Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has approved a state policy requiring some welfare applicants to pass a drug test before receiving benefits. The screening requirements will take effect on Nov. 9.
Walker announced on Nov. 3 that he approved the measure submitted by the state Department of Children and Families, which would subject state work experience program applicants as well as some food stamps, job training or unemployment insurance recipients to mandatory drug testing, The Cap Times reports. Those suspected of drug abuse will receive referrals for state-funded treatment programs and must complete them in order to receive benefits.
Legislators approved Walker's drug test proposal for certain welfare recipients in the state budget, which was passed in July and allotted money for the upcoming program.
"Our 2015-17 State Budget implements common-sense reforms that put in place drug screening, testing, and treatment mechanisms, so we can continue strengthening Wisconsin’s workforce," Walker wrote in a press release posted on his administration's website. "Employers across the state frequently tell me they have good-paying jobs available in high-demand fields, but need their workers to be drug-free. These important entitlement reforms will help more people find family-supporting jobs, moving them from government dependence to true independence."
Supporters agree with Walker that the new requirements will help more people secure employment, which in turn will reduce spending on benefits, but opponents accuse the proposal of targeting poor people and wasting valuable state money. A ThinkProgress study found that, within seven states with similar programs -- Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah -- applicants tested positive at a very low rate of one percent, which is far below the national drug use rate of 9.4 percent. Collectively, the states have spent almost $1 million on drug testing.
Similar drug testing rules have already passed in 13 other states, including Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.