Wisconsin officials faced an Oct. 1 deadline to put in place drug screening requirements for certain FoodShare recipients. But three weeks later, the state Department of Health Services has yet to implement them.
A DHS official didn't indicate in a Monday email to the Cap Times that the department has a timeline for doing so.
It's not uncommon for agencies to delay the implementation of certain changes. But DHS also has yet to submit a report or any updates to the Legislature's budget committee on its plan to put in place the drug screening, testing and treatment requirements for certain non-disabled adults without children that are participating in the FoodShare Employment and Training program.
That requirement — as well as the Oct. 1 implementation deadline — was included in legislation approved under former Republican Gov. Scott Walker's administration. But a review of DHS reports to the Joint Finance Committee didn't uncover any related to the FSET drug screening provisions, including any requests for a timeline extension to implement the requirements.
The provisions were targeted in Gov. Tony Evers' budget. While his attempts to remove the testing requirements were rejected by the Legislature's budget committee, he homed in on the language in his partial vetoes of the state's two-year spending plan, when he used his veto pen to reduce funding for testing, as well as dollars for work requirements for FoodShare recipients with children.
His actions meant the state didn't have enough money for the work requirements because officials are unable to pay for the participant reimbursements. But a DHS spokeswoman in July said the agency still had "adequate funding in the budget" to put in place the drug screening requirements and was "on track" for doing so, though a timeline wasn't specified.
Still, DHS spokeswoman Elizabeth Goodsitt this week said via email the agency "has been assessing resources and is working to determine how to proceed moving forward" on implementing the drug screening provisions.
"No other FSET program in the country currently has a drug screening, testing, and treatment provision," she said. She didn't directly acknowledge the agency hadn't yet implemented the provisions.
Asked about a reason for the delay and what the updated timeline is, she replied: "This is all in progress. We don’t have any additional information to share at this time."
Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, touted his support for "drug testing as a requirement for a variety of benefits" via email and called on Evers to act.
“The Legislature provided funding in our most recent budget but it was vetoed by Governor Evers — that was a mistake," he said. "He should stop dragging his feet and enforce the law.”
Sen. Alberta Darling, co-chair of the Joint Finance Committee, slammed Evers' administration for "disregarding the law."
"This is such a crucial step to ensure that Wisconsinites have the opportunity to heal, enter the workforce, and continue on the road to recovery," the River Hills Republican said in a statement. "As the opioid epidemic continues to ravage Wisconsin, it is appalling that Governor Evers is dragging his feet on referring addicted Wisconsinites to treatment.”
Evers' office referred the Cap Times to DHS for comment.
The FSET program seeks to aide FoodShare recipients in finding jobs and enhancing certain skill sets. It can be used voluntarily by FoodShare recipients; otherwise, certain adults without children can use it to fulfill the program's work requirements that began in April 2015.
The new requirements mean adults without children who participate in FSET and are meeting the work requirement through participation in the program would need to take a controlled substance abuse screening questionnaire. If those answers indicate possible drug use, the individual would then take a drug test, and if they test positive, would likely be directed to a treatment program.
Under the requirements, those individuals would need to finish their questionnaires at the time they first apply for FoodShare, as well as at the time of their annual certification renewal, according to a nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau informational paper.
The proposal to drug test certain FoodShare recipients was first approved under Walker’s 2015-17 budget. Later, the state moved forward with a rule change to implement the screening requirements after DHS laid the groundwork in fall 2017.
The state then approved a lame-duck law in the December 2018 session codifying the requirements — including the language affirming that DHS should share a report with the Joint Finance Committee about its implementation plan.
DHS has submitted updates to the committee, including requests for timeline extensions, regarding other programs as required under the extraordinary session law. The agency should have submitted an implementation plan to the committee by March 1, 2019, under the latest law.
Because the drug screening requirements haven't yet been implemented, there's no data on the number of people who would be affected by the provisions.
Separately, the state has gotten the go-ahead this month from President Donald Trump's administration to implement drug screening requirements for certain unemployment benefit applicants, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Monday.
The report notes the state is awaiting more guidance from the federal Department of Labor before implementing the procedures, including information on which applicants should undergo the testing.