In preparation for a possible federal challenge, Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel filed a lawsuit Tuesday asking the district court to allow the state to drug-test food stamp recipients.
“This lawsuit seeks to provide clarity that the state of Wisconsin has the authority to require drug-testing for FoodShare recipients,” Schimel said in a statement. “In previous communications with the state of Wisconsin, the federal government has taken the opposite position despite the clear statutory language in federal law.”
The lawsuit was filed against top officials at the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). The agency oversees the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more commonly known as food stamps. The main problem is unclear federal rules regarding whether states can drug-test those on welfare.
The program is run by both federal and state agencies. Though the state has interrupted federal law to say it could drug-test recipients, Program Director for the Midwest Susan Holzer warned it could not.
“As you are aware, states are prohibited under federal law from imposing any additional eligibility conditions on individuals for the receipt of SNAP benefits,” Holzer wrote in an email, according to the lawsuit.
“Therefore, FNS will continue to monitor closely any action the Wisconsin state Legislature takes on this legislation,” the email continued. “If the legislation is subsequently enacted into law, FNS will work with its general counsel to determine how it interacts with federal law governing the program and advise the state agency appropriately.”
Wisconsin first proposed drug-testing food stamp recipients in the most recent state budget, signed by Republican Gov. Scott Walker on Sunday. Walker is currently running in the Republican primary for president. Wisconsin is not the first state which has tried to implement drug-testing for welfare recipients. Georgia proposed a similar policy but in 2014 the USDA held the same position that the state could not.
SNAP is the nation’s largest food-assistance program. According to a report from the USDA, the program has increased from 17 million participants in 2000 to nearly 47 million in 2014. The size alone has prompted concern among many lawmakers of the potential for abuse.