Governor Scott Walker is asking federal officials to allow Wisconsin and several other states to require drug testing for those receiving food assistance benefits.
Walker and the governors of ten other states have signed on to a letter to Congressional leaders calling on them to confirm the states’ ability to require drug testing for anyone receiving benefits under the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program – also known as SNAP. Wisconsin is one of several states to adopt such a requirement, but enforcement has been on hold because of opposition from the federal government, which sets the rules for the program. The state filed a lawsuit last year over the issue, while a bill awaiting action in Congress would also clarify the authority of states to enforce such rules.
In a statement, Walker argued that programs like SNAP often have a job-training component for those receiving benefits, and drug-testing would actually make it easier for those individuals to find employment and become independent. “Programs like SNAP typically require job training as a condition to receive benefits, and implementing drug-testing requirements as well makes it easier for recipients with substance abuse to move from government dependence to true independence. That’s why we’ve put in place drug screening, testing, and treatment mechanisms to help SNAP recipients enter a job training program where they’ll receive the valuable skills and knowledge they need to obtain a family-supporting job.”
Opponents of such requirements have questioned their effectiveness, and have argued they are more about shaming those who are forced to rely on food assistance benefits. Hunger Task Force executive director Sherrie Tussler noted there are also concerns that the “blanket permission” to drug test anyone on food stamps is a constitutional violation.
Tussler said that the state already has the limited ability to test individuals who have been convicted of a drug felony or who are suspected of using illegal substances. “Taking it one step further and to suggest that people who are using the food stamp benefit are also addicted to drugs is a huge stretch,” she said. “The suggestion that we need more is a violation of the U.S. Constitution.”