State Assembly OKs expanding drug screening for benefits

MADISON — More people would have to undergo drug screening to be eligible for state-run work programs under a Republican proposal the Assembly passed Wednesday, May 10th.

Democrats say the idea is an ineffective way to treat addiction and unfairly targets low-income people. The bill's sponsor, Rep. Cody Horlacher, says the measure ensures tax dollars are being used efficiently and protects children of drug-addicted parents.

"There's no 'sky is falling' to this bill," Horlacher said. "For the vast majority of people that are being tested, this isn't going to impact them."

The measure would add a handful of state-run work programs to the list of those that already subject applicants to drug screening and require people to get treatment when needed.

Wisconsin Department of Children and Families spokesman Joe Scialfa said of 2,093 people who applied to programs that already require drug screening, nine were referred to treatment, which two refused. Programs that already require drug screening include Transform Milwaukee Jobs, Noncustodial Parent Services, Children's First and Transitional Jobs.

Democratic Rep. Lisa Subeck said drug screening for public benefits is a backward way to address widespread drug addiction given that very few applicants are ever referred to treatment.

"It makes zero sense to keep dumping more and more money into testing people," she said. "We're looking at spending $250,000."

Democratic Rep. Jimmy Anderson wondered why the state would drug test low-income people but not other people who receive state benefits, such as executives of corporations who receive state-funded loans.

Horlacher said he didn't know how many more people would be screened under his bill. Subeck said it was fewer than 10,000.

The bill, which passed 62-35, would also give the Department of Children and Families the authority to decide how to screen applicants. Currently applicants take a questionnaire, and based on their responses, could be drug tested.

It was one of four GOP proposals the Assembly passed Wednesday that would alter requirements for public benefit programs. The others would:

—Allow the state to get federal approval for a pilot program that requires housing voucher recipients to satisfy certain work requirements. Rep. Terry Katsma, the bill's sponsor, said it would require able-bodied program participants to have a job, be in job training or work with the state to find a job. It wouldn't apply to Milwaukee County or Dane County, which have their own housing programs.

—Require the children of parents who receive Wisconsin Works benefits to regularly attend school and impose a fine if they don't. Current law requires them only to be enrolled in school. Rep. Joe Sanfelippo, the bill's sponsor, said parents would owe $50 a month for each child with five or more unexcused absences in a semester. He said the goal is to get children counseling that keeps them in school and that only one family has been penalized in recent years for not being enrolled.

—Allow people receiving child care subsidies through Wisconsin Shares to keep receiving a partial subsidy after exceeding 200 percent of the poverty line by covering more of the cost.

All four measures would still need to pass the state Senate before going to Republican Gov. Scott Walker to become law.