By Eelisa Jones
Politicians and advocates have reignited a national debate over drug-testing welfare recipients in response to a January press release from Wisc. Gov. Scott Walker.
Walker’s press release announced his intention to pursue a drug testing policy for a select number of recipients of two major public assistance programs: FoodShare and Medicaid.
The Walker administration also seeks to mandate drug-testing for unemployment benefit recipients who qualify only for occupations that conduct drug-testing as required by state law.
The FoodShare and Medicaid screening proposals would only affect childless, ‘able-bodied’ adults.
The governor also proposes that the state offer free recovery treatment and job training to those welfare recipients who test positive for illegal substances.
A Wednesday email from Gov. Walker’s spokesperson, Laurel Patrick, states that Walker is pursuing the authority to establish the programs suggested above by requesting legal waivers from the federal government.
Patrick wrote that the Walker administration also seeks to implement drug testing for participants in the Transform Milwaukee, transitional jobs, Children First, and Trial Employment Match Program.
The screening process for these programs would also be limited to childless or non-custodial adults.
Social Security Insurance and the majority of unemployment applicants would remain exempt from testing.
Gov. Walker argues that the proposed drug-testing policy would strengthen Wisconsin’s workforce by encouraging drug-free lifestyles for working and potentially-working low-income, childless adults.
There are a few aspects of Walker’s drug-testing proposal that have raised a few eyebrows of local and political commentators.
There remains little definitive evidence linking the receipt of public assistance programs (like FoodShare and Medicare) with a higher risk of drug use.
Secondly, there is a minor likelihood that the federal government would authorize Gov. Walker’s sweeping proposals.
In his January Workforce Readiness Plan press release, Walker wrote: “We are addressing some of the barriers keeping people from achieving true freedom and prosperity and the independence that comes with having a good job and doing it well.”
While Walker uses lofty language to describe mandatory drug-testing as a way of encouraging Wisconsin’s publically-assisted citizens to achieve “true freedom,” the evidence supporting the projected effectiveness of his FoodShare and Medicaid drug-testing proposal is dubious.
Opponents to drug-testing proposals like Walker’s often claim lack of evidence and underlying discrimination as the main motivators for such measures.
If Walker’s proposal passes, it’s possible that the state would be funneling significant funds into an ultimately fruitless program.
Jon Peacock, Director of Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, agrees.
“The largest problem [in Wisconsin] is the ineffective use of state and federal funds,” Peacock told the Courier Tuesday.
“There are far more cost effective ways of helping low-income families and the state’s workforce.”
There also seems to be a lurking feeling that our governor may be using this general welfare drug-testing proposal for political posturing for the 2016 Presidential Election.
Given that there is only a scant chance that the federal government would approve general drug-testing of childless welfare applicants, one is left asking why a governor would publically advocate for a program that is so unlikely to move past the drafting table.