Minnesota counties are preparing to start randomly testing just some of the recipients of welfare in the state. This is part of a new state law that is aimed at preventing drug users from receiving public assistance.
According to an article published in USA Today, county officials are complaining that the new rules consume a lot of time and will affect a small group of people.
The testing requirement has been added as an amendment during the 2012 legislative session, which was passed with very little conflict. Now county officials state that the passing of the amendment was apparently based on a misconception that many recipients of welfare are abusing illegal drugs.
In the past, those applying for various benefits, such as cash assistance, were asked to identify whether or not they had ever been convicted of a felony drug crime. Very few individuals did so.
The new law requires the Minnesota Department of Human Services to inform each county of which of their welfare recipients have been accused of a felony drug crime. Some counties have dozens of names on their lists.
Counties are now required to do random drug testing on those individuals on the list. However, the state Legislature did not define what “random” means, so the policies may vary between counties.
Nonetheless, the testing applies to individuals who receive General Assistance, Minnesota Supplemental Aid, and who are part of the Minnesota Family Investment Program. This covers around 167,000 people throughout the state. Of the people participating in those programs, 1.62% of them have a felony drug conviction on their records. This is high compared to the 1.2% of the general population that has been charged with felony drug crimes.
At least nine states have passed laws regarding drug testing or drug screening prior to receiving public assistance. In some cases, all applicants have to take drug tests, while others only require testing if there is reason to believe that the welfare recipient has engaged in illegal drug activity or suffers from a substance abuse disorder.
In Minnesota, an aid recipient that tests positive could face sanctions depending n the program they are a part of. They also have to pass a second drug test within 30 days to clear their record.
If a person fails to show up for a drug test without a good reason, eligibility is lost because of failure to cooperate. Two failed drug tests result in permanent disqualification for aid.
Counties say that the new requirement has resulted in more work for human services workers. The legislature also did not provide additional funding with the new requirements, so counties have had to fit the bill for the additional costs.
In Sherburne County, the probation office will be responsible for handling drug testing. The expense actually depends on what kind of test is run. However, the usual five-panel screen costs $15 and there is an additional charge for every confirmed drug in a person’s system. It is anticipated that the number of tests in Sherburne County will be low since only 8 names are on their list and the number of names is expected to drop in the future.