Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and 11 other Republican governors have co-authored a letter urging Congress to allow their states to drug test food stamp recipients.
The letter — written to Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL), chair of the House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee that administers the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — strikes a paternalistic note. “Drug testing recipients of SNAP benefits… will aid in our ability to move individuals off of this welfare program and back into the workforce as productive members of their communities,” the governors write.
But research shows that drug testing welfare recipients is a solution in search of a problem. While the federal government has thus far vetoed state proposals to drug test SNAP recipients — hence the governors’ letter — states are allowed to drug test people who receive cash welfare benefits from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, the administration of which was largely handed to states as part of the 1996 welfare reform bill. But among the seven states with drug testing regimes for TANF as of early 2015, the positive test rates in all but one were below 1 percent, and all of them were below the national drug use rate. Those states together spent nearly $1 million on the testing.
Drug Testing Welfare Recipients Is A Popular New Policy That Cost States Millions. Here Are The…Economy by & CREDIT: Shutterstock/Dylan Petrohilos In 10 states, someone who applies for welfare cash assistance…thinkprogress.orgAderholt, who in February introduced a bill that would empower states to drug test SNAP recipients, argues that his measure would actually save money, as the cost of drug testing would be more than made up for by tightening SNAP eligibility requirements and removing those who fail drug tests from the rolls.
In a statement accompanying the governors’ letter, Walker characterized the drug testing proposal as a “common-sense reform” that will make it easier “for recipients with substance abuse to move from government dependence to true independence.” But during a hearing about Aderholt’s bill in February, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) pointed out the absurdity of singling out welfare recipients for added scrutiny. “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,” DeLauro said.
During that same hearing, Aderholt argued that if a food stamp 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.”
Last year, Walker approved a budget bill that included a provision allowing Wisconsin to drug test food stamp recipients. His administration subsequently sued the federal government in order to prevent feds from blocking the implementation of the tests.
Department of Agriculture data indicates that 45.8 million people, or about 14 percent of the country’s population, benefit from the SNAP program in any given month.