The House Farm Bill, which cuts $20.5 billion over the next decade to food assistance programs, added a provision Wednesday night to keep drug users from getting food stamps.
The House approved an amendment that gives states the ability to administer drug tests before someone is approved for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The measure was approved by voice vote.
"My amendment to the Farm Bill allows states to determine the best method for administering drug screening programs for SNAP applicants," says Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., who sponsored the amendment.
"This is a clear and obvious problem in our communities as nearly 30 states have introduced legislation to drug test for welfare programs. We have a moral obligation to equip the states with the tools they need to discourage the use of illegal drugs."
While Republicans in the House said the drug test simply safeguards against abuse, Democrats on the floor argued it infringes on the privacy of individuals and created unprecedented hoops for the poor to jump through.
"It rests on a premise that low income people are presumed to be wrong doers," says Ellen Vollinger, the legal director at Food Research Action Council. "It would lead to increased stigma in the program and increase the complexity and the administrative costs of the program."
Under current law, states can give drug tests to food stamp users who have been convicted of drug crimes prior to enrolling in the program, but the amendment would make drug tests a routine part of the application process.
Today, nearly 48 million Americans are on the program, and half of those are children.
Food access groups worry that the bill will disproportionately impact children whose parents may forgo the application because of the drug test.
"It is a tragic consequence," Vollinger says. "It has ramifications for the whole community if the kids are not getting adequate nutrition."
Conservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation have long advocated for drug testing government assistance recipients. They argue that evidence shows that drug testing can curb the misuse of government programs.
"Because illegal drug use is linked to lower levels of work, any serious effort to promote employment and self-sufficiency should include steps to discourage illegal drug use within the welfare population," Heritage writes in a study about reforming the Food Stamp program. "A well-designed drug testing program would be an important tool in any effective welfare-to-work strategy."
Even if the farm bill passes the House, however, the amendment may not be included in a final piece of legislation that is negotiated between the House and Senate in conference committee.
And the White House has threatened to veto any legislation that makes as significant cuts to food stamps as the House bill does.