Federal bill could impact Georgia's drug testing law

Updated at 3:50:

Aderholt’s chief of staff Brian Rell said the issues states were having as they sought to require drug testing for some food stamp recipients first came to his office’s attention after the Agriculture Department wrote a letter to Gov. Nathan Deal in June 2014 saying Georgia could not implement its law.

In an interview Friday afternoon on Capitol Hill, Aderholt said the legislation is meant to clarify that states have the authority to do so if they choose.

“It’s optional. If a state does not want to do it they’re not required to do it, but hopefully this will be something that would have good results and states would want to adopt something like this,” said Aderholt, who served with Deal when the governor was a member of the U.S. House.

The legislation could also help Wisconsin Governor and former Republican presidential candidate Scott Walker, who sued the USDA to allow for such drug testing.

“I’ve heard for quite some time that people are very frustrated, the fact that there can’t be more control when someone is receiving welfare or some kind of help from the federal government and they could still easily be on drugs,” said Aderholt. “The root of the problem is they’ve got a drug problem and that needs to be dealt with.”

Original post:

A senior Alabama congressman is reviving a Republican effort for drug testing food stamp recipients that could have implications on Georgia's seemingly frozen push.

Rep. Robert Aderholt, R-Ala., introduced legislation late Thursday that would let states use drug testing as a prerequisite for recipients of assistance from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP (formerly known as food stamps). The measure would also make it harder for people to qualify for SNAP benefits by participating in a government heating assistance program, which Aderholt’s office said would save roughly $1.2 billion. Meanwhile, the bill would create a $600 million fund states could apply for to treat addiction for people who test positive.

Congress is not expected to accomplish much beyond the bare minimum in this busy presidential election year, but Aderholt is well positioned as the chairman of the subcommittee that oversees federal funding for the Department of Agriculture, which runs the SNAP program. Lawmakers commonly attach their preferred policies onto spending bills since those are often among the only must-pass measures the logjammed Congress must consider. Most contentious proposals, however, are ultimately dropped at the end of the year in the interest of quickly passing a final spending deal.

If the federal legislation is ultimately enacted it could help Gov. Nathan Deal implement a state law requiring drug tests for some welfare recipients, which was thrown into limbo late last year after an Atlanta federal appeals court struck down related legislation in Florida. Peach State leaders had delayed enforcing the law as Florida’s version wound through the courts.

Deal signed the measure, which is considered one of the toughest in the nation, in 2014 amid a re-election campaign. It was promptly tied up by USDA officials who contended it violated federal law.

SNAP served more than 46 million people last year, according to the Associated Press, costing roughly $74 billion, double the program’s 2008 price tag.

SNAP is not the only poverty-related program being eyed by Republicans in Congress. House GOP leaders are mulling special budget legislation that would overhaul the country's welfare programs, an effort that's likely to attract scant Democratic support.

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About the Author

Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman
Tamar Hallerman is a senior reporter for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's enterprise team, where she covers gender, the urban-rural divide and other...