Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) sued the federal government Tuesday in an effort to protect a new program to drug test food stamp recipients.
Walker signed his state’s budget into law Sunday, which included a provision to start drug testing people who apply for food stamps. But given that states have little leeway in making changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, better known as food stamps), Federal officials were expected to block the program, as they did when Georgia tried to drug test food stamp applicants last year.
Walker preemptively challenged them by having his health secretary file a lawsuit. In it, the administration argued that a food stamp recipients “are ‘welfare recipients’ and therefore may be tested and sanctioned for the use of controlled substances.” Unlike food stamps, states have broad leeway to make changes to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, known as welfare, such as instituting drug tests. Last year, Republicans in Congress attempted to pass legislation that would allow states to drug test food stamp applicants, but failed to pass it.
Other things could endanger Walker’s hopes of drug testing those who apply for food stamps. He also made changes to the budget that lifted limits on which applicants can be tested rather than only testing those who fall under “reasonable suspicion.” A similar program for drug testing TANF applicants was halted in Florida last year as a result of a federal appeals court decision that cited citizens’ constitutional protection from unreasonable searches.
States that drug test welfare applicants have found that the costs of the programs are high without producing many results. Welfare applicants use drugs at a lower rate than the general population does, and yet some states spend hundreds of thousands of dollars administering these tests.
The costs of drug testing programs go beyond the finances. Mandatory drug testing would further stigmatize public benefit recipients and could discourage those in poverty from reaching out for assistance. It also encourages the assumption that drug use causes people to turn to welfare, and that people who benefit from welfare use drugs.