June 5 2014
Patrice J. Lee
Ensuring that taxpayer dollars don’t go to support Americans with drug habits is the impetus behind a new Georgia law that mandates food stamp recipients who are suspected of drug abuse by case workers be tested. Officials in Washington are none too pleased and are telling Peach State officials to back off.
This week, U.S. Department of Agriculture officials sent a stern warning to Georgia officials that they cannot require food stamp recipients to pass drug screenings as a condition of receiving benefits according to federal law.
In March, the Georgia legislature passed a bill that would require any of the 1.7 million Georgians receiving food stamps and 16,000 receiving welfare to undergo testing if their case workers suspected they had been abusing drugs. And that test would be at their expense. If they failed, they would lose their benefits, although their children would continue to receive benefits. A pilot project that tested those receiving unemployment benefits was also part of this plan.
However, USDA policy prohibits states from mandating drug testing of (food stamp) applicants and recipients.
Gwinnett Daily Post reports on the controversy:
House Bill 772, approved on the final day of the 2014 Georgia legislative session, and signed by Gov. Nathan Deal, requires drug testing of some applicants for food stamps and welfare. It would require people applying for this government assistance to be tested if they raise “reasonable suspicion’’ of illegal drug use.
In a letter dated Tuesday, a USDA official told Georgia Department of Human Services Commissioner Keith Horton that Food and Nutrition Service policy “prohibits states from mandating drug testing of [food stamp] applicants and recipients.”
In a second letter, also dated Tuesday, Food and Nutrition Service regional administrator Robin Bailey informed Horton that the problem of Georgia’s food stamp backlog has been resolved.
Tuesday was not the first time the feds have disputed the legality of the Georgia drug-testing effort.
Earlier this year, shortly after the measure passed, GHN reported on an email from Robert Caskey of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (the food stamp program) to Georgia officials.
Caskey’s email, citing federal law, said “no state agency shall impose any other standards of eligibility” beyond the provisions of the federal Food and Nutrition Act, which does not require drug testing. “The addition of a drug testing provision of any type is prohibited in the SNAP program,’’ it added.
What we have is a serious balancing of forces as the governor puts it. While no one wants any American to go hungry, there is a legitimate concern that any funding –especially taxpayer funding- would be misused by those who are abusing substances.
The problem is not with Georgia officials but with the federal government, which is not willing to hold food stamp and welfare recipients accountable for illegal and destructive behavior that can place themselves and their children at risk. Drug abuse is not something to take lightly. Ignoring this behavior is enabling more of it. Accountability promotes productive behavior and will help these drug abusers in the long-term.
Unfortunately, it’s likely that the feds will win out in this case. Florida’s attempt to require drug testing for welfare recipients was ruled unconstitutional by a federal court.
And as Gwinnett explains, Georgia has been on the hook to clear a backlog of tens of thousands of food stamp cases at the risk of losing $75 million in federal funding. It wouldn’t surprise me if the federal government uses that as leverage.
Someone is trying to look out for the interests of food stamp and welfare recipients as well as taxpayers. Not surprisingly, it’s local government not in Washington.