Senator Orin Hatch (R-Utah) has introduced federal legislation that would require recipients of unemployment benefits to undergo periodic drug tests. Rep. Harry Warren (R- Rowan) has introduced a similar bill HB 735 here in North Carolina.
Proponents of this idea want to ensure that recipients of unemployment benefits are in fact able and available to work. They argue that government assistance should not be used to support the recipient’s drug addiction and withholding benefits would incentivize those who test positive to get the help they need to get off drugs. The state picks up the tab for the test if you pass, if you fail, the cost is deducted from your last check.
Opponents of the bill like Matt Welch of Reason Magazine argue that this is further encroachment of government in our private lives. If recipients of government subsidies are going to be drug tested, shouldn’t all recipients be tested? Even those getting corporate welfare? For example, should we test those folks in the film industry receiving tax credits?
My colleagues here at JLF have written about government and privacy with prescription drugs, online shopping and drug tests for teachers. We’ve also strongly advocated for transparency and accountability for how taxpayer money is spent.
So here’s the question – should government require drug testing for recipients of unemployment benefits to ensure that those benefits are used as they were intended? Or is this an unreasonable encroachment on privacy? Is privacy the price one pays for receiving taxpayer subsidies?