Congress pushes for drug testing for unemployment benefits

U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, R-Texas, introduced a bill that would give states the ability, but not require them, to drug test applicants “who lost their jobs due to drug use or are seeking a new job that generally requires new employees to pass a drug test.

“This is a common-sense measure to ensure unemployed workers are ready and available to work,” Brady said in a statement.

“If you are unable or unwilling to pass a basic drug test for a job that requires one, then you suffer, your family suffers and so do the businesses looking for good workers.”

Such legislation is popular among those pushing for entitlement reform. Ten states have laws on the books that allow drug testing for welfare recipients.

“In states that have done drug testing for other programs, they test a lot of people and find very few people, so it’s a lot of money and effort spent for very little gain,” said Elizabeth Lower-Basch, director of income and worker supports for the Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP).

President Obama signed a law in 2012 allowing drug testing for some applicants, but Brady said the law has not been implemented four years later. Now he’s trying again to fully overturn a Labor Department rule from the 1960s that bans states from drug testing unemployment applicants.

Brady said drug testing is the rule, not the exception, for employers in the hiring process, citing “a survey by the Society for Human Resource Management that estimates that more than half of all businesses drug test all their employees.”

“This is really solving a problem that doesn’t really exist,” Lower-Basch said. “It’s really just part of this overall message that people who are poor people, who are unemployed, must have done something wrong or have made bad choices.”

The bill would also authorize states to design programs to help those who might be abusing drugs overcome their issues and find work.

Lower-Basch said drug use shouldn’t disqualify people from receiving unemployment benefits. She argues payroll taxes paid by employers indirectly come from employees.

“We know people who get unemployment insurance have earned those benefits because they have worked and they’ve had a steady work history,” she said.

The legislation has 10 Republican co-sponsors, but Democrats are likely to fight its passage.

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