Wisconsin Governor Wants to Drug Test Food-Stamp Recipients

By Chris Jasurek

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker is pushing ahead with a plan to require drug testing of some food stamp applicants despite the fact that federal law currently prohibits it.

Walker has submitted a plan to the state legislature which would require able-bodied applicants to the state’s Food Share program to pass drug tests. The legislature has to object within 120 days or the plan will become law, according to the Wisconsin Journal-Sentinel, adding that actual testing wouldn’t begin for another year.

When the governor first proposed this plan in January of this year, the federal official overseeing food stamp programs said that such testing was not legal.

“The law clearly does not allow it,” said Kevin Concannon, undersecretary at the federal Food and Nutrition Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Concannon added, “we consulted the legal counsels here and the law absolutely does not allow it.”

In his 2017 “state of the state” speech, delivered on Jan. 10, Walker told the legislature, “Over and over again, employers are telling us of their dramatic needs for people who are ready to work and able to pass a drug test. We can find a job for everyone.”

Walker also said, “I am happy to report that we now require adults on public assistance, who are able to work, and do not have children at home, to be employed or enrolled in our job training programs, looking for work at least five times a week, and be able to pass a drug test. If someone fails the test, we help them with rehabilitation, so they can get healthy and ready to enter the workforce.”

The main difference between the two programs—public assistance (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, (TANF) colloquially called “welfare”) and Food Share—is that Food Share money generally goes to people with dependent children.

The legislature already approved a similar plan two years ago, but the plan didn’t move forward because it conflicted with federal laws prohibiting states from imposing additional eligibility criteria on food stamp recipients.

Federal law takes precedence in this case because Wisconsin’s Food Share program is, in reality, the state’s name for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). Wisconsin oversees the program within the state but the money comes from the federal government.

Florida tried a similar program in 2014, but a federal appeals court ruled that it violated constitutional protections against unreasonable searches.

Georgia tried a similar measure in 2014 but was also told by the U.S. Department of Agriculture that creating additional eligibility requirements is illegal.

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks to guests gathered for a campaign event at Modern Woodman Park on July 17, 2015 in Davenport, California. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker speaks to guests gathered for a campaign event at Modern Woodman Park on July 17, 2015, in Davenport, California. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

 

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