Wisconsin governor pushes ‘true freedom’ with drug tests for welfare recipients
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker said on Thursday his upcoming budget proposal will call for requiring drug testing of many recipients of Medicaid, food stamps and jobless benefits and barring drug users from getting the aid.
At least 12 states have passed laws that require drug testing for public aid recipients, with the requirements varying by state, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
The proposal by Walker, considered a potential 2016 Republican presidential candidate, targets recipients without children of the Medicaid healthcare program for the poor and able-bodied adults without dependents on Foodshare, the state’s food stamp program, Walker spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said.
Drug testing also would be required for beneficiaries of state job programs.
Walker’s proposal, broader than other similar state programs in that it would require testing even if drug use is not suspected, will likely face constitutional challenges, according to legal experts.
Walker is due to unveil on Feb. 3 his proposal for the state’s budget covering 2015 to 17 budget. It needs approval by the state legislature.
“We know employers in Wisconsin have jobs available, but they don’t have enough qualified employees to fill those positions,” Walker said in a statement. “With this budget, we are addressing some of the barriers keeping people from achieving true freedom and prosperity and the independence that comes with having a good job and doing it well.”
Because the proposal targets a broad range of programs – and would require modifying federal rules on Medicaid eligibility – it will face challenges either from the Obama administration or rights groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, said Paul Secunda, director of the labor and employment law program at Marquette University Law School in Milwaukee.
Last month, a federal appeals court upheld a lower court ruling that killed a similar Florida law, saying it violated constitutional protections.
“In that case it was very clear (Florida) didn’t have any data that people in poverty were more likely to be on drugs,” Secunda said. “We now have a pretty good understanding that if you require people to be drug tested, that is considered an invasion of privacy.”
Most states base jobless benefits on work history and the reason for job loss, and require drug testing only if there is the suspicion or history of drug use or illegal activity.
The Wisconsin proposal calls for free drug treatment and job training for those who test positive for drug use. Walker did not say which drugs would be covered in the testing.
(Reporting by Mark Guarino in Chicago; Editing by Mary Wisniewski and Will Dunham)