Unconstitutional, scientifically unsound, fiscally irresponsible, suspicion-based drug testing of welfare recipients comes to Michigan

In what seems like a pretty clear attempt to appease the far right and drive more of Michigan’s poor from the public assistance rolls, Governor Rick Snyder signed legislation on the day after Christmas giving the State the power to collect and test the urine of welfare recipients suspected of using drugs. [“Merry Christmas, welfare queens!”]

The bundle of legislation, which includes House Bill 4118 and Senate Bill 275, allows for a one-year pilot program to be implemented in three as-yet-to-be-determined counties.

Leaving aside for the moment that similar programs have failed miserably elsewhere, I’m curious as to how State officials will be selecting individuals for testing. Will there be specific things they’re looking for? Will they be looking for track marks? Will being pale and disheveled be enough to bring out a piss cop to escort you into the restroom? Will race factor into it? Will a skinny, young black man in drooping pants, for instance, be more susceptible to testing than, say, a middle-aged white man, like myself, wearing a suit? I’d love to read their guidelines as to what a “possible drug user” looks like…

One wonders if they’ll have a book of photos that State employees can refer to when trying to asses if someone looks like a drug addict. And, if so, one wonders if it will include a photo of Congressman Trey Radel of Florida, who was arrested last year for cocaine possession, shortly after he voted in favor of a Republican bill that would allow states to require a clean drug test before making food stamps available to those in need. But he, of course, wasn’t a poor person of low moral character who just chose to indulge in drugs. No, according to him, he was a man struggling with “the disease of alcoholism,” who simply made “a poor choice.” Sure, both he and the food stamp-collecting drug user spent our tax dollars on illegal substances, but the difference, as they say, is black and white.

Earlier, when I mentioned that programs like this “rarely” worked, I misspoke. I don’t think there’s even a single instance of a system like this working anywhere in the United States. In Florida, their program was found unconstitutional. And, in Tennessee, when they decided to test welfare applicants, they found only 1 out 800 to be a user of illegal drugs. If there’s a place where this has actually helped people, and saved a state money, I’ve yet to see it. In Virginia they were smart. They did the math and figured out that the cost of such a program, about $1.5 million, would be over five times the amount that would be saved in unpaid benefits, so they killed it. [Here in Michigan, the Senate Fiscal Agency estimates that a statewide program would cost $700,000 to $3.4 million to run, while saving anywhere from $370,000 to $3.7 million in caseload reductions.]

My guess is that Snyder knows this, and that’s why we’re looking at a three-county rollout and not a new statewide program. This will allow him to say to those on the right that he tried to ferret out those lazy, good-for-nothing, crack-smoking welfare queens without having to actually flush away too much money. And it will probably keep several people who could use assistance from seeking it, which is clearly the objective. This isn’t about finding an addict and getting him help. This is about bullying the average poor person, and letting him know that, if he wants to eat in Michigan, he’s going to have to piss in front of us. It will invariably fail, though, as it has everywhere else. I just hate the fact that we have to go through this charade. We know that this program is, as the folks at the ACLU have so eloquently summed it up, “unconstitutional, scientifically unsound, fiscally irresponsible, and one more way the ‘War on Drugs’ is an unfair war on America’s most vulnerable populations,” but, because rich, white Republicans want it, we’re going to do it anyway. And, when it fails, we’ll just move on to find a new way to demonize the poor during our next lame duck session.

According to research by the Detroit Free Press, “Michigan has roughly 80,000 welfare recipients, 21,000 of them adults age 18 and older who could be subject to drug testing depending on which counties are selected for the pilot.” Assuming this program costs somewhere in the order of $3.4 million to run, should it go statewide, that’s about $162 for each one of these 21,000 people. Just think how much good could be done with that money, if they State really cared about the health and welfare of its citizens, and not just saving money by forcing them from welfare programs.

If I had more time, I’d look into how much the state budgets for the treatment of drug-addicted welfare recipients. My guess is that it’s not too much, though, and that it’s dropping every year. And I suspect that $3.4 million, if directed to such a cause, could be extremely beneficial. But, instead, we’ll single out poor people who look like drug addicts and we’ll have them pee in cups while being watched by State employees. It makes perfect sense, doesn’t it?

And what happens to these people when we kick them off the welfare rolls? Do they just stop eating, wither away, and disappear? Or do they have the audacity to continue living, finding other, perhaps illegal ways, to stay alive? And, if so, one wonders what the costs to society might be as petty theft, prostitution and robbery rise… But surely the Republicans in Lansing have considered this, right?

urineI would never suggest anyone send piss though the mail, as doing so would probably get one labeled a terrorist in today’s America, but I really love the idea that Republican legislators could arrive back to work after the holiday break finding gallons and gallons of angry, stale piss waiting for them… Actually, now that I think about it, maybe mason jars full of water and yellow food coloring would do the trick, sending the message without opening anyone up to prosecution… What do you think?

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  1. Posted December 31, 2014 at 8:54 am | Permalink


  2. Bob Krzewinski
    Posted December 31, 2014 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Lets have anyone getting any kind of government assistance get drug tested. This would mean that if you have any kind of income tax deduction, it will only be approved after you pee in cup.

  3. Posted December 31, 2014 at 9:34 am | Permalink

    These programs do certainly work.

    They help by shoring up the right wing vote for the Republican Party.

  4. Posted December 31, 2014 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    I think we can blame this bill for the closing of Dalat.

  5. Demetrius
    Posted December 31, 2014 at 10:36 am | Permalink

    Another thing to consider: Who will be doing the testing, how much will it cost, and who stands to benefit … ?


  6. John Galt
    Posted December 31, 2014 at 10:43 am | Permalink

    My only problem with this is that only one person will be able to watch our welfare queens pee. I think that should be the right of every tax payer. We should own every secretion made by those on welfare. Every piss, poop, tear and ejaculation should be ours. We should tether these people to a video enabled collection box of some type that we can watch from the comfort of our homes. We should also have the ability to yell at them from our homes. “Get a job, you pooper,” I’d like to scream at the woman down the street, who I think is likely on food stamps.

  7. anonymous
    Posted December 31, 2014 at 11:08 am | Permalink

    Worse yet, Snyder is saying that this is a move to “remove barriers” to services. Orwell would be proud.

  8. Frosted Flakes
    Posted December 31, 2014 at 12:14 pm | Permalink

    My understanding is that it is very easy for drug users to navigate around urine tests and not show up as positive for illegal substances. The idea to link welfare to “passing” a urine test is a phony idea.

  9. BrianB
    Posted December 31, 2014 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    I wonder which will be the 3 pilot counties. Wayne would certainly be the one that republicans would love to see but I’m assuming it would also be the most costly and difficult so not a good pilot. I’m guessing poor rural counties will be first.

  10. Posted December 31, 2014 at 1:16 pm | Permalink

    “I wonder which will be the 3 pilot counties. ”

    Is it hard to guess? The three counties of Michigan with the largest showings of black people.

  11. 734
    Posted December 31, 2014 at 2:24 pm | Permalink

    Rick Snyder
    P.O. Box 30013
    Lansing, Michigan 48909

  12. Posted December 31, 2014 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    We can get 100 specimen bottles for $24 through Amazon… I’m wondering, if I go ahead and buy them, and get some yellow food coloring, if people would meet me somewhere, help fill them up, and mail them to Lansing. Or is this a truly terrible idea? Given the state of the world these days, I wonder if one could be arrested for terrorism, even if it’s clear from the packaging that the bottles just contain water.

  13. John
    Posted December 31, 2014 at 2:53 pm | Permalink

    Are you prepared to triple pack these specimens, label them with a biohazard label and the terms “exempt human specimen”, and meet minimum standards for shipping of potentially infectious substances? I know they are going to be fake, but will the recipient? Think “envelopes with white powder” before executing this plan.

  14. Posted December 31, 2014 at 2:54 pm | Permalink

    Yes, John, I was thinking that very thing. They would have to be marked very clearly. While we’d be using specimen bottles, we wouldn’t want for there to be any possibility that people might think they were real urine samples.

  15. Posted December 31, 2014 at 2:57 pm | Permalink

    Thankfully, I married a graphic designer, and I’m pretty sure she could make up some awesome labels for us that would make the whole thing clear.

  16. Gina R
    Posted December 31, 2014 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Let’s just all go pee on the Capitol steps! And then demand drug tests for all those receiving white collar tax breaks and tax incentives. Fair is fair.

  17. Posted December 31, 2014 at 3:04 pm | Permalink

    If I were a younger man, Gina, and didn’t suffer from shy bladder syndrome, I’d join you.

  18. Posted December 31, 2014 at 3:34 pm | Permalink

    I’m wondering now if you can even send liquids through the mail. If not, maybe we just send empty specimen cups, asking for them to provide urine samples. Maybe that’s a better idea anyway.

  19. Posted December 31, 2014 at 3:39 pm | Permalink

    Now, we just need to decide on the wording for the label? “As a recipient of state funds, we, the people of Michigan, demand to know what drugs you may have consumed. Please fill the enclosed with pee under the watchful eye of a notary public and take it to your nearest… for processing.”

  20. Jcp2
    Posted December 31, 2014 at 4:15 pm | Permalink

    I’m happy to hear that we all do not support drug testing for welfare recipients, but how many of us do not give to panhandlers because of concerns about enabling alcohol and drug use?


  21. Posted December 31, 2014 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    If someone asks me for money to buy beer or cigarettes, I’m usually more likely to give it to them that if they tell me some story about needing gasoline.

  22. Posted December 31, 2014 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    I wonder if this testing will somehow include medical marijuana patients? They could just run a random list of what counties have the highest registered medical patients and cross reference it with a list of people on public assistance and you would know exactly who to test and then legally cut their benefits.

    But, fortunately, with the way that weed is becoming fully legal in many places, I don’t think they are after us. Whew! Hopefully, if they do this testing, they will just be trying to help people with serious meth or crack or heroin problems. Like, if they show up at someone’s camp and there are a bunch of needles and baggies and spoons or burnt up brillo shoved in little fake rose glass tubes….

    I think Ypsi should just legalize marijuana. But, ONLY ORGANIC marijuana. The stuff grown with radioactive chemicals just isn’t good for us. (I also think any food sprayed with life-killing chemicals should be illegal, but that is another topic.)


  23. Posted December 31, 2014 at 7:04 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think the urine sample idea is going to go very far.

  24. General Demitrious
    Posted January 1, 2015 at 11:55 am | Permalink

    There is nothing about being progressive that requires support for the existing welfare system. As a progressive, my goal is to make it work.

    Not every recipient of welfare will have to pass a drug test. The intention is only to test those who are suspected of illegal drug use. While the honesty of this intention remains to be seen, in practice, why would this not be a benefit? Someone who is on drugs, cannot feed themselves or their dependents, and/or cannot keep a roof over their head, could probably benefit from some direct intervention.

    Why, as a progressive would you not support this? If we had molded this law more to our liking, rather than drawn the usual line in the sand, it may very well have had the chance to help a lot of people.

  25. Posted January 1, 2015 at 2:11 pm | Permalink

    “Why, as a progressive would you not support this? If we had molded this law more to our liking, rather than drawn the usual line in the sand, it may very well have had the chance to help a lot of people.”

    Because the potential for abuse is immense.

  26. AnotherGodBeDamnedIdiot
    Posted January 2, 2015 at 12:42 am | Permalink

    A crotchcam should be mandated, implanted, and financed by fuckstick Governor Snyder to capture every possible human effluent that may be determined to be illegal.

  27. Posted January 13, 2015 at 11:15 pm | Permalink

    I never followed through on the idea of sending piss cups to our elected officials. I think it was an awesome idea, but I just didn’t have the time, or, for that matter, the money to order said cups, etc. I’m sorry. The good news is, someone else did it, in Wisconsin. Our friend Thom Elliott just sent a link.

  28. Meta
    Posted February 10, 2015 at 2:08 pm | Permalink

    Out of 16,000 tested in Tennessee, only 37 drug users identified.

    Less than one half of one percent of Tennesseeans who applied for public assistance flunked a drug test in the first six months of the state’s experiment with drug screenings for welfare recipients, according to recently released state figures.

    Out of more than 16,000 applicants from the beginning of July through the end of 2014, just 37 tested positive for illegal drug use. While that amounts to roughly 13 percent of the 279 applicants who the state decided to test based on their answers to a written questionnaire about drug use, the overall rate among applicants is just 0.2 percent.

    Such an infinitesimal rate of drug use among welfare applicants contrasts sharply with the state’s overall 8 percent rate of drug use. Across the country, states that implement drug tests for low-income families have found that economically vulnerable people are less likely than the general population to use drugs. Utah spent $30,000 on tests that caught just 12 drug users, for a positive rate of 0.2 percent of total benefits recipients, compared to 6 percent of all state residents who use drugs. Before a judge ruled Florida’s drug testing system was illegal, it had turned up a drug use rate of just 2 percent among public assistance users, compared to 8 percent of its total population.

    Read more:

  29. Frosted Flakes
    Posted February 10, 2015 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    What form of drug test? How was the drug test administered? Urine tests are very easy to dupe.

  30. Posted February 10, 2015 at 8:05 pm | Permalink

    Yes, I’m sure they were all using fake urine. We should biopsy their brains and give them spinal taps.

  31. Frosted Flakes
    Posted February 10, 2015 at 9:22 pm | Permalink

    It is not practical to use urine tests as an indicator of whether not someone is a drug user. Hair or nail tests are much more expensive but harder to falsify. It doesn’t matter however, because the drug testing policy in Tennessee is political in motivation and not motivated by practical concerns….It is silly to conclude that .2 percent of welfare recipients are drug users. Simply ridiculous…

  32. Jcp2
    Posted February 10, 2015 at 10:33 pm | Permalink

    Let’s just assume that the percentage of people using drugs that need welfare is approximately the same as those that do not. Why would we treat them any differently? We all receive help from the government in some form or another. I’m not drug tested to see if I qualify for my mortgage tax deduction, which is far greater than any welfare check might be.

  33. Frosted Flakes
    Posted February 11, 2015 at 3:33 am | Permalink


    The policy of tying drug tests to the receiving of welfare is a horrible idea not just because it is wildly impractical but also because it is immoral. I would like to think if someone has a drug problem there would be other ways to intervene rather than to strip away their food and shelter…However, the thinkprogress.org sloppily concludes/ spins the idea that that compared to the general public the drug use rate amongst welfare recipients in minuscule–1 in 500 in Tennessee–and that is silly.

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