Wisconsin Plunges Forward with Ill-Advised SNAP Drug Testing Plan

Despite having no federal approval, or any evidence that the policy would be helpful, Wisconsin added regulations last week that require screening and drug testing of participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s Employment and Training program (SNAP E&T), known in Wisconsin as FoodShare Employment and Training. While drug testing is not a direct requirement of SNAP eligibility, unemployed childless individuals are limited by federal requirements to receiving SNAP for only 3 months during any 36-month period, unless they meet certain work requirements. Participation in SNAP E&T is one way to meet those requirements. People who are unable to meet these work requirements are ultimately kicked off of SNAP, and it is likely that more will be pushed out under Wisconsin’s proposed drug testing policy.

Wisconsin’s plan to require drug testing and treatment in its FoodShare Employment and Training program was approved by Wisconsin’s legislature two years ago. However, the federal government previously informed states that they are not permitted to add new eligibility criteria for SNAP receipt. Although the Trump Administration has not issued public guidance changing that interpretation, Republican Gov. Scott Walker is undeterred and now making plans to implement his proposal anyway.

As explained in previous CLASP pieces, drug testing SNAP participants perpetuates stereotypes about people who need SNAP benefits and would undermine the program’s goal of ensuring that families and individuals get adequate nutrition. The Walker Administration estimates that just 3 percent of the program’s 67,400 applicants a year would test positive for drugs. However, the burden of first going through screening and then possibly being referred to a drug test would affect all applicants. Screening will ultimately lead to people who aren’t drug users being subjected to the inconvenience of having to undergo a drug test. Additionally, this proposal is stigmatizing and creates an “othering” effect, in which SNAP participation may become associated with drug use, which would deter certain people who need it from even applying for the program. Furthermore, Governor Walker’s plan is expensive, with an estimated annual cost of $101,500 to local agencies for administering the drug test, including the costs of re-testing during treatment.

Wisconsin has also proposed similar requirements for Medicaid under its pending 1115 Demonstration Waiver with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Along with drug testing, this waiver would impose time limits on how long able-bodied adults without dependents could get Medicaid. The waiver would also enact work requirements for this population, along with drug screening and testing.

Both the drug testing proposal for FoodShare Employment and Training and the state’s Medicaid waiver request are part of an overall effort to stigmatize recipients of public assistance and to impose hurdles that will make it harder for them to get and keep the benefits they need to work and care for their families.