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Law requiring random drug testing of certain welfare recipients will get another test

Courtesy of Minnesota House Public Information Services
Rep. Rena Moran plans to introduce a bill to modify a state law that mandates random drug testing of welfare recipients who have been recently convicted of a drug felony.

Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, said this week that her first order of business for the 2014 legislative session will be to introduce a bill to modify a state law that mandates random drug testing of welfare recipients who have been recently convicted of a drug felony.

Rep. Rena Moran

The law has been on the books since 1997, but was buttressed with more enforcement powers in 2012 as part of the state’s Health and Human Services Omnibus Bill.

Moran said the law burdens an already stressed county welfare system, costs more time and money than it will save, concerns a fraction of welfare recipients, and encourages the general public to view welfare recipients through a “negative lens.”

“There are so many other and better ways to support families,” she said.

The law requires random testing of anyone who has had a felony drug conviction in the previous 10 years. For failing a drug test once, a recipient’s benefits are reduced by 30 percent. For failing a drug test twice, a recipient is permanently disqualified from receiving assistance for cash and food. The law applies to those receiving benefits under the state’s General Assistance, Minnesota Supplemental Aid, Diversionary Work, Minnesota Family Investment, and Work Participation Cash Benefit programs.

Law strengthened in 2012

The law was strengthened in 2012 with a measure that requires data sharing about convicted drug felons between the state Corrections and Human Services departments.

Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, who introduced the data-sharing bill, said he welcomes further debate of the law. “Bring it on,” he said. “My purpose was to get the government to do what the law was already instructing them to do. The role of county welfare officials is to follow the law, not to redefine it according to what they think is best.”

Rep. Steve Drazkowski

Drazkowski said his further purpose is to prevent welfare fraud, which he said is “huge” in his district. “We don’t want to see well-intended and generous welfare dollars that are intended for kids to be used for drugs instead,” he said. Any costs associated with drug testing, he said, “should be subtracted from any future welfare payments.”

According to the state Department of Human Services, there were 93,823 welfare cases in 2013, involving 167,047 people (including children). Of those, 2,700 people had been convicted of a drug felony in the previous 10 years. Further, of those, 71.4 percent had a chemical dependency diagnosis and 68.8 percent had a diagnosis of serious mental illness.

Advocacy groups support change

Moran said her proposal has the broad support of advocacy groups for those who are low-income, homeless, and/or who have mental-health or substance-use disorders.

“The problem is two-part,” said Jessica Webster, a staff attorney with the Legal Services Advocacy Project in Minnesota who is helping to craft changes to the law: “There is no funding for the testing, and no funding to help people get treatment if they were to test positive. This is not the way we treat people who are suffering from an illness – to try to make their lives worse.” In addition, she said, her organization has always had “serious constitutional concerns” about the law.

Moran said her proposed legislation will give counties discretionary powers by changing such words as “shall” and “must” to “may,” leaving it up to them to decide whether or not to impose drug testing. She said a draft will be ready by the pre-filing deadline of Monday, Jan. 13. No official action can be taken until the session begins on Tuesday, Feb. 25. 

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Comments (5)

  1. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 01/08/2014 - 08:52 am.

    If This Was A Problem, It Might Be Justified

    But the reality is, it’s NOT a problem, and in the very rare cases where it is, random drug testing represents the very worst, most destructive approach to seeking to address the issue of the very few impoverished people who turn to drugs to relieve the everyday stress of their lives.

    Furthermore it costs a LOT of money without providing any benefit, which makes it a prime example of WASTE in the state government.

    What it REALLY is, is the typical “conservative” psychologically dysfunctional approach to their discomfort with the reality that poor people actually EXIST, not by recognizing their plight and seeking to help them, which would be a normal, healthy response,…

    but by punishing those people (which today’s “conservatives” seek to do in a very wide variety of ways).

    The reality is, when you are incapable of experiencing or expressing empathy and compassion, you have NO IDEA what the issues of other people’s lives are, and thus have NO CLUE how to help them.

    Because of our “conservative” friends’ dysfunctions, their only approach to those less fortunate than themselves is to blame those people for not being exactly like those “conservatives” i.e. all “those people’s” problems would be solved if they were just exactly like me.

    Far too often our “conservative” friends don’t have any idea what the problems of our society and state (or even their own lives) are, and thus they don’t even have the slightest inkling of how to go about addressing those problems.

  2. Submitted by jason myron on 01/08/2014 - 08:55 am.

    Does the Draz

    have any verifiable statistics to back up his claim that welfare fraud in his district is “huge”, or did he just hear it from a concerned constituent that happened to be behind someone at a grocery store using an EBT card to buy cookies for their kid?

  3. Submitted by Neal Rovick on 01/08/2014 - 09:19 am.

    ….Drazkowski said his further purpose is to prevent welfare fraud, which he said is “huge” in his district. “We don’t want to see well-intended and generous welfare dollars that are intended for kids to be used for drugs instead,” he said. Any costs associated with drug testing, he said, “should be subtracted from any future welfare payments.”….

    I guess he is saying that the 37,000 people in his district is a crowd of lowlifes and “takers and not makers”–whooda thunk it?

    Maybe he should report all of those cases that he knows of.

    By the way, having the recipient pay for the test is because of Florida’s example. By the time Florida reimbursed all of those who were subjected to the tests and eliminated from the rolls those who failed the tests, the state actually spent more money than if they had never done any testing.

    See:http://www.nytimes.com/2012/04/18/us/no-savings-found-in-florida-welfare-drug-tests.html?_r=0

    By the way, if a parent fails a drug test and has dependent children–what happens then? Too bad kiddies, no money for you or move on over into the foster care system ! It all in the interest of saving money !

  4. Submitted by Tom Lynch on 01/08/2014 - 05:47 pm.

    Drug testing

    How about drug testing all the CEOs of big corporations, oil companies, etc. that receive billions of dollars of tax subsidies and tax breaks every year. We know they would never cheat about what they’re doing to get those tax breaks and subsidies.

    After all, they’re the “job creators”.

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