Senator Orrin Hatch (R-UT) unveiled an amendment this week that he wants added to the 2010 Unemployment Benefits Extension Bill that simply has people up in arms. Why are so many so incensed? Orrin Hatch’s amendment, if adopted, would require future recipients of unemployment benefits to pass a drug and alcohol test in order to claim their weekly unemployment check. Hatch maintains that America has a drug problem and that requiring the unemployed to endure drug and alcohol testing would save the country money, force those with a drug problem to get help, force a good number of the unemployed to become less addicted to public assistance, and could even reduce the national deficit. The amendment might just be the most insulting piece of legislation to come along in quite a while.
The amendment to the 2010 Unemployment Extension Bill not only insinuates that the unemployed are a bunch of drug addicts and alcoholics, but that they are also addicted to getting paid while doing nothing. This argument pushes the idea that the unemployment benefits magically appeared and that hard-working Americans had nothing to do with those funds accruing over the years. And although there is little doubt that a few of those hard workers have substance abuse problems, it is hardly an epidemic that requires cutting off the only funds many of those unemployed need to maintain their households.
Besides, where would they then get the money for treatment? A government program? Which leads to the next point: that of saving the nation money and reducing the national debt. How? Starving the unemployed and their families to death? Less people, less expenditures? And what about those drug treatment programs? Paid for through the job they don’t have (they’re still unemployed, in case that doesn’t quite register)? Forcing them to go on welfare that many have managed to steer clear of? Forcing them into more diresome and worrisome circumstances, situations that gradually eat away at their self-worth, increasing cases of depression and suicidal tendencies? More dead? And if the unemployed becomes a corpse, exactly how will that person ever become employed again for the unemployment taxes to be paid?
Senator Orrin Hatch and those who helped him write this piece of legislation miss the point. For the most part, the nearly 10 million people on unemployment (soon to be 9 million at the beginning of July if a version of 2010 Unemployment Extension Bill isn’t passed because 900,000 people will have their unemployment benefits suspended or not renewed) are and have always been hard-working individuals who have come face-to-face with the “Great Recession” (a depression by any other name would smell just a rotten) and lost the face-off. All the unemployed want is for their government to stand by them and lend a financial hand until they can find gainful employment and begin contributing to the tax system that supports the programs that they need at present — what they did up until they became the unemployed.
So, instead of driving people to become homeless and destitute, forcing them to shed the last vestige of their pride and collect welfare, and pushing people to desperate acts (which includes, all sarcasm aside, people actually committing suicide and murder-suicides), perhaps Senator Orrin Hatch could retract his drug and alcohol amendment.
In its place, perhaps the good senator from Utah could confer with his other millionaire colleagues in the Senate and come up with a workable solution to get the unemployed back into the ranks of the employed without causing more consternation, disappointment, and depression.
If not, here’s a suggestion: Since there is already a government program on the books that offers incentives to businesses who hire the unemployed, how about adding an incentive for companies that replace someone they fire after failing a drug and/or alcohol screening with someone from the unemployment roles? You know, instead of leaving the position unoccupied to compensate for less profit in these tough economic times? This kind of program is a winner. The company gets rid of a potential lawsuit or safety problem and the terminated employee becomes ineligible for unemployment due to being fired. The company picks up another employee whose looking for work from the unemployment office rolls. The federal government pays the company a small remuneration. The new employee has found gainful employment, the company remains at manpower strength and acquires an incentive bonus, and the government (in its various forms), even though they’ll pay the company through a tax incentive, makes more money through various taxes by dropping an individual from the unemployment benefits rolls.
And the individual who got fired? He shouldn’t have been doing drugs and/or consuming alcohol and going to work anyway, so he got what he deserves.
Now, that’s a plan that a fiscally conscious, socially conservative Republican can appreciate.
But in the meantime and until you can come up with something substantially better, stop insulting the millions of people who’ve paid taxes for years, grow a heart muscle and talk it over with the other 37 stonewalling Republicans in the Senate and pass the 2010 Unemployment Benefits Extension Bill.