Attorney General files lawsuit over food stamp drug testing in budget signed by Gov. Walker

MADISON -- Wisconsin Attorney General Brad Schimel on Tuesday, July 14th filed a lawsuit against the federal government -- seeking clarification that the state can require certain welfare recipients to undergo drug testing to satisfy the work requirement for food-stamp benefits.

The budget Republican Gov. Scott Walker signed on Sunday, July 12th contains language requiring food stamp recipients to undergo drug screening and, if they fail the screen, go through drug testing and treatment.

Schimel filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Milwaukee against a number of federal food officials -- noting one of them sent an email to the state in email warning that states are prohibited from imposing any additional eligibility conditions on food stamp recipients. The lawsuit alleges federal law says states shall not be prohibited from testing welfare recipients for controlled substances.

The lawsuit was filed against United States Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack in the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin.

“This lawsuit seeks to provide clarity that the State of Wisconsin has the authority to require drug testing for FoodShare recipients,” said Schimel. “In previous communications with the State of Wisconsin, the federal government has taken the opposite position despite the clear statutory language in federal law.”

The following is a summary of the lawsuit via the Wisconsin Department of Justice:

Name:State of Wisconsin v. Vilsack

Parties: Plaintiffs are the State and Kitty Rhoades, Secretary of Wisconsin Department of Health Services (DHS). The Defendants are the United States Secretary of Agriculture (USDA), Tom Vilsack, and his subordinate managers of the USDA federal food-stamp program.

Court: Eastern District of Wisconsin

Summary of Lawsuit

    Governor Scott Walker has issued this statement in response to the lawsuit:

    "Our most recent budget builds on our record of enacting big, bold entitlement reforms to restore programs to their original purpose—a safety net, not a hammock.  We are focused on helping people move from government dependence to independence because we want people to know the dignity that comes from work.

    In Wisconsin, we are taking a compassionate approach to ensuring individuals on certain public assistance programs are workforce ready.   By requiring able-bodied adults to be drug free, we aren’t making it harder to get government assistance; we are making it easier to get a job.  Our reforms offer a hand up to those who need it, so they can get back on their feet through drug treatment and access to employment training.

    As we work to implement our bold reforms, it has become apparent that the federal government is not accurately applying the law.   As it relates to Wisconsin’s FoodShare program, we are seeking a declaratory judgment from the court to ensure we can move our reforms forward and maintain federal funding for this program."

    CLICK HERE to read the lawsuit filed by Attorney General Schimel.