Alabama would put some strings on the receipt of food stamps if a proposed law requiring some recipients to be drug tested is passed.
According to the intro to House Bill 3, Alabama has no current requirement that people supported by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program be tested for illegal substance abuse.
The bill, introduced by Republican state Rep. James “Tommy Hanes,” would change that and require an applicant to be tested for drug abuse under reasonable suspicion that the person uses drugs.
Reasonable suspicion would include a drug conviction within the past five years, according to AL.com.
Hanes has said that his bill “will help assure minors living in the households (receiving SNAP) will get proper nourishment,” adding that “the working class citizens of this state have been asking for this type of legislation for years,” according to the Montgomery Advertiser.
The proposal has run up against criticism.
“For the state to pay to drug test that many people would be prohibitively expensive and be a real waste of state dollars and a real waste of taxpayer dollars, looking for an occasional recipient who does drugs,” said Carol Gundlach, a policy analyst with Alabama Arise.
The first positive test would result in a warning, but failing a second test would mean the individual would be ineligible. A third positive test would result in a permanent ban from the program.
Refusing to take the test or delaying any screenings also would make an individual ineligible.
If the individual seeking benefits who tests positive is a parent, that person could designate someone else to receive benefits for the child.
If a parent of a dependent child tests positive, the parent could designate a third party to receive the benefits for the child.
About 750,000 people in Alabama receive SNAP benefits. Seventy-three percent of SNAP recipients are families with children.
— Michelle Vaitkus (@MichelleVaitkus) March 8, 2019
Wisconsin instituted a drug testing requirement on food stamp recipients, but new Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, has said he will seek to roll that back, according to The Associated Press.
Alabama’s action comes at a time when various states and the Trump administration are trying to increase the work requirement for those in the SNAP program. The Department of Agriculture, which administers SNAP, estimated 2.8 million able-bodied SNAP recipients were not working in 2016.
“This is unacceptable to most Americans and belies common sense, particularly when employment opportunities are as plentiful as they currently are,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in December, according to The Washington Post.
“This restores the dignity of work to a sizable segment of our population,” he said.
The SNAP program is also costly, paying out an estimated $5.9 billion in October 2018 alone.