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County moves forward with random drug testing: Failing test could cause drug user to lose public assistance

Minnesota residents who have been convicted of drug felonies are at risk of losing their state-funded assistance if they fail a random drug test.

Affected are individuals who receive Minnesota Supplemental Assistance and have been convicted of a drug felony since 1997.

Earlier this month, the Otter Tail County Board of Commissioners approved putting the county in compliance with random drug testing as required by the Minnesota Department of Human Services.

“Random testing will be conducted by trained County Human Services staff members in conjunction with the Otter Tail County Probation Department,” said County Human Services Director John Dinsmore at the Feb. 4 county board meeting.

Failing a drug test may result in the loss of eligibility of benefits for five years if individuals test positive for an illegal controlled substance. Loss of benefits also could take place if an individual is convicted of another drug felony.

“Failing a drug test will nullify Minnesota Supplemental Assistance, but that could change if the individual successfully completes a drug treatment program,” said Dinsmore.

He added that, “If a person fails to appear for a drug test without good cause, that person’s benefit eligibility will be terminated.”

Clients are responsible for making their own transportation arrangements to and from testing sites.

Applications for Minnesota Supplemental Assistance are made through county human services agencies.

Laws were strengthened in 2012 by the Minnesota Legislature, after data sharing was enhanced between the state corrections department and county human services departments from all 87 counties in Minnesota.

State data shows there were 93,823 assistance cases in 2013, involving 167,047 people. The totals included children.

Of the total number of people, about 2,700 had been convicted of a drug felony in the previous 10 years. Close to 70 percent of those individuals were diagnosed with mental illnesses.

Changes to the drug testing programs will be debated when the state legislature reconvenes on Feb. 25. Random drug testing takes time and puts a financial burden on many counties.