for temporary cash assistance from Michigan’s Family Independence Agency (FIP) during the study was required to undergo a drug screening in the form of a 50-question survey. Based on the applicants’ answers, health officials were then given the right to determine who they believed were most likely drug abusers and demand they undergo urinalysis testing. Anyone who tested positive would then be ordered to undergo substance abuse counseling in order to maintain their benefits.

 Drug test urine container; image courtesy of America Now

Drug test urine container; image courtesy of America Now

The only problem is, no one who was subjected to the forced participation violated policy. NOT ONE recipient. Of the initial 443 people who applied for or were receiving cash assistance during the 12 month period in the aforementioned counties, only 27 of them were identified as ‘potential’ drug users. Of those 27, however, 10 were already receiving help through Community Mental Health and three additional individuals were excluded for other reasons, leaving the pool of those screened at a mere 14. Of those 14, the one individual found to be of ‘reasonable suspicion’ agreed to submit to a drug test, though the report indicated their case was closed “for an unrelated reason prior to the submission of the test.”

The state of Michigan claims to have only spent $700 on the program, which did not include “increased staffing, administrative costs, administrative hearings, and program changes to the electronic benefits application system Bridges.” Had it been statewide, the costs would have reached millions.

The desire to require mandatory drug testing for welfare recipients is nothing new; most conservatives believe in the perpetuation of the ages-old stereotype that those who seek government assistance must be addicts, criminals or somehow deficient in other ways, because otherwise they would have good jobs and be able to provide for themselves and their families. It’s a ridiculous and cruel myth that’s been recycled over and over to justify a self-righteous belief their tax dollars shouldn’t have to go toward helping those who aren’t in a position to help themselves.

Tell me that part about how all babies should be born but the national minimum wage shouldn’t be increased; how we need to put the ‘Christ’ back in ‘Christmas’, and how important ‘family values’ are again? I know the Golden Rule, but I certainly can’t find any evidence of it here.

Bob Wheaton, who serves as MDHHS’s Communications Manager, said of the pilot program, “Our primary motivation for doing this is to help people who do have issues, so they can find employment. If we’ve found someone has an issue and needs to undergo treatment, it’s because drug use could be a barrier to future job opportunities that would help a recipient stop relying on benefits.”

‘Find employment’? ‘Future job opportunities’? Good luck. Our government is designed to kick people when they’re down and further suppress the already oppressed. Anyone who believes otherwise is dreadfully misguided. I could list the countless reasons why, but what’s the point? Deaf hears don’t hear.

The fact is, just because a person may be cash poor, it doesn’t mean they are poor in character, work ethic or desire to create a brighter future. On the same note, just because a person is cash rich doesn’t mean they are rich in character, work ethic or desire to create a brighter future. How, particularly at this point in time, does anyone have trouble understanding this?


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

Drug testing of welfare clients fails to yield any positive drug tests

Michigan’s Effort To Drug Test Welfare Recipients Catches Zero Bad Actors

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