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GOP to Vote on Drug Testing the Unemployed

Many who are unemployed in the U.S. may have to pass a drug test in order to keep their short-term unemployment insurance payouts, depending on the results of a vote that is expected to happen this week on House Joint Resolution 42, proposed legislation from congressional Republicans. This vote would override the current limits that are in place, per the Obama administration, that restricts drug testing those who are unemployed.

Those who are in favor of the legislation see it as a way to use public funds to ensure that both taxpayers and those who are presently in the market for a job all benefit from everyone being on their best behavior and staying clean while unemployed. Those who are against the legislation see it as being a pointless and degrading measure that is also cost-prohibitive.

Historically, unemployment insurance has never included a drug testing provision. Gary Burtless, an economist with the Brookings Institute, illustrates why some people are skeptical of the legislation. Says Burtless: "…You have [already] been taxed for the benefits, so it’s…like giving drug tests to people whose houses burned down if they [went] to collect on their fire insurance."

If House Joint Resolution 42 is a success, then it will set up another piece of legislation for approval: the Ready for Work Act, which is a bill that would allow states to cherry-pick who among the unemployed should be drug tested. Right now, three states have laws on the books that allow for the drug testing of the unemployed so as to earn unemployment insurance: Mississippi, Wisconsin, and Texas.

House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy linked to an article on Valentine's Day wherein "Utah saved more than $350,000 in the first year alone" after people were tested in accordance with the drug-screening requirements that were set in place for them to qualify for the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families welfare program (TANF).

A 2015 review found that after 10 states spent about $850,000 to administer drug tests in accordance with the rules associated with TANF, 321 active drug users were discovered. Utah, on the other hand, spent $29,000 that year and only found 18. This lead the National Employment Law Project to publish a paper earlier this month that questioned whether House Joint Resolution 42 is entirely necessary.

The paper accused the GOP of “inventing problems that do not really exist, scapegoating the unemployed, and wasting time and money ‘permitting’ states to enact programs that will be struck down by the federal courts as unconstitutional.”

Tom Evenson, a supporter of House Joint Resolution 42 and a spokesman for Wisconsin's governor, Scott Walker, disagrees, saying that while it is all well and good to want to help people who are down and out, "public assistance should be [used as] a trampoline, not a hammock."

House Joint Resolution 42 would, if passed, also strike down a federal rule that was passed this past August that allows states to test people who had been previously fired for using drugs.