Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Sues Federal Government to Drug Test Food Stamp Recipients

By McCarton Ackerman 07/21/15

The presidential hopeful is brandishing his conservative credentials in pushing a failed policy.

Governor Scott Walker

Federal law doesn’t give individual states much room to create new terms on the conditions for receiving food stamps, which has led Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) to sue the federal government in order to obtain the right to drug test Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients.

Known as FoodShare in Wisconsin, the program gives monthly food vouchers in the form of debit cards to anyone below a certain income. SNAP recipients cannot be drug tested, but Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) recipients can, so Walker is aiming to have equal access to drug testing for both benefits if there is “reasonable suspicion” of drug use.

However, Georgia’s attempts last year to drug test food stamp recipients were denied by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and it’s expected that the same stance would take place in Wisconsin.

“Requiring SNAP applicants and recipients to pass a drug test in order to receive benefits would constitute an additional condition of eligibility, and therefore, is not allowable under law," said the USDA. U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told Huffington Post that “Gov. Walker hasn’t read the law. It’s always a good idea before you start litigation to understand what the law is.”

Walker’s drug testing policy isn’t just limited to food stamp recipients. He also wants testing to extend to those requesting unemployment benefits. Current figures show that an estimated 836,000 Wisconsin residents, 40% of which are children, received FoodShare benefits, while more than 39,000 people filed weekly unemployment compensation claims.

“If Governor Scott Walker cared about families in his state, his first response would be to ensure that people who struggle with problematic drug use are able to receive treatment on demand and the help they need to live a healthy and productive lifestyle,” said a spokesperson from the Drug Policy Alliance last November. “Drug testing families and individuals struggling to make ends meet is uncaring, uncompassionate and unconstitutional.”

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.