Drug Tests for Food Stamps?

An amendment to the House Farm Bill would allow states to screen applicants with drug tests.

Drug test.
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The House voted Wednesday to allow states to administer drug tests to food stamp applicants. The voice vote approved an amendment to the farm bill, the legislation that includes funding and regulations for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The amendment was proposed by Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., who said he aims to ensure that money from such programs is truly going to families in need. He said other reforms, like preventing people who have won the lottery and immigrants without legal status in the United States from getting food stamps, are key to keeping the program afloat.  

Hudson called abuse of the food stamp system by drug users a "clear and obvious problem." Current law allows for drug tests of those food stamp applicants who have drug crime convictions, but the passed amendment would make drug tests a mandatory part of the application process for everyone.

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"If adopted, this amendment would join a list of good-government reforms contained in the farm bill to save taxpayer money and ensure integrity and accountability within our nutrition system," Hudson said.

Democrats say the amendment allowing drug testing of recipients is offensive because it implies that those who rely on the program are addicted to drugs. Food Research Action Council Legal Director Ellen Vollinger told U.S. News' Lauren Fox that children will be disproportionately impacted if their parents decide not to apply for SNAP benefits because of the drug test requirement.

"It rests on a premise that low income people are presumed to be wrong doers. It would lead to increased stigma in the program and increase the complexity and the administrative costs of the program," she said.

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The House continues to vote on amendments to the farm bill this week. That chamber's version of the legislation would cut SNAP benefits by about 3 percent, totaling $2 billion a year – which Republicans say is necessary to address the national debt. Democrats contend that the food stamp program is crucial to the survival of many families who would otherwise not have access to sufficient nutrition.

The Senate passed its version of the farm bill, which has lesser cuts to food stamps, on June 10, and the two bills will have to be reconciled and approved by both chambers. The White House has said it would veto a bill that makes cuts to food stamps.

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