Wisconsin Lawmakers Consider Bills To Drug-Test Benefit Recipients, Regulate Food Stamp Purchases

| by Jared Keever
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Republican legislators in Wisconsin recently introduced two bills that would require those applying for certain benefits to pass drug screenings, and another bill that would restrict what foods could be purchased by food stamp recipients. 

The Associated Press reports one bill, introduced by Republican state Rep. Mike Rohrkaste, would require applicants for a state job training program to submit to drug tests before taking part in the program. Another bill, also from Rohrkaste, would require similar screenings for those applying for unemployment benefits. 

Rohrkaste was quoted in The Daily Cardinal as saying he looked at his bills as “an opportunity to expand the job pool.”

“I want to make sure that those looking for work are given tools to be successful and ensure employees are drug free,” he said. 

The third bill, submitted for consideration before the Wisconsin Assembly’s Public Benefits Reform Committee on Thursday, is from Republican state Rep. Robert Brooks and would require people using food stamps to spend two-thirds of their monthly allotment on approved nutritional foods. 

The foods permitted for purchase would be taken from the list approved by the Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program, according to The Daily Cardinal. The bill would also prohibit the purchase of more expensive foods, like crab, shrimp and lobster, with any of the allotted money. 

State Rep. Janel Brandtjen, a Republican, said the nutritional guidelines and purchasing restrictions are badly needed in the state, and would protect taxpayers from wasteful spending. 

“Taxpayers have the right to expect participants to make reasonable decisions,” she said before the committee. “This bill sets quality nutritional guidelines.”

Democratic state Rep. Debra Kolste disagreed.

“Why are we doing this?” she asked the committee. “Why are we stigmatizing the poor? Why are we limiting their choices? You're calling this abuse because they’re making a different choice than you would.”

Rev. Scott Anderson, executive director of the Wisconsin Council of Churches, spoke with The Daily Cardinal and said he disagreed with the spirit of the bills. 

“Those in poverty will be punished — not helped — by this policy,” he said. “We view these bills as dehumanizing and degrading.”

Sources: WITI News (AP Story), The Daily Cardinal 

Photo Credit: Matt MacGillivray, Flickr