By Senator, Lena C. Taylor
By now, it should be a no-brainer. Spending scarce state resources to drug test Food Share recipients is neither fiscally responsible nor morally right. For years, Wisconsin’s self-designated drug czar, Governor Scott Walker, has been working to impose drug testing policies on state residents receiving assistance during difficult times. However, other states that have tried to drug test food stamp applicants have been told by the federal government that it was unconstitutional. Conversely, Walker has requested a waiver from the Trump administration and feels he may have found a way around the federal guidelines.
The data has consistently proven that the overwhelming majority of those receiving aid do not test positively for drugs. Seven states, Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah, were the first to institute similar programs for those receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) or welfare. After spending nearly $1 million to test a small number of people and with the exception of one state, less than 1 percent tested positive for drugs. The national average for drug use is 9.4 percent.
The facts are that for about $337,000 in 2014, Missouri tested 446 of the state’s 38,970 TANF applicants. 48 people tested positive. The state was projected to spend about $1.3 million dollars through 2017 on the program. In Michigan’s pilot program, not a single welfare recipient or applicant tested in the affirmative. In Utah, just 29 people tested positive. Many of us remember Florida’s 2011 attempt to test all TANF applicants, a finding of its unconstitutionality, and taxpayer funded $750,000 in legal fees.
Under Governor Walker, a revived plan was recently submitted to drug test recipients of the state’s Food Share program. The state has also applied for a federal waiver that would allow it to drug test Medicaid recipients as well. I opposed the proposal in 2015, as a member of the state’s budget committee then and I oppose it now. The state didn’t commit to providing adequate funding for drug treatment at the time and the current disposition is not much better. Nonetheless, the price tag for testing applicants yearly comes at a hefty price tag of about $867,000. Yet the Walker administration concedes that only about 224 people across the entire state are expected to test positive for drug use. .
Finally, at what point should these actions also be viewed through a moral lens? This year we watched as Republicans held a special legislative session on the opioid crisis, underfunded treatment centers and offered counties inadequate resources to treat people with drug or alcohol offenses instead of sending them to jail. But the Governor doesn’t want those with addiction problems to eat while they are dealing with treatment. Why would food be used as a tool to punish anyone struggling to overcome drugs? What additional forms of crisis do we propel these residents into has legislators with no medical expertise determine that hunger is a deterrent to substance abuse? Walker is wrong to create additional hurdles to recovery.