Republicans are allowing states to drug test people applying for unemployment benefits

This eliminates a rule implemented by President Barack Obama in 2012

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published May 11, 2017 7:11PM (EDT)

          (AP/Allen Breed)
(AP/Allen Breed)

There are a number of reasons why drug testing welfare recipients is a bad idea, but that hasn't stopped Republicans in Congress and the White House from making it easier for states to drug test for unemployment benefits.

On Wednesday the Department of Labor revoked a regulation implemented by President Barack Obama in 2012 that established circumscribed parameters for how states could drug test individuals applying for unemployment benefits, according to a report by Think Progress. This was made possible by a congressional vote to apply the Congressional Review Act to that rule, which President Donald Trump signed into law in March. As a result, either the Labor Department or Congress will write their own rules, which are expected to empower states to drug test prospective unemployment beneficiaries with considerable latitude.

As Think Progress points out, drug testing is neither cheap nor effective. States spent $1.6 million on drug testing last year and $2 million during the previous two years, and yet out of the 250,000 people subjected to the tests in 13 states in 2016, only 369 ever tested positive. The state with the highest positive result had 2.14 percent, which is below the overall drug use rate (nearly 10 percent); four states didn't reveal any illegal drug use at all.

This hasn't stopped proponents of drug testing unemployment recipients from arguing that it "benefits the unemployed by helping to assure future employers that unemployment claimants reentering the workforce are truly able and available for work," to quote Republican Rep. Pete Sessions of Texas.

Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin has even argued that drug tests should be used for food stamp recipients, saying that making it legal for gubernatorial governments to do this would "give states like Wisconsin the flexibility to provide the accountability the taxpayers demand."


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By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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