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Submitted by Christopher Dilloway

There are ads on television asking people to voice support for SB-0897, which is largely modeled after Wisconsin’s attempt to crack down on the poor and downtrodden by implementing drug tests in order to obtain public services to include health insurance and food assistance programs. This bill and the TV ad play on the stereotypes of the “welfare queen” laying around eating lobster and bon-bons using a pure gold iPhone with a brand new Cadillac Escalade in the driveway of her 8-bedroom mansion while living completely on the “government dole” and the idea that poor people are dirty and gross and misspend their money, so they MUST be unemployed and on dope and we, as reasonable taxpayers, can’t condone that. It plays well with “Conservative” voters and supporters because they love “their tax dollars”, but this bill is dangerous and potentially hurtful to many citizens and based on flawed logic.

To start, the idea that poor people are unemployed drug users with needles in their arms all the time is blatantly incorrect. Statistics indicate that the U.S. has a national drug use rate of 9.4 percent; yet test results from the first seven states to introduce drug testing for those on public assistance found a range from 0.002 percent to 8.3 percent, but all except one have a rate below 1 percent (Covert and Israel, 2015). This indicates that the poor being forced to submit to testing are well below the national average (one percent vs nine percent) and should make one realize that those with the means and access are the ones using the drugs, yet the current legislation fails to consider what has come before. Instead it plows ahead using this false idea of the poor person as a drug user.

A look at actual numbers reveals that drug testing those on or seeking public assistance costs the taxpayers more than it saves, thereby wasting “my tax dollars” that those Conservative-leaning people chirp about so often. In 2014, Missouri spent $336,297 on testing 38,970 applicants; only 48 tested positive and the state was forecasting that three years of the program would cost over a million dollars to implement and administer (Bryce and Israel, 2015). Oklahoma has a “reasonable cause” clause in their program and between November 2012 through November 2014, 3,342 applicants were screened and 2,992 selected for further testing (though those numbers could include some who applied more than once); 297 tested positive for illegal substances at a cost of $385,872 (Bryce and Israel, 2015). Utah has a program similar to Oklahoma and between August 2012 and July of 2014, 9,552 applicants were screened and 838 were given drug tests. Just 29 tested positive at a cost of $64,566, according to a Utah Department of Workforce Services spokesman (Bryce and Israel, 2015). Kansas spent $40,000 with 11 positive results from 2,783 tests; Mississippi just 2 positive results out of a pool of 3,656 applicants and 38 actual drug tests performed with a cost of over $5,000 spent while Tennessee had similar results and costs with 16,017 applications made, 279 were given drug tests and 37 failed at a cost to the state of $5,295 (Bryce and Israel, 2015). Arizona has the longest running program for drug testing applicants and in over 140,000 applicants over four years, only 19 tests were spent with a result of 3 people who failed the drug tests (Bryce and Israel, 2015). That was 3 people over the course of 4 years.

Data accumulated for 2015 continued the same trend. In 2015, Michigan began a pilot program in three counties and tested 58 applicants under a “probable” suspicion and ZERO of them failed the test; each test costs the state a minimum of $150 for the testing materials only, not including administrative and oversight costs (Bryce and Israel, 2016). North Carolina also began testing in 2015 and spent over $130,000 testing 150 people, out of 7600 applicants, with a result of 21 people that tested positive; a result of 0.3 percent of those screened (Bryce and Israel, 2016). States spent over $2 million on drug testing programs and the associated administrative costs with only around 300 total people that failed drug tests out of around 4,000 people tested from a larger pool of around 100,000 families that applied for public assistance in 10 states (Bryce and Israel, 2016). For those in Michigan ready to jump on the bandwagon, the numbers don’t lie; testing is a waste of taxpayer dollars.

Additionally, drug testing requirements may not be constitutionally legal as Florida’s bills were struck down in federal court in 2013 as a violation of the 4th Amendment’s “unreasonable search and seizure” clause because Florida tried to implement a universal drug testing program without regard for “reasonable cause” and failed to show that those applying for assistance had higher incidence of drug use above the national average (Bryce and Israel, 2015). There is also an idea that drug testing applicants can prevent those with a problem from seeking help; they don’t want to be singled out for punitive action and as a result may not get legitimate help they need to break their drug problem and obtain work.
Since the Michigan bill is largely patterned after Wisconsin’s plan, a look at some information from that state helps shed some light on the fundamental flaws within their GOP-led assertions. Both the current bill in Michigan and the one passed in Wisconsin are aimed at “able-bodied” adults on public assistance with the Wisconsin bill focused primarily at those without dependents; the Michigan bill seemingly lacks that same clause (SB-0897, 2018). Wisconsin’s first attempt was blocked by the Federal government as it violated Federal law that forbids placing stipulations on people applying for public assistance for the SNAP program (it is called FoodShare in Wisconsin and commonly referred to as “bridge card” in Michigan) without a special waiver for due cause and the GOP-led Wisconsin government has cleverly found ways around that, misinterpreted food assistance to be equivalent to “welfare”, which is called “cash assistance” in Michigan, and an appeal to the current Federal administration (Hunger Task Force, 2018). Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services (DHS) estimates 66,000 potential able-bodied adults without dependents would be affected and of those, they estimate that only 220 would fail a drug test with a cost of $853,700 annually, with $356,200 falling on county human services agencies; local agencies would need to shoulder an additional $99,700 annually for drug testing (Hunger Task Force, 2018).
A common misconception about those in need is that they are unemployed; “lazy”, “unwilling to work”, “content to be on the dole” are some of the attitudes perpetuated by “Conservatives” to label these
people and drive this sort of legislation. In Wisconsin, among households with at least one working-age, non-disabled adult, more than half work while receiving FoodShare— and more than 80 percent work in the year prior to or the year after receiving FoodShare; the problem isn’t that people aren’t working it’s that they aren’t able to get reliable long-term employment (Hunger Task Force, 2018). This represents variable schedules with fluctuating hours worked each week (e.g. retail and restaurant jobs) and seasonal jobs. Nationwide, according to research done by UC Berkeley Center for Labor Research and Education, 73 percent of people who benefit from major public assistance programs in the U.S. live in a working family where at least one adult earns the household some money (Badger, 2015). This includes 52 percent of fast food workers, 48 percent of home health care workers, 46 percent of child care workers, and 25 percent of part-time college instructors (Badger, 2015). This clearly indicates the problem is NOT with people who don’t want to work, but their work doesn’t fulfill all their needs. They tend to work in industries that make a lot of demands on a person’s time while offering low wages. The “conservatives” would counter that one needs to work harder, have more than one job, but that is not easy to do with a job that requires open scheduling availability or odd working hours.

Michigan’s SB-0897 goes even farther than Wisconsin and doesn’t exclude parents from the work requirement of 29 hours and yet provides no child care coverage (SB-0897, 2018). Both the 29 hours and the lack of a provision for stay-at-home parents are problematic. While the determination of an employee as “full-time” or “part-time” is largely left to individual employers, for the purposes of the Affordable Care Act guidelines on employers, full-time is defined as an employee who is employed on average, per month, at least 30 hours of service per week, or at least 130 hours of service in a calendar month (IRS, 2017). The Michigan SB-0897 bill requirement of 289 hours per week bumps right up to that 30-hour per week line at a time when most employers generally consider part-time works at around 20 hours per week and due to ACA guidelines they cannot consistently schedule part-time workers 30 or more hours and 29 per week leaves little room along that margin. The status of a worker under the ACA also guides how the employer has to offer insurance, which could then create a situation where a person is under-earning on their job, but is forced to pay for costly ACA coverage plans for themselves and their families.

The second part of the problem is that SB-0897 doesn’t allow for stay-at-home parents while also providing no relief for child care support. The bill stipulates that a parent is only exempted while caring for a child UNDER age 6 and ONLY 1 parent at a time may benefit from the exemption (SB-0897, 2018). This might work well for some, but presents a host of logistical challenges, and these cruel requirements would essentially force one parent to work simply to pay for someone else, who, as we have demonstrated, is grossly underpaid, to care for their children solely to meet this bill’s requirements. This plan might work in an ideal world where children go to school and have a way to and from school and a parent is able to find an employer willing to work around a school schedule, but the practical application of that idea is far less than ideal.

Another issue that SB-0897 presents is one that has also been experienced in Wisconsin. Wisconsin’s DHS has a very poor track record of implementing changes with requirements for their FoodShare program. Some problems that have been experienced include people that have been wrongfully discharged from the program due to DHS errors, fair hearing requests have skyrocketed, the USDA placed DHS in corrective action over FSET civil rights and implementation failures, and participation at food pantries and meal programs spike when policies change and people drop off FoodShare (Hunger Task Force, 2018). Michigan has a very poorly-designed DHHS system that tries to direct people to a largely-inefficient and confusing website and it is nearly impossible to get a case worker on the phone to handle a question or issue and spending the day waiting in a DHHS office is a waste of time for everyone as, from experience, the staff tends to send people back to the websites and can be very condescending in their attitudes When an error occurs, the case worker will blow it off as “the system did that by itself” and now SB-0897 is wanting to EXPAND the role of DHHS in administering public assistance programs. They are already incompetent, on a good day, and this new bill full of requirements would place a large set of stressors on both sides of the issue as people who try to jump through the new hoops find themselves cut off due to DHHS negligence and incompetence while also stressing a failed system past its breaking point.
SB-0897 is a bill that “conservatives” want to advertise as a cost-savings measure, because it would kick all the drug users and lazy welfare queens off the system, to the tune of $40 million according to one estimate, but the research doesn’t support their claims and the broad-reaching Michigan bill may violate Federal laws and the U.S. Constitution. People on public assistance are not drug users for the most part, they are not lazy, and they are working families with children who need some help making ends meet each month due to a broken corporate system that allows companies to pay employees low wages and little to no benefits in exchange for huge tax breaks. SB-0897 is a cruel and evil bill that will cost the taxpayer more money than it would save, especially when one of these “able-bodied” adults gets sick or loses a job and then is back on the program. Public assistance programs are supposed to help people, and there may be a small percentage who find a way to abuse the system, but the outdated stereotypes are gone and need buried in the past and it is criminal for GOP lawmakers to dredge them up as a way to polarize the issue and prey upon those who largely cannot fight for themselves against such a measure. I strongly urge SB-0897 to be defeated, and if passed, challenged, because it is entirely malicious in its intent toward Michigan citizens and taxpayers, many of whom need a bit of help to get by each month; they are not criminals or lazy or drug users, but the cashier you verbally mistreat at Walmart or the waitress at a restaurant; they are the person watching your kids while you work your Monday through Friday 8 – 5 job or take care of your elderly family member so you don’t have to wipe their nose or their butt; they are the people who teach college classes and put in long hours on their time so that your entitled kid can sit in the class and play games on their phone.

 

Sources
Badger, Emily. (2015 Apr 14). When work isn’t enough to keep you off welfare and food stamps. Retrieved June 4, 2018, from https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/wonk/wp/2015/04/14/when-work-isnt-enough-to-keep-you-off-welfare-and-food-stamps/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.1b16d6cbe833

Covert, Bryce and Isreal, Josh. (2016 Feb 19). Drug Testing Welfare Recipients Is A Popular New Policy That Cost States Millions. Here Are The Results. Retrieved June 4, 2018, from https://thinkprogress.org/drug-testing-welfare-recipients-is-a-popular-new-policy-that-cost-states-millions-here-are-the-cf829257ade0/

Covert, Bryce and Isreal, Josh. (2015, Feb 26). What 7 states discovered after spending more than $1 million drug testing welfare recipients. Retrieved June 4, 2018, from https://thinkprogress.org/what-7-states-discovered-after-spending-more-than-1-million-drug-testing-welfare-recipients-c346e0b4305d/

Hunger Task Force. (2018). Drug Testing for Food. Retrieved June 4, 2018, from https://www.hungertaskforce.org/learn-about-hunger/hot-topics/drug-test-food-stamps-foodshare/
Internal Revenue Service. (2017 Aug 12). ACA Information for Employers: Counting Full-time and Full-time Equivalent Employees. Retrieved June 4, 2018, from https://www.irs.gov/affordable-care-act/individuals-and-families/aca-information-for-employers-counting-full-time-and-full-time-equivalent-employees
SB-0897. (2018, Mar 8). Retrieved from https://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2017-2018/billintroduced/Senate/pdf/2018-SIB-0897.pdf