Republican lawmakers push to drug test those on public assistance

Republicans lawmakers hoping to pass bills that they say will 'weed out' abuse

Speaker of the state Assembly Robin Vos recently announced a new Public Benefit Reform Committee. Vos and other republicans are hoping to pass bills that they say will weed out those who abuse the system. Those changes will likely come early this year.

The number of people eligible for programs like FoodShare, BadgerCare and Medicaid could change soon.

“One of things I pushed in the campaign that I will be acting on in this budget was finding ways to require people on public assistance of some sort or another to pass a drug test,’ Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker said.

In addition to drug testing there’s been talk of distributing public assistance money through an electronic debit card programmed to decline at places like casinos and liquor stores.

“This is not a punitive measure this is not about punishing people who are seeking public assistance this is about helping,” Walker said.

Democratic member of the state assembly Jill Billings of La Crosse said possible changes are unfair to those enrolled and also costly to taxpayers.

As the Western Region Economic Assistance Manager, Lori Graff oversees public assistance for several counties. She said drug testing already is required for some.

“If somebody has a drug felony in the past five years they do have to take a drug test and pass it in order to get FoodShare,” Graff said.

While Graff said it’s not a major problem, she does expect numbers to drop if requirements expand.

Mandating public assistance is often illegal under federal law and courts have found it unconstitutional. Gov. Walker is working closely with lawyers to ensure whatever is proposed is legal.