Jonathan Cohn

Need Jobless Benefits? Sure. Just Pee in this Cup First.

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Via Steve Benen and The State newspaper...

It seems that Nikki Haley, Republican candidate for governor in South Carolina, has a new idea about how to distribute jobless benefits: Force the unemployed to take drug tests and deny them benefits if they fail. That way, she says, it will make sure benefits go only to those people who've earned them. "I think the people of this state deserve that," Haley says. "I think personal responsibility matters."

Actually, the idea isn't new, as Benen notes:

If this sounds familiar, note that Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) pushed a similar measure at the federal level in June, which would have required anyone applying for jobless benefits to pass a drug test.

Even Senate Republicans found the idea distasteful, and Hatch's measure went nowhere. But four months later, Nikki Haley's gubernatorial campaign is nevertheless running with it.

The idea is so absurd, it's hard to know where to start. Is it legal to force the unemployed to take a government-mandated drug test in order to qualify for benefits to which they're entitled? Who would pay for the administering of these hundreds of thousands of drug tests in South Carolina? Is this Haley's idea of "limited government"?

But perhaps most important is the offensive underlying assumptions. At its core, Haley, Hatch, and those who agree with this are making a truly ridiculous assumption: those who've lost their jobs during tough economic times should necessarily be suspected of drug abuse. It doesn't matter if getting laid off wasn't your fault; it doesn't matter if there are no job openings in your area; it doesn't matter if you've never taken drugs a day in your life.

I'd add another offensive assumption to the list: that providing unemployment benefits is an act of benevolence to which only the virtuous are entitled. Every one of us pays into the system, through taxes that employers effectively take out of our paychecks, so that we can draw incomes if we lose our jobs. That's the reason it's called "unemployment insurance." 

True, we can't collect jobless benefits if we've been fired for cause. But that's for the employers decide. And aren't Republicans the ones who want to keep government from telling businesses what to do?

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