Trump Signs Bill To Expand Drug Testing Of Unemployment Benefit Applicants

By Britni de la Cretaz 04/06/17

Opponents of the new law suspect that it may violate the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution. 

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Donald Trump

Last week, President Trump signed legislation that will allow states to expand the pool of unemployment applicants that can be drug tested in order to receive benefits. The bill was sponsored by two Republican legislators from Texas, Sen. Ted Cruz and Rep. Kevin Brady.

Last September, a Labor Department rule went into effect that limited drug testing to beneficiaries whose jobs had done regular drug screenings. This new legislation nullifies that rule.

“After 5 years of battling with the Obama Department of Labor, states like Texas will now be allowed to drug test folks on unemployment to ensure they are job ready from day one,” Brady said in a written statement. “This is a win for families, workers, job creators, and local economies.” Advocates of the bill claim it will save money in the long run.

However, when similar legislation was put in place for people applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), the policy of drug testing people who received the benefits had the opposite effect. It was found that, in 2015, the 10 states that had implemented drug-testing programs for TANF applicants spent $850,909—and only 321 positive tests came back. In several states, not even a single positive test result was found.

The Drug Policy Alliance has called Cruz and Brady's legislation “shameful.”

“We are not helping anyone by leaving them in a position where they are dependent on and addicted to drugs,” Cruz said of his legislation. That same reasoning was used for the TANF drug screening programs, as well. “There’s actually more people who are denied benefits for not following through with a test than for failing,” Liz Schott of the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities told ThinkProgress last year. “The impact is largely on people who don’t necessarily have any substance abuse issue.”

Another challenge to this new legislation is whether or not it is constitutional. The American Civil Liberties Union said in a tweet last month that “suspicionless drug testing of government benefit recipients likely violates the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution.” In fact, a federal court found Florida’s law that established drug screenings for all welfare applicants to be unconstitutional.

Despite that, Rep. Chris Latvala, a Florida Republican, is sponsoring a new bill that would require applicants who have been convicted of a felony drug charge or were suspected of being under the influence of a controlled substance, to submit to a drug screening before they could receive benefits. The test would be at the expense of the applicant, but the state would reimburse anyone who passed.

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Britni de la Cretaz is a freelance writer, baseball enthusiast, and recovered alcoholic living in Boston. Follow her on Twitter at @britnidlc.

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