Congress Wants To Drug Test People Applying for Unemployment

March 20th 2017

It just got easier for states to drug test people who are applying for unemployment. On Tuesday, the Senate passed House Joint Resolution 42 which overturns an Obama-era regulation limiting the degree to which states can drug test people applying for unemployment benefits.

Congress was able to overturn the law by utilizing the Congressional Review Act, which offers a method of changing recently implemented federal regulations by a simple majority. So, instead of needing a two-thirds majority, they were able to override the Obama-era legislation with a 51-48 vote in the Senate

As House Speaker Paul Ryan proudly tweeted on Sunday, the bill now heads to the president for final approval, which is likely 

The regulation that is being overturned is the Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, which was passed in 2012 and more narrowly defined in 2016, which mandated that states could only test people applying for unemployment benefits if they were fired from a job for using illegal substances or if they were applying for a job that required drug testing. 

Many Republicans, such as Senator Ted Cruz (R-Texas) who sponsored the bill, believe that the Obama-era law undermined state power.

But while Ryan may have celebrated the legislation, critics are pointing to multiple flaws in the measure. 

First of all, the evidence suggesting that individuals on welfare use more drugs than the general population is mixed at best. According to Think Progress, statistics from states with drug testing programs actually show a lower drug usage rate than the general population. Research in various states supports this data. According to Vox, screening efforts by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services found that out of 7,600 welfare recipients, only 21 tested positive. In 2012, when Utah drug tested welfare recipients, only 12 people out of 466 tested positive for drugs. USA reports that out of the 87,000 welfare recipients drug tested in Arizona, only one person tested positive. 

These programs are also costly. According to the National Employment Law Project (NELP) in 2015 ten states spent over $850,000 on testing welfare recipients and only found 321 positive results. Furthermore, according to NELP, Texas estimated that a drug test program would cost the state $30 million a year. 

Drug testing welfare recipients has also been found unconstitutional. In 2013, a federal court struck down a Florida law mandating drug testing for welfare benefits because it violated the Fourth Amendment. As Vice reported, the ACLU is currently preparing for a legal battle to oppose the regulation on such grounds. 

Opponents of the bill also argue that it stigmatizes unemployment as well as potentially deterring people with drug problems from seeking the assistance they need. "If people are afraid they'll lose their benefits if they admit to using drugs, it makes it hard for them to say, 'Hey, actually I have this issue" Elizabeth Lower-Basch, policy coordinator and director of income and work supports at CLASP, told Think Progress

As Fox6now reported, some Democratic lawmakers did not mince words when commenting on the resolution. "Yesterday, congressional Republicans continued their attack on the poor by forcing drug testing as a prerequisite for receiving unemployment benefits," Rep. Gwen Moore (D- Wis) said and continued, "I am appalled by the Republican Party's discriminatory policies and deeply-sown disdain against those battling poverty."

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