Wisconsin still wants to drug test welfare recipients

Oct 31 2017

Wisconsin still wants to drug test welfare recipients

Wisconsin must be stuck in some kind of auxiliary Kellyanne Conway universe where alternative facts are indeed real. It’s the only thing that makes sense considering the wealth of evidence proving that drug testing food stamp recipients doesn’t work. And yet Governor Scott Walker’s administration is pursuing the idea nonetheless.

But maybe we’re being too generous. Maybe their plan is as misguided and compassionless as it seems.

Either way, the latest invocation of the unsound practice came earlier this month when the Wisconsin Department of Health Services issued a new proposal calling for drug testing for those enrolled in the state’s FoodShare Employment and Training program.

The reasoning behind the move is classically narrow-minded and reveals a complete lack of understanding about drug-related issues. The press release announcing the proposal says it is being put forth because it “supports Governor Scott Walker’s efforts to help people move from government dependence to true independence.” How nice of them.

The proposal calls for an initial “drug screening,” with a drug test to follow “if necessary,” although it’s unclear exactly how they would determine what would make a drug test necessary.

The drug screenings and tests would not apply to all food stamp recipients, just those in the employment readiness program. If a person fails a drug test, they would be given the option of entering treatment and could then remain eligible for benefits. The reason for this, ostensibly, is to “ensure that able-bodied adults who are receiving taxpayer supported workforce training services are work-ready.”

Let’s unpack this a bit. First, the “dependence on the government” argument is one based in fantasy. The vast, vast majority of Americans want to work and aspire to earn more than the paltry government assistance they would receive by remaining “dependent.” Second, just because someone uses drugs does not mean they need treatment for drug use. Many people use drugs sparingly and recreationally, and have no substance use disorders at all. Forcing them to go to treatment would not only be worthless, it would cost the state money and yield no better outcomes for people in the program. Third, using drugs does not mean that you are not “work-ready.” People who use drugs recreationally as well as those with decades-long substance use disorders can hold down jobs with equal skill and competency.

At it’s foundation, the proposed rule change completely misses the reality of drug use and what it means to be a drug user operating in society. Studies have also proven time and again that drug testing state-assistance recipients does little to help anyone.

Even by their own estimates, the program would have little effect. According to their economic impact analysis, “It is estimated that 11% of individuals (or 224) who take a drug test would test positive for controlled substances.” Are you really going to screen and test everyone with merely the hope that 11 percent of people would test positive? And again, remember that many of those who would test positive would not benefit from treatment as they do not have a substance use disorder.

The proposed change is borne out of prejudiced and misguided notions about drug use and drug users that have remained pervasive for decades. If the program is really intended to get people “work-ready,” then focus on their work skills, not their personal lives. Compassionate assistance shouldn’t come with caveats.

It’s clear that the proposed change is not about work-readiness, dependence on the government, and certainly not about getting people the food they need to survive. It’s about demonizing drugs and drug users to the detriment of all.