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State introduces drug testing for some welfare recipients


WORTHINGTON — Minnesota on Wednesday joined nine other states in randomly testing recipients of welfare for drugs.

The new law, approved during a 2012 legislation session, requires the state Department of Human Services to force recipients convicted of past felony drug offenses to identify themselves in order for them to be randomly tested, though the definition of “random” will vary from county to county, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

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The testing applies to people who receive Minnesota supplemental aid, general assistance and the Minnesota family investment program, which amounts to about 167,000 people.

Statewide, 1.62 percent of people on those programs had a felony drug conviction in the past 10 years, according to state records. That compares to about 1.2 percent of the general population, as reported by USA Today.

If a person fails to appear for a drug test without good cause, he or she will lose eligibility. Two failed drug tests result in permanent disqualification for aid.

The requirement will mean significant additional work for Minnesota counties. Since the Legislature did not provide any money with the new requirements, counties have to pick up the additional costs.

In another change, people who have previously been convicted of a drug felony must prove that they’re either participating in drug treatment, have successfully completed treatment, or have a county assessment confirming they don’t need treatment, according to the American Legislative Exchange Council.

As a result, some may end up getting cut off from their benefits not because they’re actually using drugs, but because they don’t have the right paperwork.

There is evidence random drug testing of welfare recipients is a cost-effective state policy.

In Florida - the first state to implement this type of drug testing - spent a net of $45,000 on the program and ultimately found that just two percent of recipients were using drugs, according to state records.

In Utah, meanwhile, more than $30,000 to drug-test its welfare recipients over the past year; just 12 people have tested positive, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Laws similar to those passed in Minnesota, Florida, Utah and other states have also been repeatedly blocked in court, and also carry the risk of hefty legal fees for the states forced to defend them.

Still, lawmakers continue to push this type of bill, as at least 29 states introduced some version of this policy in 2013, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Erin Trester
Erin Trester is the crime and city reporter for the Daily Globe. She's a native of Lewiston, MN, but moved to Buffalo, NY to attend college and obtained her bachelor's degree in Communications. She started at the Western New York Catholic Newspaper as a reporter in Buffalo, but in October 2013 she returned to her home state to start with the Daily Globe. Most of her spare time is taken up by her 13-year-old thoroughbred named Faith, but some of her other hobbies include reading, fishing and spending time with friends and family. 
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