The Michigan state Senate approved a bill Thursday that would revoke unemployment benefits for a person who fails a drug test (as a part of the application process for public-sector jobs in Michigan). While the bill wouldn’t mandate that employers report applicants who either refuse or fail a drug test during an application process, it proposes revoking benefits for those reported as failing or refusing testing. This practice is further burdening Michigan’s unemployed residents and violates the privacy of those who receive unemployment benefits.
The lawmakers in Lansing who support the bill do so on the basis that those who consume illegal drugs are not suitable for work and therefore don’t deserve benefits from the government. State Sen. Mark Jansen, a Republican, bluntly equated failing a drug test to turning down suitable employment. In a state House Commerce Committee testimonial, Rep. Ken Goike, the bill’s sponsor, argued “the law currently states that in order to receive unemployment benefits an individual must be actively looking for and able to take suitable work … if you are not able to pass a drug test, you are not suitable for work.”
Other states have implemented similar legislation with poor results. The Michigan bill is similar to a 2011 Indiana law dealing with drug testing and benefits. The Indiana law allows for secondary testing should the applicant fail the initial drug test; the Michigan bill replaced this option with an appeals process. Those who fail the drug test could potentially be forced to release medical records during an appeals process to defend a positive drug test, which would further violate their privacy rights.
A total of 29 states have proposed or enacted drug-testing legislation, including Utah, Arizona and Florida. These states’ policies were enacted to save the state money by revoking benefits from those rule-breakers. Utah implemented its law in 2012, and, in the first year, spent $30,000 enforcing it only to find that 2.6 percent tested positive — well below the 8.9 percent estimated to use illicit drugs. In 2009, Arizona enacted its drug-testing bill, claiming it would save $1.7 million per year, but only one person tested positive for drug abuse and the state saved a mere $560. Florida’s testing policy was short lived and had similarly poor results — only 2.6 percent of those tested failed, and the tests actually cost the state $45,780.
Despite the presumption that the unemployed are likely drug users, these results show that residents receiving benefits from the government are not necessarily more prone to illegal drug use. Additionally, precedent shows that Michigan is not poised to save any money by implementing the bill.
Applicants who fail drug tests because of a false positive could be kicked off of unemployment benefits before obtaining a job. This is not a constructive or admirable way of conserving state and federal benefits, nor is it helping vulnerable populations. The state House of Representatives should table this legislation and focus on promoting recovery by uplifting residents, not penalizing them.