Though the Clinton Administration passed a law years ago allowing states to test welfare recipients for drug abuse, one Republican senator wants to go farther: require drug tests of anyone who applies for government assistance.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-UT) offered an amendment Tuesday that would require drug tests for those who seek welfare and unemployment benefits. States have the authority to enact drug testing requirements for their welfare programs under the 1996 Welfare Reform Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton, but they are not mandated to conduct tests under current law.
“This amendment is a way to help people get off of drugs to become productive and healthy members of society, while ensuring that valuable taxpayer dollars aren’t wasted,” Hatch said of his proposal. “Too many Americans are locked into a life of a dangerous dependency not only on drugs, but the federal assistance that serves to enable their addiction.”
An advocate for the poor lambasted the idea.
“If people who need all kinds of help can’t get certain kinds of help, that is just not right,” Linda Hilton of the Crossroads Urban Center in Salt Lake City told the Salt Lake Tribune. She added that she “couldn’t fathom the idea of denying assistance to a person with an alcohol dependency, and she worries it could punish entire families for the addiction of a parent.”
A press release from Hatch’s office said that any “money saved as a result of this amendment would be used to reduce the deficit.”
But Hilton countered that the amendment would actually cost the government money, because federal officials would have to free up more funding for alcohol and drug treatment programs.
The Hill noted that: “Hatch introduced an amendment to the tax extenders bill that would require those who are applying for some of the benefits in that bill, including unemployment and welfare benefits, to pass a drug test in exchange for the benefits.
“Under the Hatch amendment,” the paper continued, “individuals who fail to qualify for benefits because they failed a drug test wouldn’t necessarily be jailed, but would be enrolled in a state or federal drug treatment program.”