Wisconsin Plans To Drug Test Food Stamp Applicants

Wisconsin may become the first state to drug test able-bodied individuals who apply for food stamps.

Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker announced plans to move forward with policy that would require able-bodied adults applying for the state's FoodShare program to be drug tested, reports the StarTribune.

Other states have tried to enact similar rules, but the attempts have been blocked by the federal government found to be unconstitutional.

The state's plan was approved more than two years ago by the Republican-controlled legislature. But the plan was unable to advance as it conflicted with federal rules that prohibit states from adding new eligibility criteria for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program applicants and recipients, of which FoodShare is a part.

Florida had a similar drug test requirement for SNAP recipients, but a federal appeals court blocked the move in 2014, according to Fox News. The appeals court found that the new regulations violated constitutional protections against unreasonable searches.

In 2015, Walker filed a federal lawsuit seeking approval to drug test SNAP applicants, but the lawsuit was rejected because President Barack Obama's administration had not yet formally rejected the state's request to perform the drug testing.

In December 2016, Walker asked then-President-elect Donald Trump to allow the drug screening, but the administration has not taken action. Walker is now moving ahead with the plan anyway.

The governor approved a rule change to implement drug testing, which has been sent to the legislature for review.

"Our position is we have the authority to implement the rule," said Walker spokesman Tom Evenson.

The legislature has four months to review the rule. If approved, it could take up to a year before the drug testing would begin.

It is expected that lawsuits will be filed by those who oppose the testing once the policy is implemented if the federal government does not block it before then.

The plan would see that childless FoodShare participants who fail a drug test would be eligible for state-funded rehabilitation if they are unable to pay for it any other way. FoodShare is Wisconsin's name for SNAP.

Opponents of Walker's plan have begun speaking out about the policy.

"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," said Jon Peacock, the research director for Kids Forward, a Wisconsin organization that advocates for children and families.

Walker's administration estimated that only about 0.3 percent of the 67,400 applicants each year would test positive for drugs, or about 220 people.