On Monday, Gov. Scott Walker decided to move forward with his intention to require all able-bodied adults to submit to drug testing in order to apply for food stamps. If he succeeds, Wisconsin will be the first state to implement this plan, which has been found unconstitutional or altogether blocked by the federal government.
The plan was approved by the Republican-controlled legislature over two years ago, but never went into effect because of its conflicts with the government’s prohibition of states adding more eligibility requirements on food stamps. Florida once had a similar requirement, but it was blocked by federal appellate courts in 2014, as a violation of the fourth amendment hindering unlawful searches.
The path for drug testing food stamp applicants is fraught with as many obstacles today as it was two years ago — Walker is just choosing to ignore them. In 2015, the federal lawsuit he filed seeking approval to begin testing applicants was rejected. The Trump Administration still has not clarified whether or not drug testing food stamp applicants is permissible, so Walker is deciding to go ahead with his plan.
These measures are wrong from both a legal and ethical standpoint. First, the law is discriminatory to low-income citizens. Although many individuals, regardless of economic class, are drug tested for school or employment, a vast majority of people are not. Requiring drug testing for food stamp recipients unfairly targets low-income individuals based on the assumption that they abuse drugs because they only make a certain amount of money. Spending tax dollars on discriminatory testing only perpetuates the stigma of the poor as immoral drug users, which continues to deter government bodies and society as a whole from helping the less fortunate.
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On another note, Walker’s plan is both unconstitutional, and a violation of federal laws. Any introductory government student understands that the constitution, as well as federal laws, have outright supremacy over any state measures. Just because you can, does not mean you should — in Walker’s case, he should not, and technically cannot.
Walker’s plan would also be a flagrant misuse of tax dollars. The administration has estimated that only 0.3 percent of Wisconsin’s applicants would actually test positive for drugs. In 2017 alone, Wisconsin has an average of 685,535 food stamp recipients per month, according to data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services. That large of an amount of drug testing, for such a small number of actual drug users is simply a waste.
John Peacock, the research director for Kids Forward, an organization that advocates for Wisconsin children and families, contests this assumption.
“The state could do far more to expand the workforce by investing in broader access to effective drug treatment programs, rather than spending scarce state resources on the administration of drug screening and testing requirements,” Peacock said.
If a food stamp applicant fails the drug test, they do have the option to receive state-funded rehabilitation, but that still does not solve the hunger problem in our state.
Along with the concern about misallocation of funds, Walker’s plan also negatively affects children. According to the annual report from the United States Department of Agriculture, 45 percent of food stamp beneficiaries are children — children who have no control over whether or not their parent abuses drugs. For the children of the small population of food stamp beneficiaries who use drugs, this plan would mean potentially losing their access to nutritious food. If their parent tests positive and chooses to take advantage of state-funded rehabilitation, their family may also lose a considerable amount of income as well. Punishing children for the mistakes of their parents is immoral, and frankly.
The practice of drug testing food stamp applicants is unconstitutional and illegal. Not only will it waste already precious tax dollars, but it discriminates against low-income citizens and unfairly impacts children. For these reasons and more, Scott Walker cannot and should not go forward with this plan, which is set to go before the greater Wisconsin legislature on Monday. For those who may lose benefits because of it, whether it be through drug use or a false positive, non-profit food pantries may be their only options. To the more fortunate, donate often. Regardless of class or personal choices, no one deserves to go hungry.
Abigail Steinberg ([email protected]) is a freshman majoring in political science and intending to major in journalism.