A federal appeals court Friday cleared the way for Michigan to test welfare recipients for drug use.
U.S. District Court Judge Victoria Roberts halted a pilot drug-testing program in 1999 after a group of welfare recipients and the American Civil Liberties Union of Michigan argued that the testing is unconstitutional.
A three-judge panel of the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed Roberts’ decision Friday, saying the testing program is based on a legitimate need to ensure that public money is not used for illegal purposes.
Robert Sedler, the attorney who sued the state Family Independence Agency on behalf of several welfare recipients, said he will appeal to the full court.
“We are dealing here … with the suspicionless testing of adults,” he said.
Michigan was the first state to pass such a program, and many other states have been watching the case progress, the ACLU said Friday.
According to the Welfare Information Network, a Washington, D.C.-based clearinghouse, states that have drug-testing in some form for welfare recipients include Florida, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Oregon.
“It’s clear that the Michigan case had a chilling effect, but some states have gone ahead and done it anyway,” said Andrea Wilkins, a policy analyst with the National Conference of State Legislatures.
In Michigan, the state wants to require welfare applicants in a handful of communities to provide urine samples for drug screening before they can be considered for benefits.
Under the rules of the pilot program, the drug test results wouldn’t affect access to food stamps and police wouldn’t be notified, but applicants who tested positive for drugs would be sent to treatment and could gradually lose benefits if they failed to go.
Gov. John Engler praised the court ruling Friday and said Michigan plans to reinstate the drug-testing program soon.
“We know that drugs are a significant barrier to employment, and testing and treatment for welfare recipients for drug use is consistent with our goal of helping them reach true self-sufficiency,” Engler said.