Taxpayers and poor families may be the real targets of a new Minnesota law meant to stop drug users from receiving welfare.
The law was meant to save taxpayers money by making welfare recipients more accountable. However, the mandatory drug testing policy comes with a host of local mandates, rules and paperwork that taxpayers will be forced to help fund, only to affect a handful of 167,000 Minnesota residents on welfare.
Rep. Steve Drazkowski, the Republican who sponsored the legislation, said he wrote the law to address concerns in his hometown over drug users abusing the welfare system.
“The question is, ‘What is happening to our dollars?’” Drazkowski asked. “Are the dollars going into someone’s veins? Or to the kids? Drug testing addresses that.”
But research indicates that the perception of welfare recipients as drug users is incorrect. A Department of Human Services analysis found that Minnesota’s welfare program benefits low-income families that are much less likely have felony drug convictions than the general population.
“I don’t think anyone is under the illusion that this is about saving taxpayers money,” said Heidi Welsch, director of family support and assistance for Olmsted County. “This is punitive.”
According to the legislation, officials at the county level will now be required to “randomly” test welfare recipients who the DHS identifies as having been convicted of a felony drug offense. While the law passed with little debate, county officials are now faced with enforcing the cumbersome and expensive drug testing measures.
Minnesota is one of at least nine states that have passed legislation requiring drug testing or screening to qualify for public assistance. Some stipulate that the drug testing only applies to those who are believed to have a substance abuse problem.