People that have been convicted of drug crimes and are also receiving benefits from the state are now required to comply with drug tests according to a law passed by the Minnesota Legislature last year. St. Louis County officials have now begun strictly enforcing the law, which replaces the “self-reporting” system that was in place prior to its passing. The new law requires the state court administrator to provide its list of convicted drug felons to the Department of Human Services. The DHS will then compare the list to its database of people receiving welfare benefits. Anybody that appears on both lists will be tracked by Minnesota counties.
St. Louis County began enforcing the law in October and has since identified 187 people convicted of felony charges who are also receiving state assistance. This means that around 4 percent of benefit recipients are also felons in the county. A Duluth organization known as the Bethel Work Release Program, with assistance from Virginia’s Arrowhead Center, will be conducting the drug testing.
Across all of Minnesota, 1.62 percent of residents that receive state benefits have been convicted of a drug felony in past decade. Failing a drug test could negatively affect the benefits that people get from programs such as the Minnesota Family Investment Program. State law does not strictly require testing for people utilizing the SNAP food benefits program, but the state has indicated that county officials can perform random drug testing on recipients of SNAP benefits if they’ve been convicted of a felony. No statistics are yet available regarding how many people have failed drug tests.
The law is seen as a compromise. On one side of the issue, people are arguing that all recipients of welfare should receive drug testing before getting any benefits. The other side believes that past offenses should not prevent a person from receiving much-needed help and that the law may be infringing on civil liberties. Either way, with the current law increasing in its enforcement, anyone that has drug charges and is receiving state aid should stay clean if they intend to keep getting benefits.
Source: duluthnewstribune.com, “Mandatory drug tests start for felons on Minnesota welfare” John Myers, Nov. 19, 2013