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Dallas Wiertella
Dallas Wiertella
Multimedia Editor

Through my experience here at the North Wind I have been able to have the privilege of highlighting students through all forms of multimedia journalism. Whether I'm in front or behind the camera, I aim...

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The North Wind is an independent student publication serving the Northern Michigan University community. It is partially funded by the Student Activity Fee. The North Wind digital paper is published daily during the fall and winter semesters except on university holidays and during exam weeks. The North Wind Board of Directors is composed of representatives of the student body, faculty, administration and area media.

NMU CARES — President Brock Tessman shares his feelings on the universitys new CARE Team. Photo Courtesy of Northern Michigan University
Letter to the Editor — Our New CARE Team
Brock TessmanFebruary 23, 2024

Michigan’s misguided efforts to weed out welfare bums

Drug test the poor because they’re poor. That’s what the Michigan legislature agreed to do. Beyond that, Michigan’s congress decided suspicion is reason enough.

Michael Williams
Michael Williams

In early December, on the heels of Congress’ “lame-duck session,” both the Republican-led congress and Gov. Rick Snyder passed legislation to implement a trial period for drug testing welfare recipients.

This pilot program will allow Department of Human Services (DHS) caseworkers to drug-test recipients of the Family Independence Program (FIP) if the caseworkers suspect recipients are using drugs.

As mass media will demonstrate to you, poor people use drugs. Poor neighborhoods breed drug abuse. Hustle and maintain, make your margins.

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Poor people don’t want to work, else why are they poor? Rich people don’t do drugs, else how’d they get rich?

Michigan is actually the first state to experiment with drug testing welfare recipients. Fifteen years ago, the Michigan legislature thought it a good idea, but federal courts determined the program unconstitutional. Last year, a Florida judge deemed a similar program a violation of the Fourth Amendment. (That is, the amendment that protects you from warrantless searches and seizures.)

I’ll admit, there’s something that sounds like justice here—no one in good mind would desire taxes turned into welfare benefits be used for buying meth or rock or even weed. We can’t enable diseased populations to continue their dependency—at least, if that were the case.

Time reports “in Tennessee, where drug testing was enacted for welfare recipients [in 2014], only one person in the 800 who applied for help tested positive. In Florida, during the four months the state tested for drug use, only 2.6 percent of applicants tested positive.

Meanwhile, Florida has an illegal drug use rate of eight percent, meaning far fewer people on services are using drugs than their better-off counterparts.”

Michigan’s average drug use rate, including marijuana, is just under nine percent. I can think of no reason Michigan welfare recipients would be likely to consume illicit drugs at a higher rate than Florida’s recipients. (And if I lived in Florida, I’d want to do drugs.)

Michigan will test the efficacy of this program with three pilot counties, yet to be determined. What grounds cause suspicion is unclear. Presumably, past drug offenses make the cut.

What we know is that the Department of Human Services will use a drug-screening program for recipients of FIP. If an applicant fails the screening, they will test for narcotics. If they refuse the test, their benefits will freeze for six months.

Applicants or recipients who fail the drug test will be admitted to treatment, or their benefits will stop.

We allocate funds to schools, police departments, struggling students, lawmakers, etc. And yet, the only people required to prove their sobriety are the poor. This sounds like criminalizing poverty.

What’s more, research suggests drug addictions are low on the list of roadblocks to self-sufficiency. Despite Gov. Snyder’s insistence, this measure is necessary to removing “barriers that are keeping people from getting good jobs, supporting their families and living independently,” his logic is founded on stereotypes surrounding poverty.

Harold Pollack, a poverty policy and public health researcher at the University of Chicago, reported in the Washington Post that “depression, physical health problems and limited education were actually more common barriers to self-sufficiency and social functioning” than drugs.

Legislation like this conveys poverty as a choice, linked directly to buying drugs. It sounds benevolent by mandating treatment. It does not, however, provide assistance with other barriers to financial independence.

By Pollack’s research, funding depression treatment would be an equally sensible measure. But that idea is probably too touchy-feely for Michigan’s congress.

Fiscally and morally, this legislation sounds encouraging before critical consideration. Mlive.com reports the pilot program alone could cost up to $750,000. Though costs would decline as individuals are dropped or denied, “substance abuse treatment for first offenses could offset any savings,” rendering the fiscal advantages nil.

The Michigan Senate Fiscal Agency estimates a statewide program could cost over $3 million, but potentially save as much in caseloads. If we’re lucky, we’ll break even.

Two legislators advanced equalizing measures to ensure this bill not rely on stereotypes.

Rep. Jon Switalski (D) suggested an amendment drug testing lawmakers, while Rep. Tom McMillin (R) advised testing executives at companies receiving state subsidies.

Both representatives failed.

Doesn’t it make sense to mandate drug testing for the people who can actually afford good drugs? Oh, right, they’re public servants. After watching “Wolf of Wall Street,” I’d rather see every CEO piss test than people choosing between food and electric bills.

It appears the Michigan legislature would rather rely on stigmas about desperate populations than, y’know, logic.

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