In a staunch display of the conservative principles of small government and fiscal responsibility, 11 GOP Governors want a large federal agency to impose an unconstitutional policy that burns public money without accomplishing its stated goal.
Since having his presidential ambitions dashed embarrassingly early in the GOP primary race, Scott Walker has devoted himself to drug-testing welfare and food stamp recipients in his state. Standing in his way—and that of other GOP governors obsessed with poor people’s urine, like Maine’s Paul LePage—is the Department of Agriculture, which prohibits drug testing people who apply for food stamps.
Legislation introduced by House Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-AL) would bypass that rule by adding language to next year’s farm bill to drug-test all food stamp applicants. The provision is nonsensical in many ways, starting with the fact that there are other much bigger recipients of government largesse from the Department of Agriculture than the poor—like farmers.
“If we’re going to look at drug-testing for SNAP, we should take the entire Department of Agriculture and all those programs that provide federal subsidy to folks, and they ought to be drug tested as well,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) said during hearings for the legislation.
This week, Scott Walker and 10 other Republican Governors signed a letter of support for Aderholt’s legislation, claiming they already have the authority to drug-test SNAP recipients based on language in the 1996 welfare act that says the federal government can’t prevent states from drug-testing welfare recipients (actually, food stamps, or SNAP, are administered by the Department of Agriculture, while TANF is administered by the states).
The letter dresses the policy in patronizing language about helping people get treatment and jobs, of course, claiming, “After all, drug testing and potentially getting treatment to be drug free doesn’t make it harder to get assistance; it makes it easier to get a job.” Other policy-geniuses who have signed on are Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin, who rode into office pledging to uninsure his constituents (but failed at even that) and Texas Governor Greg Abbot, who draws lawmaking inspiration from Scientology.
Republican governors’ crusade to drug test poor recipients of aid is almost breathtaking in its disdain for evidence. In states that have instituted the programs, the results have been ludicrously poor. Arizona found three positive tests in five years. Tennessee spent $11,000 finding out that 0.2 percent of the state’s welfare applicants failed to pass a drug test when they applied. Mississippi—the poorest state in the country by some measures—used up more than $5,000 turning up two positive drug tests. Overall, seven states that drug-tested TANF recipients in 2015 spent $1 million on testing, according to research by Think Progress.
Since far more people use food stamps than get welfare, expanding drug-testing to SNAP recipients promises to significantly outdo those failures rates.
Ever since heroin exploded into the national conversation, proponents of this kind of legislation have included claims that the policy could help people battling addiction. It won’t. Punishing people struggling with addiction flies in face of everything we know about addiction.
Of course, the real real purpose is to dissuade people from applying—because feeding your children is a luxury that should be reserved for the wealthy.