"Send 'Em To Jail That Day!” The Newest Frontier in the Drug War and the People Who Make Millions from It
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The Labor Department has yet to issue guidelines to states interested in drug-testing unemployment insurance applicants—but states are hardly waiting for guidance. With sixteen states considering such bills since 2012, the idea has found enthusiastic champions in Texas’s GOP-dominated legislature. Forcing jobless Texans to pee in cups would cost the state $30 million a year, according to the Texas legislative budget office, with $27 million of this sum going to a drug-testing company. Yet last November, Governor Perry publicly endorsed the idea at a press conference with State Senators Tommy Williams and Craig Estes, as well as State Representative Brandon Creighton. All four have recently received campaign money from Abbott Laboratories.
“What better way to shake it and move it, and drive some of ‘em outta the program, than to implement drug testing?” says Chris Williams, a vice president at ArcPoint Labs. His firm is already marketing its “welfare drug-testing services” in more than a dozen states, and providing more hands-on services to one of the lawmakers leading South Carolina’s efforts to drug-test unemployment insurance recipients.
Seated in a secluded corner of the Marriott on the final day of the DATIA conference along with several other ArcPoint executives, Williams explains that the company has been advising Republican State Senator David Thomas, the sponsor of a proposed 2010 South Carolina bill to drug-test the jobless. The bill was defeated.
In 2012, South Carolina legislators considered three separate bills to drug-test the unemployed, and the idea has been championed by the governor, ALEC alum Nikki Haley, who exclaimed at a Lexington country club gathering in September 2011, “I so want drug testing. It’s something I’ve been wanting since the first day I walked into office.” The same year, despite a statewide unemployment rate higher than 9 percent, South Carolina lawmakers slashed the duration for such benefits from twenty-six to twenty weeks.
“Initiatives like this, [which] scapegoat those who need—and are entitled to depend on—basic social insurance programs, are inconsistent with the unemployment insurance program’s purpose and history, insensitive to the realities of today’s economy, and insulting to millions who are shouldering the greatest burdens of job loss and inability to find new work,” says Rebecca Dixon, an analyst at the National Employment Law Project. But for Republican lawmakers pushing to slash a federal program that has become a lifeline for millions of Americans, scapegoating the victims of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression seems to be precisely the goal.
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For decades, drug tests have disproportionately targeted vulnerable groups, such as low-wage workers, children and parolees. And everywhere these tests have been institutionalized, civil libertarians have criticized them as an infringement of privacy and rights. Yet if Republican lawmakers get their way, millions of laid-off workers and welfare recipients around the country will be subjected to the kind of intimate intrusion that Elaine Taulé imposes on her middle-aged sons.
Back at the DATIA conference, Marc Taulé, who has been rewarded for his years of subservience to his mom’s urine testing with a position as vice president of business development at NMS, remarks, “We’re still on the random drug-testing program in the Taulé family!”
“I’m sure our nieces and nephews are gonna be random-drug-tested, too!” he adds, his staccato laughter ringing out nervously through the lobby of the Marriott.