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Testing the waters

Paul Ryan proudly unveils new law that allows states to drug test people on unemployment

Paul Ryan proudly unveils new law that allows states to drug test people on unemployment

House Speaker Paul Ryan proudly unveiled new legislation Sunday that would allow states to require unemployed Americans seeking welfare cash assistance to first pass a drug test.

The White House says President Donald Trump will sign it into law.  

Ryan touted the bill by posting a photo of himself on Twitter, smiling next to Rep. Kevin Brady, the Republican from Texas who authored the bill rolling back Obama-era regulations on drug testing by employers.  “Another one heads to Trump’s desk,” Ryan wrote. “This legislation allows states to have drug testing to receive federal unemployment benefits.”

But available data shows states actually tend to lose money drug testing welfare recipients, and attempted rollouts of similar programs in states like Arizona and Florida have ended badly. At least 10 states currently reserve the option to drug test benefit recipients, though it’s unclear any of them have been successful.

In fact, a 2015 ThinkProgress analysis found that seven states –  Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah – had spent a combined $1 million to uncover exactly 407 drug users.

Arizona in 2009 became the first state to pass a drug-testing program for welfare recipients. Approximately 87,000 people were tested between 2009 and 2014, during which time a grand total of three people tested positive, according to an analysis by Mic. The net savings from withholding benefits from drug users in Arizona were reportedly $3,500 — quite a different figure from the $1.7 million state lawmakers had promised.

And in Florida, a federal judge struck down the state’s drug-testing law as unconstitutional in 2013, prompting the state of Georgia to abandon plans for a similar program. Florida state data also indicated that the testing was also expensive and ineffective; only 108 out of 4,086 people tested (about 2.6 percent) turned up positive drug tests in the two years that the program was in action. The nationwide average is approximately 9.4 percent.  

Grant Smith, from the Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to ending the war on drugs, called the move “shameful.”

“They said it’s about helping states save money, but this would actually set up states to waste tremendous amounts of money,” Smith said in a letter addressed to lawmakers last week.

The ACLU is also gearing up for a legal battle, writing in a statement that the legislation is “likely” an unconstitutional violation of government benefit recipients’ Fourth Amendment rights.

M-F 7:30PM HBO