Surprising absolutely no one, Michigan’s testing of welfare recipients for drug use has yielded zero results

I posted the following on December 28, 2014, in a post titled “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?

Well, the results are now in. The following comes from a Guardian article titled “Michigan’s drug-testing welfare program has yielded zero positive results so far“.

Not a single welfare recipient or applicant has tested positive for banned drugs in a Michigan pilot program, part of the growing practice of screening beneficiaries of government assistance for drug abuse.

The program, which ends on 30 September, may face renewed scrutiny in the wake of Wisconsin congresswoman Gwen Moore’s proposed legislation to force taxpayers with more than $150,000 of itemized deductions to submit to the IRS a clear drug test. Under the legislation, applicants who refuse the test would be required to take the significantly lower standard deduction when filing their taxes.

Moore’s office said drug-testing welfare recipients and applicants is “blatantly unacceptable” and pushes a stereotype that impoverished individuals are more susceptible to substance abuse than other, wealthier individuals who are beneficiaries of government programs.

“Congresswoman Moore finds it shameful that states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Florida continue to push these discriminatory policies under the guise of fiscal responsibility,” Moore’s communications director, Eric Harris, told the Guardian.

“Drug-testing struggling families and individuals as a condition of eligibility for vital, life-saving social services is blatantly unacceptable and the insinuation that those battling poverty are somehow more susceptible to substance abuse is as absurd as it is offensive.”

The Michigan program began last October and covers Allegan, Clinton and Marquette counties. As of May, a total of 303 applicants and recipients for the state’s Family Independence Program, which provides temporary cash assistance, have participated in the pilot program. Zero have tested positive, the state said. When the program concludes, the state department of health and human services has 60 days to produce a report on its results.

Michigan’s governor, Rick Snyder, who signed legislation in December 2014 to launch the pilot program, declined to comment on the results so far…

One wonders just how much we wasted on this little exercise that we could have spent on educating our youth or housing the homeless… Good work, Snyder.

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  1. Dan
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 7:47 am | Permalink

    “the insinuation that those battling poverty are somehow more susceptible to substance abuse”

    That really has nothing to do with the bill, and is clearly just a biased statement to try to demonize the supporters of the bill.

    The entire idea behind these bills is to prevent recipients from using drugs. It is a useless cause, though, as it is not difficult to pass a urine test even if you do use drugs, and if money is on the line, you can be sure someone would do whatever is necessary to pass the test.

    If you honestly think that zero welfare recipients are smoking weed, then you are high. Im not saying the % of them that do is any higher than the rest of the population, but it’s nonsense to act like they dont. Most supporters of these bills are basically just pissed that the govt is giving them money for necessities but somehow they have enough money to buy weed. Personally, I dont care. Make weed legal and the problem goes away

  2. Scott Trudeau
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 8:44 am | Permalink

    Why target welfare recipients, only? They’re not the only beneficiaries of government subsidies. Why not test recipients of the mortgage interest tax deduction (a huge handout to mostly affluent people)? Child tax credits (a stoned parent is not a good parent)? This seems anchored in stereotypes about the poor and, given the very predictable results, more about a moralistic desire to punish people for being poor than to either save the government money or actually help people.

  3. kjc
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 8:57 am | Permalink

    “Most supporters of these bills are basically just pissed that the govt is giving them money for necessities but somehow they have enough money to buy weed.”

    and the evidence for these perceptions is nil but the supporters rely on their prejudices to form their worldview so really really need to believe this shit. and get over the weed issue for god’s sake. this fucking country is self-medicated, mostly with alcohol and prescription drugs. the poor aren’t your problem. it’s your ignorance, stupid.

  4. Dan
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 9:15 am | Permalink

    Test anyone you want, i dont care. But there is a big difference between a tax deduction and a monthly check. A deduction is not a “hand out.” It’s a reduction in what you are PAYING the government for nonsense like this.

  5. Dan
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 9:17 am | Permalink

    another fine post by kjc. Try reading next time.

  6. Denise Heberle
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 9:47 am | Permalink

    Kinda makes me want to go piss on the Statehouse steps. I mean, more than most days.

  7. wobblie
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 2:29 pm | Permalink

    the article in the Guardian states that this is the 2nd. time the state has engaged in this foolishness. Since most users of pot, now have medical marijuana cards, it is no longer a banned substance in Michigan. The first time they did random testing. 8% were using drugs–almost all pot. Now they can only test on “suspicion”, ie. if you are stupid enough to answer the questionnaire in such a way that they suspect you are using illegal drugs you get tested—a total complete waste of money and time. Despite $300,000 being appropriated the state says they have only spent $300.

  8. CGB
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 6:27 pm | Permalink

    But it feels so good to pretend you are superior and their misfortune is due to some dereliction. If they need welfare through no fault of their own– it could be me! And that is too frightening, even if it’s true.

  9. Anonymous Facebooker
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 9:20 pm | Permalink

    Or did the program actually work and force people to stop using in order to get assistance for their families. Anybody getting any free money that comes from my taxes should be subject to random drug testing.

  10. Demetrius
    Posted June 22, 2016 at 10:36 pm | Permalink

    @ Facebooker

    “Anybody getting any free money that comes from my taxes should be subject to random drug testing.”

    I agree. I’m looking forward to having executives from ExxonMobil, General Electric, FedEx, Pfizer, and Verizon get ready to pee in a cup.

  11. John Galt
    Posted June 23, 2016 at 7:11 am | Permalink

    The poor should not have televisions. They should not have cell phone. They should be tethered to machines that extract blood plasma and chemicals of use to the rest of us.

  12. wobblie
    Posted June 23, 2016 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    John, you will pay them right–this way they can pull themselves up by their own capillary tubes and strive to be middle class.

  13. Lynne
    Posted June 23, 2016 at 10:56 am | Permalink

    One of the things I find interesting is that this is an area where I find common ground with libertarians. I am a socialist and want a universal basic income or guaranteed minimum income that every citizen is entitled to no matter what. That hits my buttons for equality and how to make our economy work for the most people. Libertarians like it because if it replaces all of the other social welfare programs, it actually results in smaller government and one where the government stays out of people’s personal lives as much as possible. You would never see support for drug testing to be part of a basic income for the same reason you will never see drug testing for Social Security benefits, income tax credits, or other sorts of payouts which tend to go to the middle class.

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