A Congresswoman who is “sick and tired” of drug testing welfare recipients has introduced a bill in Congress that would subject the rich to many of those same requirements.
Rep. Gwen Moore, D-Wis., unveiled Thursday the Top 1% Accountability Act, which would require those claiming itemized deductions of more than $150,000 on their tax returns to submit to drug tests or file for less generous tax deductions.
The proposal is a shot across the bow at Republican governors in states, including Moore’s home state of Wisconsin, that require the recipients of certain welfare benefit programs to be drug tested in order to remain eligible to receive assistance.
“As a strong advocate for social programs aimed at combating poverty, it deeply offends me that there is such a deep stigma surrounding those who depend on government benefits, especially as a former welfare recipient,” Moore said in a statement. “Sadly, Republicans across the country continue to implement discriminatory policies that criminalize the less fortunate and perpetuate false narratives about the most vulnerable among us.”
Moore, who represents Milwaukee, used welfare benefits to work herself out of poverty when she was younger and has said that her goal is to ensure others have the same opportunity.
“I’m grateful for the taxpayers for [welfare], and I have given back tenfold,” Moore told the Guardian. “I think everyone should have that same opportunity.”
15 states, including Florida, Michigan and North Carolina, have passed bills that require welfare recipients to submit to drug testing in an attempt to save money on those programs.
Wisconsin, however, has gone further, requiring in its 2015 budget that recipients of the federal Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) are tested for drug use, a move the federal government has said violates a provision banning states from imposing additional eligibility requirements on those programs. The state then sued, challenging that rule.
SNAP, or the food stamps program, helps roughly 45 million Americans making $26,100 or less buy food. Benefits are loaded onto an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, which is used to make purchases at most supermarkets or convenience stores.
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and others have argued that the requirements save states money and ensure employers have a drug-free workforce to hire from.
“Employers across the state frequently tell me they have good-paying jobs available in high-demand fields, but need their workers to be drug-free,” Walker said in a statement after the drug testing rule went into effect in November. “These important entitlement reforms will help more people find family-supporting jobs, moving them from government dependence to true independence.”
But critics such as Moore argue that they demonize the poor and crack down on a problem that doesn’t actually exist. Data from a program in Florida found that only 108 of 4,086 people, or 2.6 percent, tested positive for illicit drugs. And in Arizona, the first state to implement such a rule, only a single drug user was found out of more than 80,000 tested from 2009 to 2012.
Moore’s bill comes as House Speaker Paul Ryan introduces a sweeping reform package for welfare programs in an effort to combat poverty. The proposal includes revamping the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, reforming unemployment insurance and requiring SNAP recipients to be actively searching for work to receive benefits.
Ryan unveiled his plans at an event last week, which Moore said inspired the bill.
“When he stood in front of a drug treatment center and rolled out his anti-poverty initiative, pushing this narrative that poor people are drug addicts, that was the last straw,” Moore said.