Key lawmaker opposes drug testing for food stamps

WASHINGTON — The chairman of the House Agriculture Committee said Friday that he “generally opposes” drug testing for food stamp recipients.

The comments by Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, came two days after The Associated Press reported that the White House was weighing a plan that could allow states to do just that.

Conaway’s committee is crafting a new farm bill, which includes an overhaul of the food stamp program, officially known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The bill includes strengthening work requirements for SNAP participants but no language about drug testing.

“I’m generally opposed to drug testing because I think it hurts the children,” Conaway said. “Most of these folks who are on the program, if they’ve got children involved, the children would still get their SNAP benefit but the parent wouldn’t, and you’re hurting the kid.”

Conaway said he’d rather “figure out a way to help them.”

The White House proposal under review would be narrowly targeted, applying mostly to people who are able-bodied, without dependents and applying for some specialized jobs, according to an administration official briefed on the plan. The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations, said roughly 5 percent of SNAP participants could be affected.

The drug testing proposal is another step in the Trump administration’s push to allow states more flexibility in how they implement federal programs that serve the poor, unemployed or uninsured.

Internal emails obtained by The Associated Press indicated that Agriculture Department officials in February were awaiting word from the White House about the timing of a possible drug testing announcement.

Conaway on Friday said some committee members had expressed interest in drug testing, but that it wasn’t something the committee actively considered including in the bill.

“It was not a discussion per se,” Conaway said. “There were some comments by individual members about wanting to do that, but just to be clear: It’s against the law to use drug testing as a qualifier.”

Federal law bars states from imposing their own conditions on food stamp eligibility. Still, some states have tried to implement some form of drug testing.

In December, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker began moving ahead with a workaround, drug testing participants in the state’s Employment and Training Program. Walker had sued the USDA in 2015 for blocking the state from going forward with drug testing. A federal judge tossed out the suit in 2016, but Walker renewed his request for permission later that year, after Donald Trump had won the presidency but before he took office.

Under the farm bill, states would have to require every work-eligible adult between 18 and 59 to work 20 hours a week or participate in a job training program, with some exceptions for those with disabilities or children under the age of six.

Democrats have criticized the new work requirements as too stringent; forcing all states to comply with such rigid rules would increase hunger among low-income families, they say.

Markup of the bill is scheduled to begin on Wednesday.

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