Wisconsin To Drug Test People For Unemployment Benefits

| by Sheena Vasani
Walker signing an unrelated billWalker signing an unrelated bill

Republican Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin approved a law May 4 that will allow the state to perform drugs tests on those applying for unemployment benefits.

Under the new plan, employers can voluntarily supply drug test information on their prospective workers to the state. Those who fail the test or refuse to take it as part of their employment offer could then be denied unemployment insurance benefits unless they choose to undergo taxpayer-funded treatment.

The Walker administration is reportedly considering a similar program for those applying to receive food stamps, the Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reports. It is currently being considered in federal court.

"This new rule brings us one step closer to moving Wisconsinites from government dependence to true independence," Walker said, according to Fox News.

"We frequently hear from employers that they have good paying jobs, but they need their workers to be drug-free. This rule is a common-sense reform which strengthens our workforce by helping people find and keep a family supporting job."

The new rule will go into effect during the week fo May 9.

Many have criticized the new policy, citing statistics that show similar legislation in the past has been costly and relatively unsuccessful.

Data from seven states with similar policies already in effect -- Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Utah -- reveal that the rate of positive test results was well below the drug use rate for the U.S. population as a whole, ThinkProgress reports.

Some states revealed no positive test results at all -- yet the states have collectively spent almost $1 million on these efforts and plan to spend millions more.

"The main impact of it is first … to spend TANF money that could go into other things," Elizabeth Lower-Basch, policy coordinator and director of income and work supports at CLASP, a non-profit focused on policy for low-income individuals, told ThinkProgress.

"The money could certainly be spent on other things if it wasn’t going to drug testing," she added. "Even if it’s a state where it can’t go to into childcare or cash assistance, it probably comes out of their administration pot, so that’s caseworkers and things like that."

Lower-Basch noted that rather than helping individuals get off drugs, these policies may actually stigmatize them further and prevent them from seeking help.

“If people are afraid they’ll lose their benefits if they admit to using drugs, it makes it hard for them to say, ‘Hey, actually I have this issue,'” she explained.

Sources: Milwaukee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel, Fox News,ThinkProgress / Photo Credit: Chris Rand/Wikimedia Commons

Should Wisconsin perform drugs tests on those applying for unemployment benefits?
Yes - 57%
Yes - 43%