Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R), who campaigned for President-elect Donald Trump during his presidential run, has sent his ally a public letter asking him to pave the way for drug testing food stamps recipients before Trump has even assumed office.
“We want your help as soon as possible,” Walker wrote, before outlining specific demands, the first of which is the ability to screen and test people who need food stamps for drug use.
While states have broad authority to change the requirements for the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families cash welfare program, and thus 10 states have chosen to drug test applicants and recipients and deny those who refuse the tests or fail them, they currently have no such latitude over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), or food stamps.
But that hasn’t stopped Walker from signing a measure into law that would drug test SNAP applicants and recipients and then suing the federal government to allow him to carry it out. He’s also asked Congress to pass legislation that would give him the permission he seeks, but a bill put forward to do so failed.
Walker appears to believe, however, that the Trump administration will grant him what he’s looking for. “We…are optimistic your administration will give states like Wisconsin the flexibility to provide the accountability the taxpayers demand,” he wrote in the section requesting the authority to implement drug testing.
While Walker characterized drug testing as “helping the residents of Wisconsin,” evidence from the states that drug test welfare benefits doesn’t make that seem likely. The drug tests come at taxpayer expense, and so far have totaled nearly $2 million in the states that have active regimes. Proponents have claimed that the cost gets offset by the savings in benefits denied to drug users, yet tests are showing up very few positive results — in 2015, two states uncovered exactly zero.
Walker and others in favor of these programs have also claimed that they help make people ready for work and erase the “barriers to employment related to substance abuse,” as he put it in his letter. But that would require giving those with drug use problems treatment and help overcoming addiction. In at least one state, none of the people kicked off of welfare have gotten treatment. Most state laws don’t include any extra money or resources for programs, and many are so full that they can’t take new patients.
As a candidate, Trump didn’t weigh in on the issue of whether to drug test the poor who need public benefits, although he did call for he and Democratic rival Hillary Clinton to take a test before a debate. He also called for increased treatment for drug addiction. It’s yet to be seen if and how Trump will respond to Walker’s demands.