Who Benefits From the Republican Plan to Expand Drug Testing

March 24th 2017

Kyle Jaeger

It's about to get a lot easier for states to pass laws requiring drug testing for people seeking unemployment benefits — and that's great news if you're in the business of testing urine.


On March 14, the Senate passed a resolution to eliminate an Obama-era rule that restricted states' ability to mandate unemployment drug testing to certain occupations — ones that already required employees to be tested. The resolution would free up employers to drug test any workers applying for unemployment benefits.

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) celebrated the news in a tweet on Sunday, writing that the measure was heading to President Donald Trump's desk for a signature.

Ryan and the resolution's 26 Republican cosponsors argue the measure would prevent federal funds from going to drugs. But a coalition of drug reform and civil liberties advocates say it would violate the Fourth Amendment protection against unlawful searches — and cost the government more to implement than it stands to save.

"Statistically, people who apply for assistance — whether it's unemployment or other types of public assistance — are no more likely to use illicit drugs than the general population," Grant Smith, deputy director of national affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, told ATTN:. "In fact, there's evidence that suggests that these populations that apply for public assistance actually use drugs at a lower rate than the general population."

ATTN: has reported on the costliness and ineffectiveness of similar programs that subject welfare recipients to drug testing at risk of losing government benefits. In 2015, 10 states that have such a policy collectively spent about $851,000, with only 321 positive tests out of a total 2,996 welfare recipients tested, according to ThinkProgress.

drug testing

Who would benefit from unemployment drug testing resolution? The industry that provides the tests.

Drug testing has become a multi-billion industry since President Ronald Reagan first introduced policies mandating screenings for federal employees in the 1980s. The Drug Testing Industry Association (DATIA) and other drug testing lobby groups have built extensive networks that promote policies aimed at expanding screening requirements — for employees, welfare recipients, and even public school students.

In the weeks after the House first passed the resolution on February 7, shares for the top drug testing companies — Quest Diagnostics and LabCorps — spiked. Quest, LabCorps, and DATIA did not respond to ATTN:'s requests for comment on the legislation.



"The states that are interested in pursuing these schemes, they have to acquire drug testing products from someone — and they have to have companies that can process these tests," Smith said. "I think it's accurate to say that the drug testing firms that are out there do stand to benefit from some of these proposals, especially when we're talking about putting into place drug testing schemes that affect tens of thousands of people who would otherwise not be subjected to this."

Though the president is expected to sign the resolution, Politico pointed out the measure might face another obstacle down the road. Beside potential lawsuits challenging its constitutionality, the resolution aims to expand the number of occupations that could drug test unemployment beneficiaries through the Congressional Review Act (CRA), which means it would take more than a simple majority to pass.

"The CRA gives Congress the power to wipe out recently finalized rules with simple majorities in the House and Senate, but with a catch: It forbids the executive branch from developing similar rules to replace them," Politico reported. "This could prevent Trump’s Labor Department from creating a more expansive drug-testing rule."