Alabama Lawmaker Wants To Drug Test Food Stamp Recipients

By Kelly Burch 03/13/19

The state rep's new bill targets SNAP beneficiaries who have a “reasonable suspicion” of drug use.

a woman shopping for food

An Alabama lawmaker has introduced legislation that would require people to undergo a drug test before they receive SNAP benefits, formerly known as food stamps.

Republican state Representative Tommy Hanes drafted the bill, which targets SNAP beneficiaries who have a “reasonable suspicion” of drug use. The bill defines "reasonable suspicion" as having a drug conviction within the past five years—thus, the legislation would heavily affect people with a history of substance use disorders.

According to Think Progress, SNAP recipients are already required to disclose any drug-related convictions. 

Under the bill, if a SNAP recipient tests positive for drugs, they would receive a warning. If they test positive a second time, their food assistance would be cancelled for a year, and if they test positive a third time they would be ineligible for life. However, recipients who have children could appoint someone else to get the children’s food assistance. 

People against this practice say that in addition to stigmatizing people on assistance, the bill would create financial stress, since drug tests after the first must be paid for by the SNAP recipient. However, people who pass their tests would be reimbursed. Anyone who refuses to be tested would not receive food assistance. 

Emily Moon of the Pacific Standard wrote that the bill would put the state’s SNAP program in jeopardy. 

“Drug tests for public benefits does not reduce drug use,” she wrote. “Instead, it makes federal assistance programs more expensive and less effective; research shows the requirements discourage people from applying and fail to help those with illegal drug dependences get jobs—the long-term goal of most public-assistance programs.”

Political science professor Matthew Gritter, of Angelo State University, said that drug testing can be a hassle that prevents people who need benefits from applying for them. Therefore, it reduces the efficiency of the SNAP program, he told the Pacific Standard last year. 

“One of the things that we found in states that have drug tested welfare recipients is that very few welfare recipients test positive, but it becomes very expensive to test them,” he said. “So you're raising the overhead costs to the program—and SNAP traditionally has had a very low overhead and a pretty positive impact. So a lot of these reforms, coming from people that advocate small government, are actually making the program clunkier and more bureaucratic.”

However, writing for the Alabama Political Reporter, Josh Moon said that facts like these do not matter to Rep. Hanes and others who support drug testing SNAP recipients.

“The liberal news media is playing a role in spreading false information about conservatives who attempt to implement common sense reform,” Hanes said in a press release. “Our goal should be helping folks become independent, so they are able to obtain a much higher standard of living.”

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.