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      Community service could be required for state assistance

      The Michigan state Senate passed a bill on Wednesday that would require some people who receive welfare benefits to do some community service in order to get government assistance.

      The community service bill (SB276) is set to move to the House for consideration. If passed, people who receive cash assistance from the state will be required to do community service. According to the bill, those who are exempt from community service need to meet certain criteria based on age, medical conditions, and other related factors.

      The Department of Human Services says that the community service will be monitored through Michigan Works, and that individuals will be looked at on a case-by-case basis.

      "We'd be less likely to assign someone to do community service if they already did have a job," said Communications Representative for Michigan DHS, Bob Wheaton. "Community service would usually tend to be more for somebody who isn't currently employed."

      Patricia Weathers, a single mother of seven from Kingsley says that she used to receive cash assistance from the state, but is now only receiving food benefits. With her full time job, Weathers says she understands how hard it would be for some people to have time for community service, but feels that those who do have the time, and are not disabled or elderly, should participate in it.

      "If you're not working then they should have to do community service," said Weathers.

      DHS feels that community service can help build skills for those who need it in order to find a job.

      "They can obtain some skills in doing this community service so that it increases their employability skills and it gives them something to put on a resume' to say, 'I did this community service work or some of the skills I obtained from doing that,'" said Wheaton.

      Based on Weather's experience, she agrees that community service can benefit those who are looking for work.

      "I had skills, I didn't need to get training to get a job, but there was just nothing out there at the time when I started looking and so yah, it made me feel good to get up everyday and go in and even though I wasn't getting paid for it, I was, because I was on the cash assistance," said Weathers.

      Sen. Darwin Booher, who supported the bill, says that the reform is about personal and fiscal responsibility.

      "The idea for this bill came from a mid-Michigan resident who began volunteering while on welfare, and saw that community service evolve into a paid job," said Booher. "I supported it to ensure that we never lose sight of the fact that public assistance isn't free. The people sacrifice part of their hard-earned dollars to help the less fortunate. Doing some kind of community service is a way for recipients to show their appreciation."

      The bill has been sent to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

      In similar legislature, a drug testing bill, (HB4952) also passed on Wednesday by the House Commerce Committee. If that law is passed, people who either refused to take a drug test required by an employer or tested positive, would be denied unemployment benefits.