Governors Urge Congress: Lift Food Stamp Drug Testing Ban

by Connor D. Wolf

Eleven governors urged congressional lawmakers in a letter released Tuesday to support a proposal that would give states the right to drug-test food stamp recipients.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) administers the food stamp program in coordination with state agencies. It is officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). States are allowed some freedom in how they run the program but there are limits.

“We believe that Congress specifically gave states the flexibility to decide whether to implement this common-sense reform,” the letter noted. “Welfare programs typically have job training requirements as a core element, we write today to express our sincere confidence that drug testing recipients of SNAP benefits is not only lawful, but will aid in our ability to move individuals off of this welfare program.”

Republican Rep. Robert Aderholt introduced a proposal Feb. 12 that would scrap the drug-test restriction. The proposal aims to reducing fraud and abuse within the food stamp system. The Republican governors are urging others in Congress to support the proposal. Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern called the proposal an attempt to demonize poor people.

“Why aren’t my Republican colleagues calling for drug testing for wealthy CEOs and oil company executives who receive taxpayer subsidies?” McGovern said, according to The Huffington Post. “Why is it that they always pick on poor people? It’s a lousy thing to do.”

Aderholt also put in his proposal a plan to help those with drug dependency. The funds saved from restricting those who fail a drug-test will be put into rehabilitation programs. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has said that drug-testing is only permissible in rare circumstances, like if a potential recipient has been convicted of a drug-related felony.

“Drug testing for SNAP is allowable only in very limited circumstances,” Vilsack wrote in May, 2015. “However, as noted, expanding mandatory drug testing to others, who are not subject to this ban, is not allowable under SNAP rules.”

Food stamp recipients are required to abide by some requirements in order to qualify. Able-bodied adults without children, for instance, must work at least 20 hours a week or be enrolled in a training program. Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker joined the letter with past attempts to drug-test recipients in his state being blocked by the USDA.

“Programs like SNAP typically require job training as a condition to receive benefits, and implementing drug-testing requirements,” Walker said in a statement. “The legislation authored by Congressman Robert Aderholt confirms states’ rights to drug test SNAP recipients, and we look forward to working with him on this crucial issue and implementing this common-sense reform in Wisconsin.”

Walker first tried to implement drug testing as a qualification for receiving food stamps July 12 as a provision in the state budget. The Walker administration filed a lawsuit not long after against top officials at the USDA which blocked the state from including drug testing as a qualification. Attempts by other states have also been blocked.

Republican Govs. Nikki Haley, Matt Bevin, Butch Otter and Greg Abbott were also among those who signed the letter. It was also signed by Republican Govs. Doug Ducey, Sam Brownback, Paul LePage, Pete Ricketts, Mary Fallin and Gary Herbert.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 was what first imposed work requirements nationally. They were waived for most states in response to the last recession but are now being restored due to improved economic conditions. Hundreds of thousands of food stamp recipients could lose their benefits in April as work requirements steadily go back into effect.

According to a report from the USDA, the program has increased from 17 million participants in 2000 to nearly 47 million in 2014. The improved economy has helped decrease the number of participants in recent years. Since participation hit its peak in December, 2012, the number of people receiving benefits has declined by more than 1.5 million, according to the Congressional Budget Office.

The USDA did not respond to a request for further comment by The Daily Caller News Foundation.

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