Pee for Pay: Wisconsin to Drug Test Food-Stamp Recipients

Wisconsin is proceeding with its plan to drug test those applying to receive food stamps. With any luck, the decision will be swiftly followed by elementary-level U.S. history quizzes outside the voting booth. If we’re in the process of putting forth long-overdue baselines for attaining the rights people fight to preserve, why not?

It’s a decision that benefits both sides. Those who condemn recipients of social services as lazy, unambitious dependents of the state would have the most basic parameters in place to ease their minds. Honest food stamp recipients who are on the receiving end of such allegations, at least in the state of Wisconsin, would be able to put such charges to rest.

And those who have grown used to receiving benefits from the third most popular social program in America, using SNAP to purchase food they could otherwise afford while spending greenbacks on sacks of weed or worse, will see their SNAP benefits revoked. Fair is fair, and those who save their money should not have to pay for the food of those who choose not to.

Is such a view sanctimonious? Not at all. Which will make it even more interesting to find out how Al Sharpton and CNN will twist this issue around the race card. Or whether federal courts will continue to block the legislation, which two years ago, ‘languished because it conflicts with federal rules prohibiting states from imposing additional eligibility criteria on food stamp recipients.’ When Florida attempted to enact a similar drug test in 2014, they were blocked on the grounds that ‘it violated constitutional protections against unreasonable searches.’ (Minneapolis Star Tribune)

Governor Scott Walker has decided to proceed without approval from the Trump administration, leaving it unclear whether the policy will face a rebuff from the executive. The federal courts are likely to take the decision out of the president’s hands by issuing their own decision. But as history has shown, eventually Donald Trump will fall on one side of the issue or the other, with betting money saying he sides with Walker’s conservative stance. For now, we can only examine the details of Wisconsin’s proposed policy and the statistics which show such a policy is badly needed.

For starters, even if approved, testing will not be in place for at least a year, and that is a conservative estimate.

‘The Legislature has four months to review the rule and it could take a year after its approval before the testing would begin. Lawsuits by those who oppose the drug testing are expected once it's implemented, assuming the federal government doesn't step in and block it in the meantime.’ (Star Tribune)

Childless SNAP applicants who test positive for drugs, a percentage the Walker administration has guesstimated at .3 percent of recipients, would not be punished as you might expect. In fact, they would be offered rehab on the state’s dime. Those with children would not even be subject to the drug test, bringing up the possibility that, should drug-testing expand, a rise in childbirth among drug test-averse applicants could be reasonably expected. This would not be a positive development in any sense.

For those who question how many people are misusing or abusing food stamps and other federal assistance programs, or how far applicants would be willing to go to avoid the most reasonable of entry requirements, consider what happened when able-bodied food stamp recipients in Alabama were required to adhere to work requirements.

‘Thirteen previously exempted Alabama counties saw an 85 percent drop in food stamp participation after work requirements were put in place… Among the 13 counties, there were 5,538 adults ages 18-50 without dependents receiving food stamps as of Jan. 1, 2017. That number dropped to 831 - a decline of about 85 percent - by May 1, 2017.’ (

This number goes to show that Gov. Scott Walker’s estimation that .3 percent of current food stamp applicants would test positive for drugs may be correct, but that it doesn’t truly represent the issue or the proposed solution. The Alabama case shows us that, if such a percentage were to be accurate, it would most certainly be due to a drop-off in applicants who knew they would not pass the drug screen and therefore decided not to apply. Considering that over 14% of foods bought using food stamps are considered by most to be ‘junk food’ – unnecessary, unhealthy products – such a drop-off in food stamp applicants would restrict easy access to foods and drinks that lead to greater health costs.

Of course, it’s easy to argue that these people will just spend their own money on the same junk food. For most, that’s just fine. If it’s one’s own money, one can spend it however they’d like. But, most know that one never spends their own money the same way they spend somebody else’s. One is not as quick to spend their own hard-earned money on a King-Sized pack of Reese’s Cups as they would be on the federal government’s dime. Hopefully the federal courts will not block the passage of Wisconsin’s drug screening program, a basic requirement all able-bodied Americans should be subject to when they apply to spend somebody else’s money on themselves.

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