Community service required to get welfare in Michigan. Edit in Blue.
LANSING — State lawmakers passed bills Wednesday that would deny unemployment benefits to people who refuse to take drug tests required by employers.
It also would require community service for people receiving government assistance.
The drug testing bill, which passed the House Commerce Committee on a 12-4 vote with three Democrats passing on the issue, would deny unemployment benefits for people who either refused to take a drug test required by an employer or tested positive.
The community service bill, which passed the state Senate on a 27-9 vote would require people receiving food stamps or other welfare benefits to perform community service in order to get the money.
Republicans called the bills common sense.
“There is absolutely nothing wrong with requiring folks to have a little skin in the game,” said state Sen. Joe Hune, R-Hamburg Township. “All they have to do is a little community service to get their benefits.”
But Democrats said the measures target low-income people for merely political purposes leading into the 2014 election season. The bills continue a trend that began earlier this year with proposed legislation that targets benefit recipients for suspicion-based drug testing and allows for the denial of benefits if a child is truant from school. Those bills have passed the House and await action in the Senate.
“Wholesale drug testing without suspicion is simply illegal,” said Shelli Weisberg, spokeswoman for the ACLU in Michigan. “If we’re going down the road of drug testing for people who receive benefits, then we better start drug testing legislators.”
State Rep. Jon Switalski, D-Warren, offered an amendment to the drug testing bill that would do just that. It failed.
“If the majority feels that drug testing for people on the public dole is good policy, then it’s clearly in the interest of good public policy to test all of us on the public dole,” he said. “But this is a bill about the elections in 2014 and nothing else.”
Anti-tax activist Bill McMaster said the bills don’t take into account Michigan’s overwhelming support in a 2008 ballot initiative for the use of medical marijuana.
“It’s somewhat mysterious to me that you’re trying to eliminate the will of the people on the medical marijuana front,” he said. “A good number of people are employed successfully who are using medical marijuana.”
State Sen. Vincent Gregory, D-Southfield, said it didn’t make sense to make someone like a single mother to have to pay child care costs while performing state required community service. He offered an amendment, which ultimately failed, that would require the Department of Human Service to pick up child care costs while parents are doing community service.
“We need to give residents a helping hand and not force them to do other things to get assistance from the state,” he said.
The drug testing bill (HB 4952) now moves to the full House of Representatives. While the community service bill (SB276) moves to the House for consideration.
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