For Immediate Release: February 02, 2012

Stigmatizing UI by Drug Testing Applicants and Denying Benefits to Those Without H.S. Diploma

Conferees from the U.S. House and Senate currently are considering an Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits extension proposal that includes two highly controversial provisions-drug testing all UI applicants and denying benefits to those without a high school diploma or equivalent-that would penalize the most vulnerable workers, CLASP, the Center for Law and Social Policy said today.

Federal unemployment insurance benefits expire Feb. 28, and Congress must act by then to ensure millions of workers aren't cut from this vital lifeline. Lawmakers are considering a bill now (H.R. 3630) that would extend benefits until the end of the 2012. Lawmakers have inserted drug testing and education provisions into the bill under the guise of doing what's best for the public interest. But in reality, proposals to drug test applicants and deny benefits to those without a high school diploma only stigmatize and create new obstacles for those who have lost their jobs.

The bill includes a provision that would give states the authority to test all applicants for drug use. Such a move is based on stereotypes, invades privacy, may be unconstitutional, and is not cost effective at this time of limited state and federal resources.  

"Drug testing unemployment insurance applicants or beneficiaries is part of a growing  pattern of blaming the jobless for their predicament rather than an economic environment where there is one job opening for about every four people looking," said Elizabeth Lower-Basch, CLASP senior policy analyst. "States already have the authority to deny unemployment benefits to workers who lose their jobs due to drug use or workers who fail to land a job because they failed a screening. Opening the door to blanket testing all UI claimants is based on the false assumption that laid-off workers are more likely than others to have substance use problems."

Moreover, the bill would make it difficult for workers without a high school diploma to obtain unemployment benefits if they lose their jobs. Those without a high school diploma have an unemployment rate of 13.8 percent compared to the national average of 8.5 percent for all workers. Clearly, these workers are the most vulnerable, yet the bill includes a proposal to deny them unemployment benefits if they cannot prove they are in a program leading to a credential.

"On the surface, it may seem to be a good idea to move more workers to get the education they need to be more successful, but imposing this new requirement is punitive and misguided," said Neil Ridley, a senior policy analyst who focuses on workforce development at CLASP. "First of all, workers qualify for unemployment insurance benefits because they have held a job. Workers should not be held to different standards based on their level of education. Secondly, there are other ways to encourage workers to get credentials.  Denying them benefits at a time of persistently high unemployment is not one of them."

The proposal is doubly problematic because it does nothing to improve workers' access to education. A recent survey found that nearly every state had a waiting list for adult education services and that nearly three-quarters of local programs reported waiting lists. About 160,000 learners across the country were on these lists and the number of months on the waiting list increased since the previous survey. There is no guarantee that a newly unemployed person without a secondary school credential would be able to get into a class on a timely basis. Further, federal funding for adult education classes is declining.

Lawmakers must act by Feb. 28 on unemployment insurance benefits to ensure millions of workers aren't cut from this vital lifeline. CLASP urges conferees to reject the provision that allows states to drug test all applicants, and to reject the minimum educational requirement for UI recipients and any alternative formulations of this provision.

For more information on these proposals, see the CLASP fact sheets:

UI: Congress Should Reject the Misguided Education Requirement in H.R. 3630


UI Drug Testing: A Bad Cure in Search of a Problem


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