House Republicans unveil welfare changes, including drug tests
Published: Thursday, March 10, 2011, 2:53 PM Updated: Thursday, March 10, 2011, 3:42 PM
By Monica Scott The Grand Rapids Press

LANSING -- House Republicans today introduced legislation to change the state's welfare system.

The legislation allows for drug testing in certain cases, ensures illegal immigrants don't receive benefits and continues to limit assistance to 48 months for able-bodied adults. A limit was passed in 2006 but is set to expire on Sept. 30. Ohio, Indiana and Illinois have limits, ranging from two to five years.

"Welfare plays an important role in our society as a way to help people get back on their feet during a time of temporary crisis, not to create a lifetime of dependency," said Rep. Ken Horn, R-Frankenmuth, who introduced one of the two bills. "The plan is focused on empowering chronic welfare recipients to find work while still protecting those who are most vulnerable."

But Judy Putnam, communications director for the Michigan League for Human Services, said this will push more families with children deeper in poverty even though Gov. Rick Snyder has made reducing child poverty a state goal.

"We know that eliminating support for these families with young children will end up costing us more down the road," Putnam said. "Almost all long-term cash assistance families – those on assistance for 60 months or more – are working and complying with their work plans and the state’s mandates."

The measure requires the state to test recipients for substance abuse if there is reasonable suspicion of abuse, a suggestion that has been controversial when raised in the past. Last year, random drug testing was proposed as part of legislation to end abuse of Bridge Cards, electronic debit cards that replaced food stamp coupons.

"Drug testing will ultimately help people overcome their addictions so they can support themselves and their family," Horn said. "Welfare recipients also need to know that their assistance can't be used for alcohol or cigarettes instead of food for their children."

The plan also requires the state to verify the residency status of each non-U.S. citizen applicant. The legislation incorporates a three strikes and you're out disciplinary program where recipients could be permanently banned from cash assistance after three offenses.

Residents would still be able to use food stamps for longer than 48 months. It would also exempt from the time limit senior citizens, pregnant mothers, domestic violence victims and, adults who are physically or mentally incapacitated, and adults with a disabled child at home.

E-mail Monica Scott: ... elfar.html