Wisconsin is seeking a federal waiver to implement changes to the FoodShare program, beginning Nov. 1, 2018.
The waiver would allow Wisconsin to change the way it regulates the FoodShare program through the implementation of a drug screening, testing and treatment policy.
According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services website, The FoodShare Employment and Training, also called FSET, is a free program that helps FoodShare members build their job skills and find jobs. The FoodShare Employment and Training program assess the strengths, needs and preferences of participants to aid them in finding a job
Those who screen positive for drug use will be subject to testing, while those who test negative will be cleared for participation in the FoodShare program. Anyone who tests positive for illegal drug use will be provided a path towards treatment.
These changes were approved by Gov. Scott Walker in Sept. of 2015, and apply only to able-bodied adults with no dependents. As of right now, it still has yet to be approved by the Federal Government.
A public hearing was held on Aug. 21, 2017 to hear and receive facts, opinions or arguments concerning the rule. Vanessa Kuettel, an attorney for Legal Action of Wisconsin, offered her testimony at the hearing.
“We are concerned that the proposed mandatory drug testing of FSET participants will increase barriers to accessing food among able bodied adults and will have a negative consequence for our clients and our client’s population state-wide,” Kuettel said.
Kuettel also said that no evidence exists that participants of the FSET program and members of the general population are any different in terms of drug use or unemployment due to drug use.
Since drug testing qualifies as a search of a person, when drug testing is performed by federal, state or other agencies, the test must comply with the Fourth Amendment.
Kuettel said that the screening questionnaire itself does not provide the requisite level of suspicion.
Given these facts, Kuettel believes that the proposed changes are in violation of the fourth amendment which protects against unnecessary or unreasonable search and seizure.
Federal law already requires drug testing for benefit applicants who have been convicted of felony drug crimes within the last five years.
Blocking access to the FoodShare program because of positive drug testing does not bar participants from other means of access to assistance .
“They would also, in all likelihood, be eligible to get food through emergency services and other food pantries.” said Bob Quam, Director of Operations at The Salvation Army in Stevens Point.
While the Salvation Army does not administer the program, in the past they have seen an influx due to changes in drug screening legislation.
Olivia De Valk