Just a couple of months ago, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) was eager to move past his troubled first term by unveiling a new policy agenda. Near the top of the list: drug testing for welfare beneficiaries.
As local reports noted at the time, the Republican’s plan would require “drug testing at an undisclosed cost for able-bodied adults receiving unemployment insurance payments or benefits under FoodShare, the successor to the food stamps program.”
Hunter Schwarz reported yesterday that this wasn’t just campaign-season rhetoric: Walker is actually moving forward on this.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker has said he wants recipients of food stamps and unemployment benefits to undergo drug tests, a move that could face possible legal trouble. […]Walker, who won reelection last week against Democratic challenger Mary Burke, has not offered details for such a plan, but spokeswoman Laurel Patrick told the Pioneer Press that Walker would work with his cabinet to “craft a specific proposal” in the next several weeks.
If it seems like stories like these keep popping up, it’s not your imagination: conservative policymakers keep targeting welfare recipients with drug tests, and the policies keep failing rather spectacularly.
Indeed, the policy seems to be following an odd trajectory: it’s tried in one state, where it flops, which in turn leads another state to try it, where it fails again, and so on.
And while it’s clearly too soon to evaluate Walker’s plan on the merits – the details have not yet come together – it’s not too early to note why the underlying idea is so misguided.
As we discussed when the Wisconsin Republican first started pushing the idea, there’s an ugly assumption driving proposals like these. For many, especially on the right, it makes sense to assume those who are struggling are to blame for their plight.
You’re relying on TANF aid to help your family keep its head above water? Then maybe there’s something wrong with your lifestyle. You need unemployment benefits after Scott Walker’s job agenda failed miserably to deliver on the governor’s goals? Perhaps the state should assume you have a drug problem.
Real-world evidence, however, points in a different direction. Requiring those who are relying on the safety net to give the government their bodily fluids in exchange for benefits is not only legally dubious; it’s also ineffective and a waste of money.
If Walker doesn’t know these previous experiments have failed, he should. If he does know and wants to push the idea anyway, the governor owes Wisconsin an explanation.