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Trump administration weighs letting states drug test people who receive food assistance

The proposal is the latest in a line of efforts to destroy programs that offer assistance to the neediest among us.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, OMB Director Tom Price and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. CREDIT: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, OMB Director Tom Price and Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue. CREDIT: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

The Trump administration is considering a plan that would allow states to require Supplementary Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) — formerly known as food stamps — recipients to undergo drug testing in order to receive benefits, the Associated Press reported Wednesday.

According the AP, the proposal would apply mostly to recipients who are able-bodied without dependents and applying to some specialized jobs. It’s a tactic many conservatives have advocated for in recent years, purportedly in an effort to save states money, but the move would leave many needy people without the resources they need. An official told the AP that about five percent of program recipients could be affected.

The AP also reported on Agriculture Department emails it obtained from February, in which officials said they were waiting for word from the White House about the timing of a possible drug testing announcement.

“I think we just have to be ready because my guess is we may get an hour’s notice instead of a day’s notice,” associate administrator of SNAP Jessica Shahin reportedly wrote.

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Federal law does now allow states to make their own laws imposing restrictions on SNAP eligibility, though a number of states have tried. The idea has been a favorite of Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who asked the Trump administration to be able to drug test both SNAP recipients and Medicaid enrollees. Florida has tried to implement a similar program, though a federal appeals court in the state determined in 2014 that drug testing SNAP recipients would be unconstitutional.

Nonetheless, the Trump administration is looking to make it possible for states to do exactly that. Though the administration has not taken an official public position on SNAP, as the AP noted, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has promised to provide states with “greater control over SNAP.”

“As a former governor, I know first-hand how important it is for states to be given flexibility to achieve the desired goal of self-sufficiency for people,” he has said. “We want to provide the nutrition people need, but we also want to help them transition from government programs, back to work, and into lives of independence.”

The argument that drug testing for welfare programs will give states flexibility and save them money doesn’t actually pass the test, if you will. As ThinkProgress reported last April, drug testing for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) costs taxpayers more $1.3 million and identified just 369 drug users.

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The plan allowing states to drug test SNAP recipients would be the latest in a line of Trump administration efforts to restrict welfare programs. In recent months, the administration has considered plans that would allow states to implement work requirements and lifetime limits for Medicaid in the aim of allowing states “flexibility.”