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News (Media Awareness Project) - US TX: Column: The Ploy Behind Drug Testing The Unemployed
Title:US TX: Column: The Ploy Behind Drug Testing The Unemployed
Published On:2012-01-26
Source:Dallas Morning News (TX)
Fetched On:2012-01-28 06:02:22

As part of legislation to extend federal unemployment insurance
benefits through 2012, Congress is considering a very bad policy idea:
encouraging states to drug test every applicant for unemployment
insurance and deny compensation to any who fail. It's such a bad idea
that it has twice failed to make it through the Texas House, which is
as conservative a legislative body as they come.

The whole thing is really a ploy. The proponents of drug testing are
trying to undermine public support for unemployment benefits by
associating these applicants with drug users. They want the public to
think about unemployment insurance like it does welfare, blaming the
unemployed - rather than the economy - for their plight.

Unemployment insurance is not welfare. By definition, people who
qualify lost their job through no fault of their own. They are
typically men and women who have worked steadily, often for years or
even decades, and have largely covered the cost of their employer's
unemployment-insurance tax indirectly through reduced wages.

Congress should not subject these workers to the indignity of drug
testing. Federal courts have squarely held that mandatory drug testing
in situations of this sort violates the Fourth Amendment's prohibition
against unreasonable search and seizures because there is no
individualized suspicion of wrongdoing or special need that outweighs
a person's right to keep the government off his back and out of his business.

The personal invasion goes beyond having to pee in a cup. The worker
also would have to disclose to the government all the medications he
or she takes to explain any false positive. And there will be many
false positives, subjecting people to searching government inquires in
their effort to clear their name.

Not only is drug testing intrusive, it is expensive. States would have
to create a new bureaucracy and pay significant lab costs to test
every applicant. New claims for unemployment insurance nationally
average about 400,000 a week. Weeding out the false positives will be
particularly costly. At a time when states are struggling to fund
vital services such as public education, Congress should not encourage
them to waste money on such drug testing.

Drug issues should be dealt with in the criminal justice or social
services systems, not the unemployment insurance system. Of course, as
I already said, this debate isn't really about drug policy; it's about
undermining public support for unemployment insurance.

But let's talk drug policy.

Unemployment insurance is designed to pay for a family's food,
clothing and shelter while the breadwinner looks for a new job. What
if your brother-in-law foolishly smokes pot but also works steadily to
support your sister and their children? If he loses his job because of
the economy, do you really think it's smart to deny his family those
unemployment benefits, forcing them onto welfare or leaving them destitute?

To automatically deny these benefits when an unemployed worker fails a
drug test is like imposing a massive, mandatory fine for drug use
without any of the discretion or treatment provided by our criminal
justice and social services systems. Such a penalty is both too harsh
and counterproductive.

Admittedly, Congress is merely considering giving states an option to
drug test applicants. But this is the beautiful part of the ploy.
Congress would take none of the responsibility while igniting debates
in the 50 states.

Frankly, how Congress ultimately comes down on this issue is sort of a
test itself. Congress says its top priority is the American worker.
But if Congress encourages states to subject American workers to
unnecessary, intrusive, expensive and ill-advised drug tests, it is
proof positive that for Congress, the American worker really doesn't
count for much.
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