LANSING (WWJ) - Could this mean the end of welfare as we know it?
A bill has passed in the Michigan Senate that would require those receiving public assistance to do some "volunteer" work. Another bill, which passed the House Commerce Committee, requires drug testing, revoking benefits for welfare recipients who refuse the test or who test positive.
"What [the legislation] does, it says, in order for your to receive your cash assistance, your welfare check, you must provide some kind of community service to the community," said the volunteer work bill's sponsor, State Senator Joe Hune, who represents Livingston and Shiawasse counties in Mid-Michigan.
Hune says he was inspired by a constituent who began to volunteer while on welfare — and that community service evolved into full employment.
"The whole intention is to make certain folks have some skin in the game, and I don't feel that there's any problem with making folks go out and do some kind of community service in order to receive their cash assistance," Hune said.
State Sen. Vincent Gregory, D-Southfield, thinks the bills take aim at people who are already suffering their lowest moments.
"These people, they already need as much money as they can get, they wouldn't be asking for it if they didn't need it," he said. "It seems that this philosophy that everyone must have skin in the game, you know, it's like you may have some financial issues, you may be down and out ... That kind of philosophy to me -- if you're healthy bodied, I can see it -- but for a lot of people, I just think that it is very intrusive."
How, specifically, would the programs work? Hune said he purposely designed the bill to be ambiguous.
"We ... kind of left it up to the Department of Human Services to implement it, kind of how they see fit," said Hune. "Sometimes when the legislature puts something in action and puts too many details in place, there can be problems with the system."
The legislation would not affect those on food stamps.
The volunteer bill now heads to the House of Representatives' Families, Children and Seniors Committee, while the drug testing bill heads to the full House for a vote.
"A lot of people are embarrassed to even be there (asking for benefits), and they have this put on them -- It's this feeling that 'This is what the public wants.' But the public doesn't want to see people beaten down," Gregory said.
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