Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch has a proposal for the unemployed. He wants them drug tested before they can receive unemployment benefits. Hilarious! With unemployment rates at 9,7 percent, with nearly six million Americans out of work for at least six months, with more than a million people without support since their unemployment benefits have run out, Hatch proposes drug testing for unemployed people.
He and some of his colleagues are actually the ones who need drug testing. How could the Senate, by a vote of 57-42, prevent legislation that would have provided an unemployment benefit extension from moving forward? What could they possibly have been thinking? Sen. John Kerry (D-Ma) described the action as “One of the worst moments I’ve seen in 25 years in the United States Senate. In time of economic trouble, our country expects Democrats and Republican’s to pull together.”
This is politics at its absolute worst, with Republicans unifying to cut the unemployed off at the kneecaps. Meanwhile, Hatch wants drug testing. Given this vote on the unemployment benefit extension, perhaps Sen. Hatch and the 42 might want to demonstrate that they were not impaired when they took their vote.
Labor Secretary Hilda Solis was among the many blasting the Republicans for playing games with people’s survival. In Denver last week, she told Latino elected officials that the loss of unemployment benefits for more than 200,000 people a week would be “devastating.” Some Republican senators say the bill was too costly, and loaded up with too many amendments to pass. But debate on this legislation has lasted for more than two months – the House of Representatives voted for unemployment benefit extensions back in March. The tab on this bill is $18 billion, which is not chump change but it is certainly just a fraction of the $700 billion bank bailout and just half of the money we just sent to support our effort in Afghanistan.?
Unfortunately, the Republican senators are taking their cues from those who are demonizing the unemployed. Writing for the US Chronicle, Stephanie Lee reported that online hostility toward the unemployed is notable, with those who need help being called “whiners” and “pathetic.” Some companies looking for workers indicate they will not consider people who are unemployed, no matter what the reason. (Now that is fascinating logic – who needs work more than the unemployed?)
In my own review of online responses to the failure of H.R. 4213 in the Senate, I’ve found posts that describe the unemployed as “losers” and “lazy.” At the same time, many of our unemployed brothers and sisters have posted poignant accounts of what their lives are like after they have lost their job, of making choices to feed children or spend money on transportation for job search, of adjusting expectations downward, of applying for positions for which they are overqualified, only to be rejected because they are overqualified.
And Orrin Hatch wants to impose drug testing. When the United States Senate turns its backs on unemployed citizens to play partisan games who should really be drug tested?
There is the possibility that the Senate will reconsider the unemployment extension, perhaps passing it as a stand-alone bill, but they made no commitment after last Thursday’s vote. If unemployed people would share their ire with the Senate, perhaps these folks would understand. For the moment, though, they have thumbed their noses at the nation’s unemployed. In doing so, they’ve made it clear who really needs drug testing.
Julianne Malveaux is president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, N.C.