MILWAUKEE (CN) – With Wisconsin seeking to subject food-stamp recipients to drug testing, state officials asked a federal judge to endorse the scheme as constitutional.
Wisconsinites who use food stamps are already required to meet a work requirement, but the recently passed 660-page biennial state budget contains a new provision that blocks food stamps from “able-bodied adults without dependents” who do not submit to screening, testing and treatment for illegal drugs.
Citing a federal law prohibiting federal interference in state drug-screening programs and sanctions for “welfare recipients,” Kitty Rhoades, secretary of the state’s Department of Health Services, sued Tuesday to have a federal judge endorse the law.
Rhoades says participants in Wisconsin’s FoodShare program under the federall funded Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) qualify as welfare recipients and are thus subject to the law.
She wants the court to enjoin federal officials from interfering the law, citing an email the department received in May 2015 from Susan Holzer, acting director of SNAP for the Midwest Region, when the proposal came up.
“As you are aware, states are prohibited under Federal law from imposing any additional eligibility conditions on individuals for the receipt of SNAP benefits,” the email read, according to the complaint. “Therefore, FNS [Food and Nutrition Service] will continue to monitor closely any action the Wisconsin State Legislature takes on this legislation. If the legislation is subsequently enacted into law, FNS will work with its General Counsel to determine how it interacts with Federal law governing the program and advise the State agency appropriately.”
Holzer, along with the other four officials named in the lawsuit, points to another federal law that forbids states from enacting SNAP eligibility standards that exceed federal standards.
The federal SNAP program has the authority to withhold funding for FoodShare if the state does not comply, according to the complaint.
“Plaintiffs will suffer financial consequences and otherwise be injured by defendants’ threatened and incorrect implementation of SNAP requirements unless this Court declares the relative rights of the parties and enjoins Defendants’ actions that are contrary to federal law,” the complaint states.
Wisconsin seeks a declaration that FoodShare participants are welfare recipients and that its drug-testing requirement is legal, in addition to injunctions preventing all defendants from “taking any action inconsistent with” such a ruling.
Alan Shannon, the public affairs director for the Midwest Regional Office of the FNS, declined to comment on the lawsuit, instead referring to the federal law prohibiting additional SNAP eligibility standards.
The Wisconsin Department of Health Services did not immediately respond to questions.
Lead counsel for the state is Assistant Attorney General Daniel Lennington of the Wisconsin Department of Justice.
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