If Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) gets his amendment added to the Unemployment Benefits Extension bill, which is currently in filibuster limbo on Capitol Hill, the taking of sobriety and drug tests would be required of all seeking to collect on the unemployment benefits paid into for years on their behalf with the expectation of receiving the financial assistance if and when they ever entered the ranks of the unemployed. Hatch, according to the Salt Lake Tribune, wants unemployment benefits recipients as well as welfare recipients to submit to testing. Orrin Hatch maintains that his amendment to the 2010 Unemployment Benefits Extension bill would help battle drug dependency and could reduce the nation’s debt. Exactly how denying an unemployed worker benefits that is rightfully theirs would in some way curtail an alcohol or drug dependency — as opposed to increasing the likelihood that conditions that foster that dependency becoming reinforced — is unclear, as is how the same denial would decrease national debt.
Not passing the proposed 2010 Unemployment Benefits Extension Bill, even a revised version, is one way to reduce the national debt. Perhaps that is the overall aim, considering Hatch’s somewhat unfair and authoritarian proposal. Republicans voted to continue debate on the bill, mounting a successful filibuster, on Thursday, further suspending some 300,000 people whose benefits ran out on June 2 in limbo (an extension would retroactively cover them) and jeopardizing another 900,000, whose unemployment benefits are to renewed at the beginning of July. The extension is designed to provide unemployment benefits until November 2010.
“This amendment is a way to help people get off of drugs to become productive and healthy members of society,” Hatch said of his proposed amendment, “while ensuring that valuable taxpayer dollars aren’t wasted. 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.”
If one did not know better, one might think the amendment a bit on the self-righteous side and geared toward the government not helping out those that Unemployment Benefits were designed to help, the hard-working taxpayers that lost their jobs through no fault of their own. Senator Hatch assumes for some reason that those receiving unemployment benefits — nearly 10 million people at present — are not “productive and healthy members of society” and that many of them are wasting taxpayer dollars. Senator Hatch has slipped into relegating the unemployment benefit recipient into that of a welfare recipient, when the two are not remotely the same other than that the programs are administered by state and federal governments. It appears that Senator Orrin Hatch has placed the unemployed American worker receiving benefits into the stereotypical welfare recipient role — slovenly, unwilling to work, perhaps leaning toward drug dependency and/or alcoholism, and comfortable living forever off of social assistance provided at taxpayer expense.
But most unemployed Americans are not addicted to drugs or alcohol dependent, nor are the slovenly, wasteful, and unwilling to work. Although Senator Hatch’s point seems clear — that many Americans are locked into a life of drug addiction and alcoholism — his proposed amendment is a slap in the face of those millions of workers currently receiving unemployment benefits who submitted to drug tests while employed and for whom employers paid into the general fund. Those who did not pass drug and alcohol screenings most likely were terminated and, therefore, ineligible for unemployment benefits anyway.
Of the 15 million people that the Bureau of Labor estimates are currently out of work in the U. S., nearly 10 million receive unemployment benefits. Many do not qualify for benefits under the guidelines, which require, among other stipulations, a minimum amount of taxable income and that the employee was not terminated or quit their job. Also, people who are self-employed or work part-time are ineligible as well.
For many of the unemployment benefit recipients, receiving benefits is the difference between going hungry and not, whether they have shelter or not, and having money for transportation to get to job interviews so they can stop receiving their unemployment checks.
But Senator Orrin Hatch and his colleagues who sit in such simplistic moralistic judgment of other Americans, Americans who voted for them and whose taxes paid have ensured the senators’ receive their paychecks regularly, do not have to worry about unemployment benefits or worry about whether or not those benefits will receive an extension. Orrin Hatch receives $174,000 per year as a U. S. Senator, according to About.com, which is a far cry higher than the few hundred dollars being received on average by an unemployment recipient (unemployment benefits are allotted on a basis of 36% of an individual’s average weekly wage). Orrin Hatch’s net worth is also somewhere between $1.8 and $4.7 million, according to OpenSecrets.org, while most of those on unemployment are renters and/or have lost their homes due to the current recession, may or may not still own a vehicle, and find their economic sustainability more tenuous by the month, their credit scores shot, and their net worth more often as not a negative value with accumulated debt.
But Orrin Hatch wants to just say no to unemployment benefits if a potential recipient cannot or does not pass a drug or alcohol test. It might be suggested by some that the good senator should also submit to a drug and alcohol test in order to receive his paycheck, one which he apparently does not need to survive. And while legislators are being so socially conscientious with taxpayer dollars when it comes to bestowing and extending benefits to the unemployed, perhaps a look back at the hundreds of billions of dollars they freely passed out to Wall Street institutions while those same institutions partied their companies into bonus-embroidered bankruptcies might be a good method of keeping their amendments in perspective. Was there ever a call for AIG and Citicorp to drug test their employees before they were given billions of dollars in bonuses at taxpayer expense?
In times of economic prosperity and high employment, the Unemployment Insurance that employers pay into accumulates, but, as is the current situation, high rates of unemployment strain the benefits program. Still, the fact remains that hard-working taxpayers were part of the system that was set up to aid them in a period of unemployment. Unemployment benefits and insurance were designed to keep the unemployed worker afloat until they could become a member of the workforce once more, not penalize the worker whose presence at work for years made the system viable.
And it is not Senator Orrin Hatch’s or anyone’s place to assume that money received from the federal government is being spent on drugs and alcohol, regardless of the results of a drug or alcohol test. Besides, right or wrong, moral or immoral, what the unemployment benefits recipient does with the money that was placed in the system on his behalf is not the government’s concern. The government, in this instance, is simply a middleman.
Such amendments have been attempted before and have failed to gain traction. Laws in states like Kentucky and Michigan have been struck down in appeal as unconstitutional. It is doubtful that Orrin Hatch’s proposed amendment to the 2010 Unemployment Benefits Extension bill will become part of the legislation, even if some version of the measure is eventually passed. But most would be willing to submit to a drug and alcohol test in order to get their unemployment benefits simply because in the current “Great Recession,” those checks are their only means of survival. And if it became mandatory, they would have no choice in the matter if they wished to continue receiving benefits. But the question remains: Should the federal government have the authority to require an individual to take an alcohol and/or drug test to receive money — in the case of unemployment benefits — that is rightfully theirs to begin with?