Unemployment recipients already face a mountain of worries. Besides overcoming the trauma of having lost their jobs, many of them struggle to make rent or mortgage payments, keep the lights on and feed their families. Now Texas Governor Rick Perry has added insult to injury by requiring that they pass a drug test before collecting meager unemployment benefits. State Democrats, some of whom have questioned the new law’s constitutionality and demanded that Perry himself get tested, managed to block a similar measure for welfare recipients.
This law follows similar ones recently passed in Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah. Altogether,?close to 30 states proposed legislation?in 2013 that makes drug testing mandatory before recipients may receive unemployment or, in some cases, welfare benefits.
Texans who are recently laid off or fired for reasons other than misconduct might be?eligible to receive between $62 and $440 a week, depending on their past wages. How much of this is spent on drugs, no one knows for certain. But conservatives seem to think that the amount is significant enough to warrant a new law, one that perpetuates the stereotype that everyone on public assistance is cheating the system.
No Public Welfare for the Public
The bill’s author, Sen. Tommy Williams (R), claims that the law will actually help the unemployed find jobs since, in many cases, workers need to pass a drug test to be hired anyway. Which raises the question: if passing a drug test is already required by employers, why must there be a law? Isn’t superfluous legislation, not to mention government intrusion into people’s personal lives, what conservatives profess to loath?
Besides, failing drug tests probably ranks pretty low on the list of reasons why people run into difficulty getting hired. At the top of the list sits our still-sluggish economy and outsourcing, barriers that could be mitigated if only nay-saying Republicans in the U.S. Senate would cooperate with Democrats and President Obama.
So despite what Sen. Williams says, the Texas law really has nothing to do with helping people find jobs and everything to do with conservative ideology. Out-of-touch lawmakers want unemployment recipients to fail drug tests because it validates their skewed, misguided belief that public assistance is strictly for undeserving losers and encourages laziness and wrongdoing. They want them to fail so they can be ripped off the state’s teat and cast out into the wilderness. They want them to fail because they want what they perceive to be socialism to fail — but only if it’s intended to help the poor or middle-class.
Corporate welfare good. Public welfare bad.
The Cost of Drug Testing
Indeed, conservatives seek an end to public handouts, no matter the cost — even if the solution costs more than simply paying poor people, as we saw last year in Florida.
After the ACLU’s litigation halted the Sunshine State’s systematic drug testing, it was revealed that the ?tests had cost taxpayers more than they saved. Among the 4,086 people who were tested, only 108 — that’s 2.6 percent — failed, most of them for marijuana. Not including attorneys, court costs and other hidden fees, the state’s net loss ran up to $45,780. Florida taxpayers, therefore, had passed along the cost (and more) to companies such as Quest Diagnostics. But in conservatives’ eyes, that’s okay; it’s better to give handouts to corporations than to needy individuals.
No one wants individuals to remain on public assistance indefinitely, especially if they’re abusing said assistance. But instead of drug testing them, can’t we provide them with career counseling? Can’t we raise the minimum wage to an amount that might give families a reasonable chance at keeping their home while they seek better employment? Can’t Congress pass a jobs bill instead of voting to repeal Obamacare for the thirty-ninth time? Almost any other measure would be more helpful and less demeaning than forcing poor people to pee in cups.