It’s a Trump-lover’s dream: The chance to utter to unwanted employees the president’s most-famous catchphrase—the one before the president started coining words and became a social-media institution—and then, before they can suffer the bureaucratic ignominy of applying for unemployment benefits, humiliate them further by forcing them to piss in a cup in order to receive a dime.
It’s all happening.
After a 51-48 party-line vote in the Senate, states will be able to force fired workers to submit to and pass a drug test before receiving unemployment benefits.
The legislation is now on its way to the White House for President Trump’s signature.
As The Hill reported, Trump, who has spent the last four decades cultivating an image of the ultimate tough boss, is expected to sign the legislation into law.
It will be up to states to decide if they want to do this to people out of work, but it’s guaranteed that a handful will do so immediately.
Egged on by anti-worker wraiths like Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, Republicans in Congress have been itching to allow benefits recipients to undergo drug-testing for years—but it still required some parliamentarian trickery via the Congressional Review Act, a “rarely used” and “obscure” tool the Newt Gingrich-led Congress gifted itself in 1996 to roll back federal regulations it doesn’t like by a simple majority vote.
So this is what we’ll have: Workplaces that can fire workers for drug use, in the midst of the biggest expansion of legal cannabis in history, coming at the same time as a historic epidemic of opiate use; and states that can deny those workers a fraction of their former wages as they look for other jobs—which, by the way, aren’t exactly plentiful.
Critics like Oregon Sen. Ron Wyden blasted the plan as “mean-spirited” and “ineffective.” But, coming on the heels of the grand effort led by House Leader Paul Ryan to gut Obamacare, it does appear consistent with Republicans’ apparent scheme to deny any government assistance to anyone, everywhere.
“If Republicans truly cared about helping those struggling with addiction, they would not be undertaking a full throttle repeal of the Affordable Care Act and cutting Medicaid funding for drug treatment programs,” Wyden said on the Senate floor before the vote on Tuesday, according to KTVZ.
Amazingly, forcing laid-off or fired workers to pass a drug test before receiving unemployment is a relatively new “innovation”—one that started in earnest during the Great Recession, right when workers needed unemployment assistance the most. Faced with masses of laid-off workers in 2007 and 2008, states looked for ways to get out of paying them unemployment.
Forget that the Social Security Act, the New Deal-era law that created unemployment insurance in 1935, prohibits states from adding qualifying requirements that do not relate to the “fact or cause” of a worker’s unemployment, as the National Employment Law Project wrote in a recent policy brief.
Irrelevant! As usual, the drug war provided a convenient excuse to punish poor people.
There was some precedent: Congress and many states have passed “drug-free workplace laws,” which, in addition to providing penalties for bringing drugs to work, also gives bosses the authority to summarily fire workers for off-the-clock drug use. (This is the legal authority employers still wield when moving to fire medical marijuana patients for using cannabis outside of work hours.)
Instead of allowing widespread drug testing of all workers, in 2012, a (Democratic Party-led) Congress reached a compromise that would allow states to drug-test unemployment claimants who had either been fired for past drug use or worked in jobs that already have regular drug-screening, such as bus driver or police officer. That didn’t sit well with Congressional Republicans, who waited until no bipartisan support was required to jam the drug-testing scheme through.
It’s worth pointing out that other states have tried to force recipients of other government benefits programs to submit to drug-testing before receiving their paltry checks, but have been blocked by federal courts. To think that Congress will stop here and not plot to also require drug testing for food stamps, housing assistance and other vestiges of when America cared for its poor is wishful thinking.