Gov. Walker Would Drug Test the Poor


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Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin at the Conservative Political Action Conference in February.

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Susan Walsh/Associated Press

As he prepares to run for a third term, Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, ever the devotee of low-road, right-wing politicking, is hoping the Trump administration will allow his state to be the first in the nation to mandate the drug screening of childless individuals who apply for Medicaid help.

“It borders on immoral,” Lena Taylor, a Democratic state senator, warned, accusing Mr. Walker of indulging in a “meaningless contest to see how cruel and discriminatory we can be to the poor.”

Across the aisle, Senator Leah Vukmir defended Mr. Walker’s draconian initiative as it advanced last week in the Republican-controlled Legislature. “We know how to take care of our own,” she declared.

After failing on the national stage in the 2015-16 Republican primary jamboree, Mr. Walker has doubled down on his ideological roots back home. He is calling for drug testing of not only Medicaid applicants but also some food stamp applicants, so as to make welfare a “trampoline, not a hammock.” Fourteen other states have limited drug testing for some state welfare benefits. Mr. Walker, ignoring warnings that the courts are likely to find his goal unconstitutional, nevertheless wants to play the pioneer in forcing drug tests on people applying for Medicaid.

The politics of sloganeering that blames the poor for being poor did not get far with welfare officials in the Obama administration, who cautioned that the Walker initiatives violated federal law. But Mr. Walker obviously sees better prospects in trying again with the Trump administration. If he succeeds, mandatory drug testing for Medicaid enrollment would affect an estimated 148,000 of the 1.2 million people receiving state health care support. They are either totally impoverished or members of the working poor earning less than $12,060 a year. Refusal to be tested would result in denial of health care for six months, with repeated state confrontations likely to follow.

If the governor succeeds in appealing to the administration for permission to carry out his scheme, other conservative states will most likely consider the step. Jon Peacock, research director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, warns that such a trend would be “an extremely negative development because it treats drug addiction as a moral failing rather than a disease.”

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