SALT LAKE CITY -- Sen. Orrin Hatch wants recipients of welfare and unemployment benefits to undergo drug tests.
We should not be giving cash to people who basically are going to go and blow it on drugs and not take care of their own children.
–Sen. Orrin Hatch
"You know, we should not be giving cash to people who basically are going to go and blow it on drugs and not take care of their own children," Hatch said Wednesday.
His idea is to amend a $140 billion bill that extends tax breaks and social programs to include his idea. He says people who want to go on unemployment or welfare would have to pass a drug test before collecting.
Hatch says the idea is not to punish people, but to help them.
"It's to insure that the federal government is a responsible steward of taxpayer dollars, and that these individuals with substance abuse problems get the treatment they so desperately need to become more productive," Hatch said.
He also contends that his idea is something you commonly see in the private sector.
"A lot of employers do it. Why shouldn't we, when people are taking federal dollars in the form of cash?" Hatch said.
But may low-income advocates are not happy with Hatch's idea. They say it's unconstitutional to make people take a drug test in order to receive benefits, and it plays into an outdated prejudice.
"This all comes from the idea that there are all these drug addicts sitting around and sucking up welfare money," said Melissa Smith, with the Community Action Partnership of Utah.
Smith believes the idea is discriminatory as well.
"You're saying, 'You have a disease -- which is an addiction to drugs -- and so now you cannot receive these benefits, and now your children cannot receive these benefits,'" she explained.
Smith said the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals has ruled it would be an unlawful search and seizure to require a drug test before receiving government money.
The actual Welfare program ended in 1996. Right now, Utah has more than 7,000 families on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, or TANF.
More than 57,000 Utahns get unemployment -- just over 2,100 in the last week. Smith says the proposal is a reaction to frustration about the economy.
"This is panic. I think it's very indicative that this is a panic and a blame situation, and I think it's part of the ire that people are feeling," Smith said.
Smith also said she thinks the cost of drug testing and treatment would be just too high.
Hatch, however, said he thinks the cost of administering the drug testing program would not be significant.