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Drug tests start for Minn. felons on state aid

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Minnesota counties are starting to enforce a law passed by the Legislature last year that requires them to randomly test convicted drug felons who are receiving benefits under several state programs.

    The Duluth News Tribune reported Wednesday that St. Louis County has already started implementing the program. The state Department of Human Services says other counties will be doing the same in the coming weeks.   

Under the old law, the state only required "self-reporting" of a felony drug record by benefits recipients, which rarely happened. The new law requires the state court administrator to submit a list of drug felons to the Department of Human Services, which must compare it with lists of welfare recipients and pass on matches to counties. The counties then subject those felons to random drug tests ahead of eligibility reviews that occur every six to 12 months depending on the program. 

  Failing the test subjects the felons to a partial or complete termination of benefits. Felons who fail to appear for drug tests without good cause could lose benefits as well. Felons who fail a second test will be permanently disqualified from eligibility.   

The testing applies to people who receive Minnesota Supplemental Aid, General Assistance and the Minnesota Family Investment Program. Statewide, 1.62 percent of people on those programs had a felony drug conviction in the past 10 years, according to state records. That compares to about 1.2 percent of the general population.   

The requirement doesn't apply to recipients of the federal SNAP food stamp program, but the Department of Human Services said the state has told counties that if they know a recipient has a felony drug conviction that they can do random testing.   

The law passed by the Legislature was a compromise between supporters of mandatory drug testing for all welfare recipients, and those who cautioned that civil liberties would be sacrificed and that past wrongdoing shouldn't prevent felons and their families from receiving critical aid.