Sen. Orrin Hatch, a Utah Republican, proposed yesterday that people seeking unemployment benefits or welfare undergo drug tests before they can receive benefits.
"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," Hatch said in announcing the proposal. "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."
The proposal comes in the form of an amendment to a bill now being considered to extend tax breaks and social programs; it mandates that if someone fails the drug test, "then states could enroll them in either a state or federal drug treatment program," according to a release from Hatch's office. It is not clear whether or not the person could face jail time.
Hatch suggests such a system would save money and reduce the deficit, presumably by virtue of withholding benefits from those who fail drug tests. His release does not address the costs of drug testing everyone receiving unemployment or welfare benefits or enrolling those who fail the test in treatment programs.
In its release, Hatch's office says that "drug abuse prevents many individuals from getting off of welfare and back to work" and notes that many private companies subject their employees to drug testing.
Some are welcoming the amendment: Utah State Rep. Carl Wimmer told the Salt Lake Tribune that it "is simply immoral for [those on public assistance] to use taxpayer dollars to fund their addiction."
Reason Magazine's Matt Welsh, meanwhile, laments what he calls the "flippant tramplings of our privacy rights" reflected in the proposal.
"If you are at all dependent on the state, whether by choice or force, and you don't have the good manners to be powerful, you will always stand the risk of being treated like a patient at a criminal asylum," he writes.
Hatch's proposal brings to mind a 2002 story from the satirical Onion newspaper entitled "Drugs Now Legal if User is Employed."
In it, a fictional DEA administrator says the following: "There's no point going after some cardiac surgeon who needs some speed to keep him sharp. That's not what the law was intended to prevent. But the more destructive drug users--the addict who spends his welfare money on crack, the guy in Harlem who smokes marijuana--that is something that we as a society must not tolerate."