From the Field: Wisconsin Governor Proposes Drug Testing and Work Requirements for Residents of Public Housing

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) is seeking to reduce public assistance for low income people in Wisconsin and to increase barriers to accessing the support they need. Mr. Walker is calling a special session of the legislature for consideration of the “Wisconsin Works for Everyone” legislation that makes sweeping changes to various entitlement programs low income households throughout the state rely on for the survival. The legislative package includes a bill to impose drug testing and work requirements for residents of public housing. Advocates are mobilizing to defeat the bill and to show that the proposed requirements for public housing agencies (PHAs) are illegal under federal law.

If passed, the new legislation would require all PHAs to conduct evaluations to determine whether any adult resident of public housing is able-bodied and available for work. For those who are determined to be able-bodied, PHAs would then produce employability plans the residents would be required to abide by in order to maintain housing assistance.

For all residents with an employability plan, the PHA would be further required to conduct a questionnaire to determine if residents are potentially abusing controlled substances. For those determined to be at risk of abusing substances, the PHA would be required to implement a drug testing program. A PHA must provide substance-abuse treatment options for residents who test positive.

The proposed legislation is silent on what penalties might befall PHAs or residents who are not compliant. Advocates argue the bill’s provisions directly contradict federal law governing public housing and, if passed, may be challenged in court. The proposed legislation appears to be aware of possible legal conflicts, beginning with the phrase, “To the extent allowed under federal law….”

“Our low income clients throughout Wisconsin tell us that what they need to get out of poverty is reliable transportation, access to job skills training and higher education, and safe, affordable housing,” said Vicky Selkowe, director of legislative, rulemaking, and training compliance at Legal Action of Wisconsin. “We are concerned that this bill fails to provide these needed and effective supports. It instead further stigmatizes and isolates our clients and their families. Jeopardizing low income households’ access to food and housing will not help them escape poverty through work.”

Read more about Mr. Walker’s efforts to reduce program benefits available to low income households at:

Read the proposed legislation to impose work requirements and drug testing at: