The state of Wisconsin is poised to take a bold step in curbing welfare abuse in the state. Governor Scott Walker is placing his reputation on the line as he pushes his state to become the first in the country to test welfare applicants for drug use. He is asking at this time for the ability to require all able-bodied adults without children to submit to a drug screen before getting food benefits in his state.
Wisconsin is not the first state to as the federal government to allow this type of testing. Currently, 16 states are pushing to include drug testing as a regular part of their food benefit program.
They are also not the first to attempt to start this type of program. Back in 2014, Florida tried to move forward with a similar program to test applicants. This measure failed and ended up in federal court.
An appeals court found that the program violated applicants’ rights as it was an unlawful search. It also was found to violated federal protections for food benefit programs as it placed extra criteria for the use of federal programs. Usually, states are not allowed to put additional criteria for applicants accessing federal programs.
As Florida struggled to get the drug testing started, Governor Walker moved Wisconsin forward with their program. Under the Obama White House, Walker attempted to file a federal lawsuit in 2015 to push the issue. It was the Obama White House that initially blocked the drug testing, but the suit was rejected because the administration did not put a formal policy in place to prevent the state testing.
Walker did not allow the rejection of the lawsuit to stop his efforts to reform the welfare system in his state. In 2015, he was successful in getting the support of the Republican-controlled legislature to start the testing. At that point, the only major issue was the fact that the language of the program was disputed. The question again was whether or not the state had the right to add screening requirements for only the one state.
Because there were issues with the language of the original request, Walker has updated the rules of the current program with a more explicit change. After consulting with a support team, state officials contend that the shift in the program is well within the scope of the Governor’s authority.
Walker has turned over the new version of the request to the legislature for approval. They have up to four months to look over the plan. If it is approved without further follow-up, the testing could start within a year of the approval. They are expecting lawsuits to follow the approval because many with a more liberal agenda are fighting the requirement.
At this point, there are far more questions than answers about whether or not the new request will make it beyond the legislature. Walker did gain support from many Republicans for the request and had not seen anything directly from the Trump White House that indicates there is a problem with the application. It is possible that liberal members of the legislature may fall back on the earlier efforts to block the testing in Florida as a way to stop the request.
Upon approval, the drug testing could roll out in several different waves. The first targets would be the childless adults who are not deemed to be disabled. The program has language written into the request to expand testing in the future to include parents as well. The parents being testing could include anyone with children between the ages of 6 and 18.
While the more liberal group likes to point to the fact that some with a drug issue could be turned away from getting benefits, the focus of the program is to get the applicants drug treatment. A positive test does not merely end in the applicant not getting help, but instead opens up a chance to attend state-funded treatment.
The built-in supports tied to treatment help to end the ongoing abuse of welfare by those who are using drugs. It also helps to identify those who genuinely need help to get clean. The addition of the testing requirement also increases the level of responsibility for the able-bodied adults who may be able to return to work in the future.