Why Drug Testing For Unemployment Benefits Is A Bipartisan Issue

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The Obama Administration's Labor Department passed a rule that made it harder for states to drug test people that receive unemployment benefits. The idea was that unless the person had been fired for using drugs, or worked in a field where drug testing was legally required, they could not be tested in order to receive unemployment benefits. Now there's a law awaiting Trump's signature that would change that, and Paul Ryan is pretty happy with it. This is a shame, though, because even by Republican standards, there's a huge issue with drug testing for unemployment benefits.

Forget demonizing a group of people who are already down on their luck. The GOP clearly isn't worried about combating stigma and helping these people get back to work. Their party-line vote in the Senate proves that. But there's another facet of this troublesome law that should get Republicans' attention: the potential wasteful spending they would be unleashed around the country. That's right, in addition to being morally suspect, this law is a big waste of money. We know because this has been proven true when states drug tested for other programs.

For years there have been attempts by states across the country to implement programs that drug test welfare recipients. In several, it's common practice — and in 2015, it became clear that the program just doesn't work. It's a hugely expensive program and there's very few people that are caught. ThinkProgress did a review of 10 states that drug test some or all applicants to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to see how their programs worked.

Well, in 2015 these states spent $850,909.25 on testing. Only 321 people tested positive — a very small percentage of the total number of applicants. Take Missouri for example. Some 31,000 people applied for cash welfare benefits under the program. Of those, just under 300 were tested based on a suspicion of drug use. Then 38 tested positive — a very small number. The state spent $336,000 to catch those 38 people. That's nearly $9,000 per positive result.

Why would those applying for unemployment benefits be any different? The odds are we will see states going to the same trouble to keep the poor off the unemployment rolls as we now see trying to keep them off welfare. These people already have enough to deal with, having lost their jobs and looking for a new one. The insult of doing a drug test surely won't help their morale.

But the sheer number of people will drive up the costs even further than what was seen for welfare screening. There are about 1 million adults receiving TANF every month. The number nationwide receiving unemployment benefits, even with the decreasing unemployment rate, is still likely much higher. There are about 7.5 million unemployed Americans (not all of whom receive unemployment).

There are so many issues with this new Republican drug testing bill, but the one they should care about most is cost. It's going to waste taxpayers' money, pure and simple.