If it wasn’t bad enough being poor, State Senator Joe Hune, R-Hamburg Township, wants to almost make it a crime to be poor.
He recently introduced bills that will allow a Michigan Department of Human Services (DHS) caseworker to require someone on assistance to take a drug test if the caseworker has “reasonable suspicion” – whatever that is – of substance abuse. If a test is positive, they will lose benefits for a year or six months if the person is going through drug treatment. This is similar to a bill in the House introduced by Rep. Jeff Farrington, R-Sterling Heights, that requires a drug test just to receive benefits, but that’s a clear violation of the 4th Amendment’s unreasonable search and seizure.
Hune basically admitted the illegality of blanket drug tests, and he said in subscription only MIRS that his bill, Senate Bill 904, was a way to get around that pesky 4th Amendment, saying “We’re just trying to craft a drug testing policy that would hopefully pass legal muster.”
Apparently, SB 904 applies to those receiving welfare, food stamps, state disability or state-paid childcare. This will place serious power in the hands of DHS caseworkers.
He also introduced SB 905 that require recipients of welfare to perform an undefined amount of community service to receive benefits. The bill appears to apply to only those in the Family Independence Program (FIP); which is temporary cash assistance for low-income families with minor children and pregnant women. It would not apply to those in the required Jobs, Education and Training (JET) for assistance in finding a job or to develop needed job skills.
The only people ever required to do non-voluntary community served are convicted criminals as part of a judge’s sentence. It appears those on welfare are now criminals. How many people this will effect is unclear because most people on cash assistance must be in the JET program.
It seems ironic that Republican polices have plunged people into poverty and created a huge wealth inequality, and now they want to make them seem like criminals for being poor and low wage. For more irony, in the very week these bills were introduced, the Michigan League for Human Services (MLHS) released its annual Kids Count in Michigan report that looks at data on children in Michigan over the last decade, and it found that that poverty is having a negative impact on kids’ health.
The number of children living in poverty jumped from 14 to 23 percent between 2000 and 2009. Almost half of Michigan’s K-12 public schoolchildren were on free or reduced lunch in 2010, up from 36.2 percent in 2006.
The report and other children’s advocates point to recent policy changes by the Republican Michigan Legislature and the Snyder Administration that will have even more negative impact on Michigan kids, and those include cutting the Michigan Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) from 20 percent of the federal credit to just 6 percent. The Snyder Administration wanted to kill it completely, but only an outcry from the public saved a small portion of what has been hailed by many, including GOP saint Ronald Reagan, as one of the strongest measures that lifts working families and children out of poverty.
Last year also saw the placing of stricter time limits on cash assistance for 12,000 families living in poverty, including nearly 30,000 children, an asset limits on food assistance and reducing the state period of unemployment benefits from 26 to 20 weeks.
Hune’s bills will also contribute to child poverty. The bills are in the Senate on Families, Seniors and Human Services awaiting a hearing.