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Drug Testing – Matt Pommer Column – 5-11-2016

By Matt Pommer

More than 41,000 residents have lost their eligibility for federal food stamps, and another 12,000 people have found jobs under a training program.

That’s good political news for Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who is still being mentioned as a possible vice presidential nominee.

It’s bad news for the charities that run food pantries, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters. Demand for their services has increased. There is increased hunger, their leaders note.

The food-stamp statistics were released one year after a new law took effect. Able-bodied adults to age 49 who have no children at home must seek jobs or get training.

Walker says the program is a success. Some people just went out and got a job, he told reporters. Business and industry are looking for “qualified skilled workers,” according to health officials.

State officials have directed more than 107,000 persons to participate in the program. Last year the non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau estimated than 63,000 persons would decline to participate and thereby lose their food stamp benefits.

More than 770,000 persons have been eligible for food stamps in Wisconsin. That includes children and the poor elderly.

Yet there seems to be resentment at people getting the federally financed food stamp help. That distain might be seen on the faces of other shoppers when food-stamp recipients move through grocery store check-out aisles.

Legislators have flirted with new rules to limit what the food stamps will cover. There also was talk of requiring photo IDs to cash food stamps. The grocery industry opposed the idea.

Getting the maximum amount of federal dollars has not been a priority for the Walker administration. It rejected hundreds of millions of Obamacare dollars to expand Medicaid.

The governor said the federal government would be financially unable to continue such a Medicaid program. Critics have noted the additional money could have prevented or scaled back reductions in appropriations for the University of Wisconsin System.

Next on the Walker administration’s agenda is getting federal approval to drug test those seeking food stamps or other aid programs.

Wisconsin is one of 11 states seeking that authority. The other states are Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Kentucky, Maine, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Texas, South Carolina, and Utah, according to the Associated Press. Federal approval may be difficult to obtain.

It may seem like good politics to go after drug users, but it also is controversial.Wisconsin’s religious leaders have opposed the approach.

“In our religious traditions poverty and joblessness are not indicators of bad character,” the Interfaith Council told state officials when the idea was being developed.

“We do not believe it is just to craft policies that punish those who face these trials while also suffering from the illness of addiction.”

The religious leaders warned that drug addiction cannot be solved with one or two courses of treatment. Addiction is often linked to mental illness.

But there already is a shortage of such services and a heroin epidemic has swirled through both rural and urban areas, with a large number of young white people being affected.

That makes it less an “us versus them” issue.

DISCLAIMER: The content in this column does not reflect the views or opinions of the Wisconsin Newspaper Association or its member newspapers.