Lawmaker wants welfare recipients to do community service - KMSP-TV

Lawmaker wants welfare recipients to do community service

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State Senator Joe Hune said welfare recipients should "have some skin in the game."  (Credit: Fox 2 News) State Senator Joe Hune said welfare recipients should "have some skin in the game." (Credit: Fox 2 News)

When you start talking about welfare reform, for some folks those are fighting words.  There are people who do not want the government messing around with the rules for recipients.  However, there is one state senator who is really serious about changing some of the ways the system is working.

"I see nothing wrong with saying if you're going to get free money from the government, you should ultimately have some skin in the game," said state Senator Joe Hune of Livingston County.

He is fed up with something when it comes to welfare.

"This entitlement mentality that government needs to take care of people, and my perspective is government should be there to help those who can't help themselves," Hune said.

Now for the second time, Hune is sponsoring legislation.  Last fall it failed, but Hune has a hunch that this go around he's right on.

"From years past, the legislature actually put in a blanket drug testing for all welfare recipients.  That was struck down in court and not only Michigan's law, but several others across the country," said Hune.

It was called unconstitutional.  So these brand new bills have been tweaked a bit.  The first one would make the drug testing policy for recipients not mandatory, but strictly suspicion-based.

"Reasonable suspicion that the department thinks a welfare recipient is on drugs, then they can demand a test," Hune explained.

If that test comes back positive, Hune said, "you have to go to some type of treatment.  If not, you get completely cut off of your welfare payments."

Bill number two would require community service to receive that taxpayer cash.

"Can you tell me what's wrong for having some skin in the game, for going out there and saying, okay, let's do some community service in order to receive your payment?  I don't think there's anything wrong with it," said Hune.

However, Maureen Taylor sees something wrong with all of it.  She is the state chair for the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization.  Taylor is sick and tired of talking about what she calls a witch hunt gunning for poor people.

"The volunteer work we would recommend is to send welfare recipients to school to learn to be nurse practitioners, to learn how to be plumbers and pipe fitters and painters and the other kinds of employment opportunities that are coming up.  We don't need to have welfare recipients doing volunteer work picking up the trash in front of restaurants in the community," said Taylor.

"I think it just gets people a path to self-sustaining, and I think it's absolutely the right thing to do, especially when you see so much need out there," Hune said.

"What welfare recipients need is employment, and if you can't find [them] employment, they [they] have to have some kind of cash income and some kind of food stamps until [they're] able to work," said Taylor.

We could not leave Lansing without getting the scoop from Fox 2's political analyst Tim Skubick on the community service and the suspicion-based drug testing bills.

"There is an attitude among Democrats that Republicans are always coming after the welfare recipients, an easy target for them.  They don't like that.  So there will be push back, but the harsh reality is in this current legislature, you've got the Republicans controlling the Senate and the House, and you have a Republican sitting in the governor's office.  Do the math.  This is almost a done deal," he said.

"It's one thing to say go out and do community service.  What about the two or three kids at home?  You leave them alone?  Of course you don't.  So does the state kick in money for that?  That's a huge question mark.  I think the answer is probably no.  So, in theory, in concept, sounds good.  The practicality?  The devil is in the details.  This one may be a little tougher to sell."

When you talk about community service, the senator said he is hoping volunteer work will eventually lead to a job.  When he talks about the drug testing portion, he said if someone fails it, he thinks they should foot the bill for that test.

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