Recent WI Legislation Creates Barriers for Struggling Families, and Disproportionately Impacts Parents of Color Who Have State-Owed Child Support Debt

Recent Wisconsin Assembly Bills signed by Governor Scott Walker during 2015 are detrimental for low-income families who are utilizing public benefits to make ends meet. One of these Bills is requiring people who receive FoodShare (Wisconsin’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, aka “food stamps”) to utilize new photo ID FoodShare cards that will cost the state millions of dollars to create. This is not in line with federal law: states are not allowed to restrict FoodShare recipients from purchasing goods by requiring them to show photo identification. There is also clear evidence from other states that such requirements are unnecessary and needlessly divert state funds for much needed basic necessities and resources away from children, parents, and families. Obtaining a new card is also an additional barrier that many families do not have the time, money, or transportation to accomplish.

DCF pictureAnother recent Administrative Rule will lead to drug testing of certain people applying for or receiving public benefits from state-run job programs such as Wisconsin Works, the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. This directly impacts low-income parents who have court-ordered child support debt owed to the state to reimburse TANF benefits, as noncustodial parents are often engaged with Wisconsin Works and are specifically identified in the Administrative Rule. Such drug testing is much more likely to impact Black parents—and indirectly affect their children and families—because Black children in Wisconsin are more than 14 times as likely as white children to receive TANF (see page two of CFFPP’s “My Brother’s Keeper, or My Brother’s Creditor? Part Three”).

Drug testing would also apply to some people receiving federal SNAP benefits who are required to participate in the FoodShare Employment Training Program and to some applicants for unemployment insurance. Additionally, when Governor Walker approved the legislation with the drug-testing requirement, he removed a provision that would have limited testing to those with “reasonable suspicion” of drug use. Instead, the legislation allows Governor Walker’s administration to utilize a “drug-screening questionnaire” on whomever they wish to facilitate reasonable suspicion. However, Wisconsin could still run into constitutional issues as it has occurred in other states that attempted to drug test without proving suspicion. There is no evidence that drug testing of people who receive public benefits helps lower illegal drug use or improves the workforce. Instead, this administrative rule will strip people of the supportive services they need to survive. Many states are spending millions to administer the tests, money that could be used to offer more assistance to parents and children who desperately are in need in our communities.

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