Pubdate: Wed, 11 Apr 2018
Source: Sun-Sentinel (Fort Lauderdale, FL)
Copyright: 2018 Sun-Sentinel Company
Author: Juliet Linderman and Jonathan Lemire



The Trump administration is considering a plan that would allow states
to require certain food stamp recipients to undergo drug testing,
handing a win to conservatives who've long sought ways to curb the
safety net program.

The proposal under review would be narrowly targeted, applying mostly
to people who are able-bodied, without dependents and applying for
some specialized jobs, according to an administration official briefed
on the plan. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to
discuss internal deliberations, said roughly 5 percent of participants
in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program could be affected.

The drug testing proposal is another step in the Trump
administration's push to allow states more flexibility in how they
implement federal programs that serve the poor, unemployed or
uninsured. It also wants to allow states to tighten work requirements
for food stamp recipients and has found support among GOP governors
who argue greater state control saves money and reduces dependency.

Internal emails obtained by The Associated Press indicated that
Agriculture Department officials in February were awaiting word from
the White House about the timing of a possible drug testing

"I think we just have to be ready because my guess is we may get an
hour's notice instead of a day's notice," wrote Jessica Shahin,
associate administrator of SNAP.

Conservative policymakers have pushed for years to tie food assistance
programs to drug testing.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican, sued the USDA in 2015 for
blocking the state from drug testing adults applying for food stamps.

A federal judge tossed the suit in 2016, but Walker renewed his
request for permission later that year, after Donald Trump had won the
presidency but before he took office.

"We turned that down," said former USDA Food and Nutrition Service
Undersecretary Kevin Concannon, who served in the position under the
Obama administration from 2009 until January of last year. "It's
costly and cumbersome."

The proposal is not expected to be included in a GOP-written farm bill
expected to be released as soon as early this week, a GOP aide said.

Federal law bars states from imposing their own conditions on food
stamp eligibility.

Still, some states have tried to implement some form of drug testing
for the food assistance program, so far with little success.

Judges have blocked similar efforts in other states. In Florida in
2014, a federal appeals court upheld a lower court's ruling that drug
testing SNAP recipients is unconstitutional.

But at least 20 states have introduced legislation to screen safety
net program participants in some capacity, according to the National
Conference of State Legislatures.

In December, Walker began moving ahead with a workaround, drug testing
participants in the state's Employment and Training Program who also
received food stamps.

USDA under Trump has not taken a public position on drug testing. But
Secretary Sonny Perdue has promised to provide states with "greater
control over SNAP."

"As a former governor, I know first-hand how important it is for
states to be given flexibility to achieve the desired goal of
self-sufficiency for people," he said. "We want to provide the
nutrition people need, but we also want to help them transition from
government programs, back to work, and into lives of

The emails obtained by the AP suggest that a plan could be

The plan would apply to able-bodied people who do not have dependents
and are applying for certain jobs, such as operating heavy machinery,
the official said.

In a February 15 email to USDA officials, Maggie Lyons, chief of staff
to an acting official at the Food and Nutrition Service, said, "We
need to have a conversation about timing given budget and when the
(White House) wants us to release drug testing."

If the administration moves forward, it would not be the first time
drug testing was used in a safety net program.

At least 15 states have passed laws allowing them to drug-test
recipients of Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, also known as

The discussion of the future of SNAP and potential changes to the
program are set against the backdrop of the 2018 farm bill, slated for
release as soon as this week. The bulk of the bill's spending goes
toward funding SNAP, which often proves the most contentious part of
negotiations; late last month, House Agriculture Committee Ranking
Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., issued a statement on behalf of
Democrats denouncing "extreme, partisan policies being advocated by
the majority."

Ed Bolen, senior policy analyst at the Center for Budget and Policy
Priorities think tank, said requiring drug testing for food benefits
will have consequences for already vulnerable populations. What's
more, he said, implementing drug testing for SNAP recipients is
legally murky.

"Are people losing their food assistance if they don't take the test,
and in that case, is that a condition of eligibility, which the states
aren't allowed to impose?" he said. "And does drug testing fall into
what's allowable under a state training and employment program, which
typically lists things like job search or education or on-the-job
experience? This is kind of a different bucket."

The emails also show that USDA is weighing the possibility of scaling
back a policy currently enacted in 42 states that automatically grants
food stamp eligibility to households that qualify for non-cash
assistance, like job training and childcare. The proposed change,
which would impose income limits, could potentially affect millions.

Republicans tried to make similar changes when Congress passed the
2014 farm bill, but the cuts were rejected by Democrats and did not
end up in the final bill.

Concannon, the former USDA undersecretary, said the Trump
administration "is keen on weakening the programs developed to
strengthen the health or fairness or access to programs and imposing
populist requirements that aren't evidence based, but often stigmatize

The USDA in recent months has been under fire for its controversial
plan to replace a portion of millions of food stamp recipients'
benefits with a pre-assembled package of shelf-stable goods dubbed
"America's Harvest Box." The food box plan was tucked into the Trump
administration's proposed 2019 budget, which included cutting the SNAP
program by $213 billion over the next 10 years. SNAP provides food
assistance to roughly 42 million Americans.
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MAP posted-by: Matt