Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker Wants Drug Tests for Welfare, Unemployment Recipients

By Paul Gaita 11/12/14

Scott Walker would like to emulate the failure of his fellow conservative governors.

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In what is becoming a recurring and unpleasant refrain with Republicans, newly re-elected Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker will put in motion a system to require drug tests for state residents who receive either unemployment insurance or food stamps.

The plan, which Walker announced during his re-election campaign, has not been finalized, but seeks to require drug testing for “those requesting unemployment and able-bodied, working-age adults requesting food stamps from the state.” 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.

Currently, at least eleven states have passed legislation that requires drug testing or screening for residents to receive public assistance, while unemployment compensation comes with a drug test in four states, two of which, Kansas and Missouri, have both requirements.

However, the success rate of ferreting out drug users from the ranks of the unemployed and those on welfare is exceptionally low. Tennessee found just one drug user out of 800 welfare recipients, while Utah generated 12 positive tests from its welfare recipients. Florida Governor Rick Scott has pursued a testing system in his state since 2011, despite the U.S. Supreme Court’s refusal to grant his petition and a cost to tax payers of hundreds of millions of dollars, while the state of Texas just announced that it will has filed a new bill for review that will require testing for those seeking government assistance.

A spokesperson from the Drug Policy Alliance responded to the proposed Wisconsin plan by stating, “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. Drug testing families and individuals struggling to make ends meet is uncaring, uncompassionate and unconstitutional.”

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Paul Gaita lives in Los Angeles. He has contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Variety, LA Weekly, Amazon.com and The Los Angeles Beat, among many other publications and websites.