In the wake of the financial crisis of the late 2000s, Congress and the Obama administration wrangled over the expansion of unemployment benefits. Democrats wanted to offset the contractionary pressures of high unemployment by giving temporary financial support to American who had lost their jobs. Republicans had many objections to the plan; among them were fears that unemployment benefits were subsidizing the drug habits of beneficiaries. If that sounds like a silly concern, that’s because it is.
As part of a compromise effort, the legislation that expanded unemployment benefits came with a caveat. Whereas it had previously been federally illegal to require drug testing for unemployment beneficiaries, beneficiaries who had lost their jobs due to drug use could now be legally required to take drugs tests. What’s more, individuals applying for jobs in industries that regularly conducted drug tests could also be forced to undergo testing as a condition of unemployment benefits.
However, under the Obama Administration, The Department of Labor interpreted these provisions so narrowly when developing rules that in almost all cases, drug testing as a condition of unemployment benefits was not practicable.
This week, Republicans in the US House of Representatives (joined by four Democrats) passed a resolution that invalidates the Department of Labor rulemaking procedure. This means that should the US Senate adopt the resolution, Congress will either rewrite the rule itself or send it back to (now Trump-controlled) Labor Department for rewriting. Either way, expect to see far more permissive rules around drug testing for unemployment benefits.
That may not be the end of the matter. If Congressional Republicans or the Trump Labor Department attempt to rewrite the rules to allow drug testing that falls outside of the bounds authorized by current law, we may see a court battle over this provision.
Denying unemployment benefits to individuals with a dirty piss test helps neither the beneficiaries nor society as a whole. If Congressional Republicans were truly worried about the dangers of drug use, positive tests would be met with treatment programs, not terminated benefits.