A recent bill by a local state lawmaker would require any person applying for the state's long-term welfare program to pass a drug test prior to approval. The bill, by Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, targets the Minnesota Family Investment Program, used on a monthly basis by about 75,000 state residents in 2010.
"The whole drumbeat of accountability and welfare spending seems to be getting stronger," he said. "We're sending welfare money to people that are turning it around and pumping it into their veins."
The notion that most welfare recipients are also drug users is based on exaggerated stereotypes, and the extra screening would only further aggravate a process many applicants find embarrassing, said Karen Moore, a financial assistant specialist for Winona County Human Services.
"Most of the people that come into this office are just like you and I," she said. "They don't want to be here."
The bill would require welfare recipients to cover the cost of the screening, and allow counties to apply random drug tests for anyone already enrolled in the program. Tightening restrictions will cut the budget, and ensure no state money is used to pay for a person's substance abuse issues, Drazkowski said.
As it stands, the requirements for approval are too lax, the legislator, whose district covers much of Winona County, said. Residents must prove they've lived in Minnesota for at least 30 days. Social services staff consider household size, income and assets before granting approval.
Statewide, the number of families receiving MFIP served monthly rose by about 4,000 from 2008 to 2010. In October 2010, 166 adults and 237 children in Winona County received assistance through the program, according to state figures.
Families in the program receive cash assistance for up to 60 months, as well as food assistance and job counseling as long as parents spend at least 30 hours a week actively looking for a job. The program is an extended alternative to the Diversionary Work Program, a similar four-month welfare system not mentioned in Drazkowski's bill.
Processing an application for approval is quick, usually taking less than 30 days, Moore said. She sees some benefit to screening, but only if drug addiction is actually involved.
"I would proceed with caution," she said. "Just like the rest of the population, there's people with chemical dependency issues."