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This Bill Requires Welfare Recipients to Get Drug Tested

1 minute Read

How about a drug test with that unemployment? Thanks to house speaker Paul Ryan, states can mandate that anyone who receives unemployment benefits will first have to pass a drug test. The White House has indicated that President Trump will sign the bill into law.

H.J. Res 42, sponsored by Kevin Brady (R-TX), reverses a regulation from the Obama administration that limits states’ ability to drug test those who file for unemployment insurance. It’s likely the bill will end up costing the government more money than it’s ultimately meant to save.

In 2015, Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah collectively spent $1 million in drug testing, only to pinpoint 407 drug users. And between 2014 and 2009, when Arizona became the first state to drug test welfare recipients, only three out of 87,000 people tested positive. Legislators had projected that the program would save $1.7 million by withholding money from drug users; in reality, it only saved $3,500.

“They say it’s about helping states save money, but {H.J. Res 4} would actually set up states to waste tremendous amounts of money,” says Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance. “Congress should be helping people get to work, not wasting taxpayer dollars to punish people who are trying to get back to work.”

If this bill were meant to address substance abuse and provide treatment, it’s the wrong approach, says Liz Schott, senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “What this is really doing is creating more of a roadblock, yet another hurdle to get over when you’re trying to get on benefits,” she said. “The more hurdles you put in front of an applicant, the greater the share of people who won’t make it over all those hurdles. People have complicated lives, and they’re in crisis.”

Smith calls the bill “shameful,” as it “demonizes” people who use drugs in the midst of a national ongoing conversation about America’s opiate crisis. “The reality is that people who receive public assistance are no more likely to use drugs than the general population.”

The bill may also affect cannabis users — including those who use the plant medicinally outside state law. Though 28 states have legalized adult use or medical marijuana, a number of other states only allow for CBD, or cannabidiol, the plant’s non-psychotropic, second-most prominent compound. Whether a person uses CBD-only cannabis products, as opposed to those that also contain THC, the compound that gets you high, most drug tests only test for THC. Depending on the kind of drug test and how often a person uses cannabis, THC can be detectable in the body for days or even weeks.

This Bill Requires Welfare Recipients to Get Drug Tested