Under current law, states aren’t allowed to require drug screening and testing for low-income people to enroll in the food stamps program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP). That’s something Wisconsin, which is fighting the issue in court, and Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), who chairs the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee that administers SNAP, want to change. Aderholt has has unveiled a measure that would pave the way for states that want to add a drug testing requirement.
That didn’t fly with Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT). At a subcommittee hearing on Wednesday, she questioned why drug testing would be limited to the SNAP program and not all others subsidized through the Department of Agriculture, such as farmers who get federal crop insurance and other federal subsidies. “If we’re going to look at drug testing for SNAP, we should take the entire Department of Agriculture and all those programs that provide federal subsidy to folks, and they ought to be drug tested as well,” she said.
Aderholt argued at the panel that drug testing would be a way to reduce spending, given that anyone who applied to SNAP and either failed to take a test or tested positive would be denied benefits. He explained that his position is that if a recipient can afford drugs “then they have the money to buy food. The federal government should not be enabling people to fund their drug addiction at taxpayer expense.”
But SNAP is a very efficient program that lifts millions out of poverty, particularly when compared to other agriculture programs. The food stamps overpayment rate is just 2.61 percent, versus 5.23 percent for the crop insurance program. The conservation program made $2.7 million in overpayments in 2012, while SNAP made zero. More than 99 percent of SNAP benefits go to eligible households.
Drug testing has also not proven to save states money when implemented as a requirement for welfare benefits. Over the last two years, they’ve collectively spent nearly $2 million to turn up just 321 positive tests out of hundreds of thousands of applicants.
Aderholt also argued that his proposal “has a compassionate tone” because it would seek to help people with substance abuse problems get treatment, and he would prefer states allow those who complete treatment to become eligible for benefits again. His proposal includes $600 million in federal funds over five years for drug rehabilitation programs. But generally speaking, most states don’t spend enough to give all people with substance abuse problems access to programs.
Kevin Concannon, the Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition and Consumer Services at the Department of Agriculture, argued that drug testing ignores the dire need for “an adequate treatment base” for drug users. He also maintained that it would complicate and slow down the distribution of SNAP benefits.