Should all welfare recipients be drug tested?

UPDATE Monday, February 28, 2011

Can Michigan afford to drug test all welfare recipients? Check out the numbers and decide for yourself.


Should all Michigan welfare recipients be drug-tested?

Some say "yes" in light of the state's budget problems.

While others say, you can't sacrifice constitutional freedoms for any reason, even to save money.

In 1999, Michigan became the first state in the country to implement random drug testing for welfare recipients and require all new applicants to be tested.

The American Civil Liberties Union immediately jumped in.

"It's not a crime to be poor and welfare recipients shouldn't be treated like they're criminals," says Michael Steinberg, legal director of the ACLU of Michigan.

The ACLU says mandatory drug testing welfare recipients is a violation of the fourth amendment which includes, "The right of the people to be secure in their persons...against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probably cause..."

"That's the legal theory. In order to search somebody, to require them to urinate in a cup, you need probably cause and a warrant as a general matter," says Steinberg.

However, others see it another way.

Stacy Swimp, president of the Frederick Douglass Foundation of Michigan says, "Don't you think that you're sending a wrong message to someone who you're giving something to and requiring nothing of?"

Certain businesses require applicants pass a drug test for employment. Swimp says that should go for welfare recipients too.

"They're employed by public citizens still working and paying taxes to provide their services. If that's the case like many employers, you want to know you're getting some kind of responsibility for the people you employ."

Opponents of mandatory drug testing say it's stereotypical to assume welfare recipients are more likely to abuse drugs.

"Welfare recipients do not abuse drugs at any greater rate than the general population," says Steinberg.

NPR cited the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration as saying 9.6% of people living in households that receive government assistance used illicit drugs in February of 2010. The rate was 6.8% among families who receive no assistance.

That same report says 10% of Michigan welfare recipients tested positive for illicit drugs, with 3-percent testing positive for hard drugs like cocaine.

Supporters of mandatory drug testing say it's a way of truly helping people.

"We're not talking about criminalizing all Americans who are on welfare, but we're saying we do have enough of a recognizable or measurable problem that we need to address it," says Swimp.

Federal courts struck down Michigan's drug testing law in 2003 saying it is unconstitutional, but the debate rages on.

What do you think?

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