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ACLU Suit Challenges Drug Testing

October 1, 1999

DETROIT (AP) _ The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit Thursday to stop Michigan from requiring drug tests for welfare recipients.

The state’s Family Independence Agency said it would begin testing on Friday unless the court ordered it not to.

``We call it the Family Independence Agency for a reason,″ Gov. John Engler’s spokesman John Truscott said Thursday. ``If someone’s abusing drugs, their chance of improving their lot in life is really diminished, not to mention the problems it creates for their children.″

The ACLU argues that across-the-board drug testing of applicants is discrimination and treats the state’s poorest families as criminals.

``Forcing parents to choose between providing for their children and giving up their privacy rights is a giant step backward for public policy in Michigan,″ said Kary Moss, executive director of the ACLU of Michigan.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court on behalf of two women and a family-advocacy group. It seeks class-action status.

A handful of states require limited drug testing for some welfare recipients, but none have made it part of the application process for family benefits, said Gwen Rubenstein of the New York-based Legal Action Center, a nonprofit policy group.

Michigan’s drug testing will start as a pilot program in four counties. In 2003, the state plans to expand it statewide for applicants and add random checks for those already receiving cash assistance.

Those who test positive for drugs and refuse treatment could gradually lose their cash assistance. Those who refuse to be tested will be denied cash assistance.

The test results apply only to the state’s largest state cash assistance program, the Family Independence Program. Medicaid, disability, emergency and other state assistance programs are not affected, and program rules say police won’t be notified of positive tests for drugs.

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