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The High and the Low of Welfare Drug Testing in Wisconsin

By Andrew David Easler, Esq.

The debate over whether states should be allowed to drug test welfare recipients is still going strong, but that doesn’t mean states aren’t still trying to enact their own changes. Wisconsin is one state that is trying to take drug testing even farther by forcing those who receive assistance through Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), unemployment, job training, and other benefits to undergo testing as well. However, the state could be facing the same issues that plagued Florida in the past.

Wisconsin’s Highs

Like other states that have enacted drug testing for welfare recipients, Wisconsin leaders are doing so in an effort to make sure that recipients aren’t using welfare assistance as a means of funding their drug habits. However, Governor Scott Walker is taking that a step further by trying to also require those receiving SNAP benefits to do so as well. However, as SNAP is a federal program, Walker may be overstepping his boundaries. Generally, states are not allowed to make changes to federal programs or institute additional qualification requirements without a federal waiver stating that it is acceptable to do so.

As if Walker’s move already wasn’t bold enough, he is also suing the federal government in order to provide clarification on whether the State of Wisconsin actually has required authority to force Foodshare (Wisconsin’s SNAP program) recipients to have a urine drug test. The lawsuit is essentially trying to determine whether SNAP recipients can be treated the same as TANF recipients.

Walker’s reasoning behind his attempts at challenging the federal government’s laws is simple – he and his supporters feel that those who are receiving food stamp benefits are still welfare recipients, and as such should be held to the same requirements as state-run TANF and other assistance programs.

Wisconsin’s Lows

While all of this seems to show that Wisconsin is serious about drug testing for welfare in Wisconsin, there is another side to the story, and it isn’t a very happy one – especially to those who believe his actions speak volumes.

It is important to understand that there is one more piece to this puzzle – while those receiving SNAP benefits will be required to undergo testing, those receiving corporate welfare will not. For some, this unbalanced application simply shows discrimination against the poor. These people believe that beyond the fact Wisconsin is trying to force those who need assistance to take a drug test in order to receive the benefits that they should be entitled to, it also provides a glimpse into the politics of the situation as well. That is, that Walker is sending the message that low-income individuals are likely to be drug addicts, while those receiving corporate benefits (and who are more likely to have a higher income and education) are not.

Drug testing for welfare in Wisconsin is certainly a hot topic, and one started with highs and filled with lows. It remains to be seen whether the state’s laws will receive the same fate as Florida’s failed legislation, which it closely mirrors.

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