Georgia bill requiring food stamp applicants to get drug tested could break federal law

News 12 at 11 / Wednesday, March 26, 2014

AUGUSTA,Ga. (WRDW) -- Some people applying for food stamps may have to take a drug test before they can get their benefits, at least that's what Georgia lawmakers want. But right now, it looks like the state of Georgia might be the one getting in trouble with the law.

It's a controversial bill in the first place with strong feelings on both sides of the issue. But, if the Governor signs it, it could break federal laws and become an expensive battle.

"They don't give me much in food stamps, but every little bit helps," Doug Cunningham said.

For Cunningham, it helps provide for his family and buy food for his growing grandson. A bill now sitting on the Governor's desk could make people like Doug pass a drug test before he gets his benefits.

"I think it's a good idea," Cunningham said. "There's too many people who are just too lazy to work, and they just want to have a good time. If this helps weed them out, then fine. Taxpayers shouldn't be paying for them."

HB 772 would only require drug testing for applicants if they have a "reasonable suspicion" of illegal drug use, but right now, the bill itself is raising suspicion on the federal level.

"Don't have the state of Georgia try to tell the federal government what to do. It doesn't work that way," said Augusta lawyer Jack Long.

The food stamp program, otherwise known as SNAP, is funded by federal dollars, which means any change to the eligibility requirements have to be made in Washington, not Atlanta.

News 12 obtained an e-mail from a federal official to Georgia lawmakers. In it, SNAP's Robert Caskey quotes the law saying, "no State agency shall impose any other standards of eligibility . . . The addition of a drug testing provision of any type is prohibited in the SNAP program."

Despite that, the bill still passed on the last day of the legislative session and only needs Governor Nathan Deal's signature to come to life. But, local attorney Jack Long says that life may be short lived.

"If he does sign it, then there will be some litigation about it. The state of Georgia will spend tens of thousands of dollars trying to defend a bill, and they'll lose," Long said bluntly, describing litigation that would turn a bill of law into a bill to pay right out of taxpayers wallets.

"It's foolish to pass a bill that sounds good on the face of it, but all it does is cost the taxpayers," Long said.

Almost 2 million Georgians use food stamps. Again, the law only targets those suspicious of drug use. But in the end, none of it could matter if the state law breaks a federal law.

Now, the question is will Governor Deal sign it and put the legal fight into motion or let it sit on his desk and take the political heat?

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