Wisconsin governor touts drug testing for aid recipients

AP News
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Posted: Jan 22, 2015 12:55 PM

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Public aid recipients in Wisconsin would be required to undergo drug testing and could be limited in how long they can receive benefits under measures proposed Thursday by Gov. Scott Walker, who is positioning himself as a reformer as he eyes a 2016 presidential run.

The idea, which Walker first proposed during his re-election campaign, will be included in his state budget released to the Republican-controlled Legislature on Feb. 3. Walker revealed few new details Thursday while announcing other initiatives he said were designed to move from "government dependence to independence."

While best known nationally for effectively ending collective bargaining for public workers in 2011, Walker is trying to bring attention to other efforts he argues will bolster his resume for reshaping government.

"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," Walker said in a statement.

Eleven states already require drug testing of at least some recipients of cash welfare, according to data from the National Conference of State Legislatures. And four states have drug-testing requirements for at least some people filing for unemployment compensation.

But the idea has run into legal problems.

A federal appeals court in December affirmed a ruling that a law in Florida requiring welfare benefit applicants to submit to mandatory drug testing was unconstitutional. And Georgia officials last year put on hold a new law requiring drug testing of food stamp recipients amid concerns of its legality.

Walker is proposing that drug testing be required for childless adults on Medicaid and everyone applying for or receiving benefits from a variety of state aid programs, including unemployment insurance and FoodShare, which is Wisconsin's food stamp program. Walker said those who fail the drug test would be given the opportunity to participate in a free drug-treatment program and receive job training.

Walker is also calling for lowering from 60 months to 48 months the total period of time that able-bodied adults could receive welfare benefits under the Wisconsin Works program.

That will save the state $3 million over two years, Walker's spokeswoman Laurel Patrick said. She also said the drug test requirement would save the state money, but estimates would not be released until next month.

Rep. Peter Barca, the Democratic minority leader in the Assembly, said Walker's plan would "further hurt people striving to get to the middle class" and his goal should be to help all people in the state.

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