Gov. Scott Walker, along with 11 other states, signed a letter Monday, supporting a federal bill that would give Wisconsin the right to drug test people receiving food stamp benefits.
The bill, which U.S. Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Alabama, co-authored, would amend the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program. This program would provide food stamp benefits to states and allow them to conduct drug tests on recipients, Sherri Tussler, Hunger Task Force executive director, said.
Under current federal law, states are prohibited from testing food stamp recipients for drugs unless they are felons convicted for drug abuse, Tussler said. Walker introduced a bill last April to include all food stamp recipients, but was unsuccessful. He now looks to push his old bill forward through Aderholt’s federal bill.
Tussler said drug testing would be unnecessarily costly for the state government. States like Utah and Missouri have spent roughly $25,000 and $490,000 implementing the drug tests, only to find that just a small fraction of food stamp recipients failed them.
Drug testing requirements would also hamper Food Share, Wisconsin’s own food stamp program, because it would add an extra barrier to food stamp applications, Tussler said. States are not allowed to add these extra barriers under federal law.
“It’s an expensive venture that is quite frankly mean spirited,” Tussler said. “I think it’s very important for the governor of our state to understand the U.S. Constitution.”
Under current state law, some food stamp recipients are required to either work, enroll in a job training program or work and participate in a job training program for 80 hours monthly to continue receiving their benefits. Otherwise, they lose Food Share benefits for three years. Aderholt’s bill would require recipients who fail the drug test to take part in these job training programs.
Tussler said the law mandating job training has also limited the number of people receiving Food Share benefits. There is a decrease in Food Share participants, but an increase in the number of people going to food pantries and seeking emergency food.
Thousands of former food stamp recipients no longer eligible for program, turn to food pantriesAccording to data released by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, nearly 15,000 able-bodied and childless adults lost access to Read…
Walker said in a statement implementing drug testing requirements would encourage recipients with substance abuse to be more independent. He said it would mandate training such recipients and give them a proper job that could help them in the long run.
“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,” Walker said.
Walker is currently working with Aderholt to push forward the federal legislation.
The Wisconsin Department of Justice did not respond to request for comment.