Drug testing welfare benefits have been enacted in at least nine different U.S. states, with varying results and more than one legal challenge.
Wisconsin, however, is attempting to be the first state to enact a drug testing program for food stamp recipients, in a program that has the endorsement of Gov. Scott Walker. However, for the program to take effect, the state will need the federal government’s help.
Current federal law does not allow for drug testing for benefits, so the Trump administration and Congress would likely have to intervene to make it happen.
It’s unclear whether the federal government will allow the measure to go into effect, and it may need a change in federal law.
“Employers have jobs available, but they need skilled workers who can pass a drug test,” Walker said in a statement. “This rule change means people battling substance use disorders will be able to get the help they need to get healthy and get back into the workforce.”
Walker’s drug testing program would probably require about 2,100 single, childless, able-bodied individuals out of 67,400 people on welfare to be drug tested, according to the Walker administration. If those people failed a drug test, they would not receive food stamps but would be eligible for state-sponsored rehabilitation.
Wisconsin is one of 11 states to propose drug testing for food stamps, also known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, but Wisconsin would be the first to start the program. If the state legislature doesn’t block the measure in 120 days, the program could go into effect in late 2018.
The plan would cost $867,000 to treat the 224 people the Walker administration expects to test positive each year. The state, federal government and private insurers would share some of those costs.
When Wisconsin and states have proposed limitations on food stamps in the past — like drug testing or preventing welfare dollars from being used on sugary foods and soft drinks — the federal courts and the government have blocked the rules from going into effect.
Kevin Concannon, an appointee of former President Barack Obama and current undersecretary at the federal Food and Nutrition Service within the Department of Agriculture, said the proposal would not fare any better than previous state-level changes to the food stamps program.
“The law clearly does not allow it,” Concannon told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The governor’s office “forwarded that request to us and it was very clear, we consulted the legal counsels here and the law absolutely does not allow it,” Concannon said.
The plan already has attracted opponents to promise legal challenges to the proposal, and welfare advocacy groups say the program doesn’t address the right problem.
“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,” Jon Peacock, research director for Wisconsin non-profit Kids Forward, told the Associated Press.