Politics

Wisconsin Assembly Passes Welfare Junk Food And Drug Testing Bills

| by Alexander Rubinstein
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The Wisconsin State Assembly passed bills that would force welfare recipients to meet certain requirements. One bill aims to restrict what SNAP, often referred to as food stamp, participants can purchase. The other pair of bills passed by the assembly would force Wisconsin Work job training recipients to go through drug screenings. Both bills must now pass the state Senate before Gov. Scott Walker can sign them into law, and will require federal waivers.

Recipients of public aid in Wisconsin may become constrained in what they can purchase from the grocery store with their SNAP benefits. Under the bill, at least two-thirds of their monthly allotment must be used to purchase nutritional foods such as beef, chicken, pork, potatoes, dairy products, fresh produce, and food available under the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) nutritional program. Recipients will no longer be able to purchase "junk foods," which reportedly includes crab, lobster, shrimp, or other shellfish.

The bill passed the Assembly in a 60-35 vote, with all Democrats voting against it, and all but two Republicans voting for it.

The drug testing bills impact Wisconsin Works, a state job training program mandated for able-bodied adults with no children, and unemployment benefits. The first bill would require drug tests for applicants to Wisconsin Works training program. The second bill would require drug tests for "certain applicants" for employment benefits. Food stamp recipients would also be affected by these bills, since state law requires able-bodied people who don't have dependents to get job training in order to receive food stamps, Fox11 reports. Applicants for the job training program would be forced to fill out a questionnaire screening for drug abuse and based on their answers, they could be subjected to drug testing.

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The bill affecting the training program passed 62-33, along party lines, except for one Democrat who voted for the bill and one Republican who voted against it. The bill affecting unemployment benefits overall passed 63-32, also along party lines, except for two Democrats who voted for the bill and one Republican who voted against it.

The federal government oversees the food stamp programs, and thus federal officials will have to approve all of these bills before they can be enacted.

Republicans who support these bills reportedly want to make sure that recipients of public assistance are healthy and employable. Democrats and other opponents, including businesses who believe the limitation would be bad for Wisconsin-made food products, have said that the measure is an "overreach."

Funding for the bills is also an issue of concern for some. Grocery stores claimed that the tracking software required to enforce the "junk food bill" would cost $55 million. Concerns over whether the state could allocate enough money to pay for the drug tests were also raised.

Democratic Rep. Andy Jorgenson of Milton said that Republicans were using the measures to distract from unpopular parts of Walker’s state budget.

“You’ve decided that being the food police might make you more popular,” Jorgenson stated

The measures still face uncertainty in the Senate. Last session, they refused to take up the junk food bill. And the federal waivers required for the bills are also unlikely. No other state has received a waiver for similar spending constraints, Fox 11 reports.

Eleven states require drug testing of some welfare recipients, and four require drug testing for some filing for unemployment compensation. In other cases, mandatory screening has been considered unconstitutional.

Sources: Inquisitr, Fox 11

Photo Source: Takepart, Francis Storr/Flickr