Columnist suggests budget’s policy item plays ‘resentment’ card
By Matt Pommer
State officials are pushing for a quick federal court ruling that will allow Wisconsin to drug test single, able-bodied adults who get food stamps.
The plea to the courts came shortly after Gov. Scott Walker signed the 2015-17 state budget bill which included the drug-testing idea.
Republican Walker is seeking to be the next president of the United States, and he often mentions his drug testing provisions in stops across America. He suggests it is a way to help people in his state. Those who test positive would need to get help or eventually lose food stamp eligibility.
But it also plays the “resentment” political card. Many citizens resent tax money going to those whom they think ought to get out and get a job. That’s probably especially true if they are a different color. These folks are among the people former GOP Presidential candidate Mitt Romney called “takers.”
Wisconsin already is phasing in tough requirements that these same people actively get training and seek jobs. By mid-2017 fiscal experts estimated 114,000 single able-bodied citizens will be fully covered by those new training-job search requirements.
Earlier this year the state’s religious leaders unsuccessfully urged the Republican-controlled Legislature to reject Walker’s drug testing ideas. They noted there already are long waiting lists for treatment to drug addiction. Those waiting lists mean that citizens may be punished rather than helped by the drug testing.
“We also do not believe that this policy will benefit the state as a whole,” they told the Legislature.
The religious leaders suggested that 8.5 percent of the Wisconsin citizenry face drug problems. They added that treatment is not a one-stop approach.
“We know how long the road to recovery can be, and how many ups and downs, reversals and new beginnings typically occur along the way,” said the religious leaders, who represent the Protestant, Catholic and Jewish faiths in the state.
No one disputes there are long waiting lists to help those with drug addiction. The plea for a quick federal ruling seems aimed at helping Walker’s presidential campaign. If the federal court approves drug testing, Walker can claim he knows how to deals with social problems.
If the drug testing is rejected, Walker can denounce the federal government by saying the ruling shows there is a need for new ideas and new leadership. The food stamp program is funded by the federal government. Walker could promise to spread drug testing as a requirement for food-stamp eligibility to all 50 states.
Many people get governmental help, such as student loans, medical help and loans to start up or expand business. Focusing on food stamps directs governmental attention to poor people. Political scientists often suggest they are likely to be Democratic voters.
The issue of how to help the poor will bubble up in the media later this year when Pope Francis visits America. He has focused on how society and government deal with the poor. Some in the Catholic hierarchy might prefer Pope Francis speak out on same sex marriage and abortions.
Walker, the son of a Baptist preacher, might also prefer that approach. Walker recently signed tougher limits on abortions in Wisconsin. He also is proposing a federal constitutional amendment to allow each of the 50 states to decide the legality of same sex marriages.
Known as the “dean” of the State Capitol correspondents, Matt Pommer covered government in Madison for 36 years. He writes this column for the Wisconsin Newspaper Association.