SNAP Goes the Drug-Testing Argument

So when House Republicans get around this fall to legislation reauthorizing the SNAP (food stamp) program, which they’ll have to do before getting to a conference committee with the Senate on the farm bill, we already know they’re going to push for a huge ($40 billion) cut in benefits and a provision allowing if not requiring states to impose drug tests on applicants (this was approved by the House before all the SNAP provisions were stripped out of the farm bill).

At Wonkblog today, my friend Harold Pollack along with the University of Michigan’s Sheldon Danziger take a look at the data on SNAP recipients and drug use, and find out pretty fast there’s not much of a case for the expensive and punitive testing regimen the GOPers want:

[I]f one excludes marijuana, then abuse or dependence of other illicit substances is rare within the SNAP population. By far the most common substance use disorders among SNAP recipients (and among the general population) arise from alcohol use—behaviors generally left undetected by drug-testing.

On every measure we examine, SNAP recipients are only slightly more likely than non-recipients to display substance use disorders. Yet the absolute risks associated with SNAP receipt are quite small. And some obvious socio-demographic subgroups display much higher prevalence of substance use disorders than SNAP recipients do.

This is about hassling and stigmatizing those people, not anything to do with food policy or drug policy.

Ed Kilgore

Ed Kilgore, a Monthly contributing editor, is a columnist for the Daily Intelligencer, New York magazine’s politics blog, and the managing editor for the Democratic Strategist.