Trump administration reviewing proposal to drug test for food stamp benefits

A new proposal from the Trump administration could require some SNAP beneficiaries to undergo drug testing. CORNELIUS FROLIK/STAFF
A new proposal from the Trump administration could require some SNAP beneficiaries to undergo drug testing. CORNELIUS FROLIK/STAFF

The Trump administration is reportedly considering new measures which could require some food stamp beneficiaries to undergo drug testing.

According to an Associated Press article, those affected under the proposal being reviewed by the administration would be able-bodied individuals without dependents who are applying for certain specialized jobs. An official briefed on the plan believes five percent of current Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) beneficiaries would be affected by the new plan.

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The proposal is viewed by proponents of the measure as a means to allow states to have more flexibility in how they implement federal programs for the poor, unemployed and underserved, while also allowing them to tighten work requirements. Republican supporters of the bill argue greater state control can help the program save money and lower benefit dependency. The plan calls for trimming $17 billion out of the SNAP budget for 2019 and $213 billion from the program over the next decade.

Trump’s proposal is the latest policy under consideration by the current administration regarding food assistance benefits. In February, Trump proposed changes to what recipients would be able to purchase, allotting half of their monthly benefits to a United States Department of Agriculture “foods package” that would consist of shelf-stable milk, ready to eat cereals and other staples.

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Under current federal law, states are not allowed to impose more eligibility criteria on SNAP applicants. In 2015, Wisconsin governor Scott Walker included a provision in a bill which would have required drug testing for applicants, but a federal court halted the attempt. Walker moved forward with a work around in December 2017 which allows the state to test participants in the state’s Employment and Training Program who also receive FoodShare, Wisconsin’s version of SNAP.

It is unclear if the Trump proposal would go against the federal ruling.

The plan, if passed, could have a ripple effect here in the Buckeye State. According to a report from the USDA, 12.7 percent of households across Ohio’s 8th and 10th Congressional Districts — which encompass Clark and Champaign counties — received SNAP benefits in 2016. Of those, more than 50 percent had children under 18.

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Ohio does not have any laws presently which require screenings in relation to SNAP, but a bill passed in the Ohio House of Representatives in November 2017 would require Ohio Direction Cards to bear a color photo of the named recipient or a member of their household if it becomes law. That bill is under committee review in the Ohio Senate.

There have been shows of support for drug testing in Ohio in the past. A petition started by a Chillicothe resident in 2015 calling for drug testing for SNAP beneficiaries garnered 20,000 signatures before it closed.

The concept of drug testing for safety-net programs such as SNAP is not entirely new. At least 15 states have laws which require the tests for recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, commonly known as welfare. As of March 2017, 20 more states have introduced legislation which calls for some form of drug testing for public assistance recipients, according to a report from the National Conference of State Legislatures.