WASHINGTON, DC — A Republican congressman from Georgia has filed a bill that would require applicants for federally funded unemployment benefits to do a drug screening questionnaire. Those who are identified as having a high probability of using drugs would have to pass a drug test in order to receive benefits and they would be subject to random drug tests while receiving benefits.
Last week, Rep. Jack Kingston introduced HR 3601, the Ensuring the Quality of Unemployment Insurance Program (EQUIP) Act, portraying it as a money-saving measure for the cash-strapped federal government.
“Drug screening as a condition of unemployment benefits safeguards valuable taxpayer dollars by ensuring job seekers are at their competitive best for re-employment and helps to reduce the nation’s debt by not using federal resources to enable an individual’s drug dependency,” Kingston said in a letter to colleagues seeking their support.
But he only cited only apocryphal evidence that drug use among unemployment recipients is a problem worthy of federal legislation.
“I had an employer tell me of an overwhelming response for job openings,”Kingston said in a press release announcing the introduction of the bill. “There was just one problem: Half the people who applied could not even pass a drug test. While we need a safety net, taxpayers should not be on the hook to pay someone who renders themselves ineligible for work. My proposal further incentivizes beneficiaries to ensure they are preparing themselves to re-enter the workforce.”
The federal courts have held that drug testing is a search requiring probable cause and have limited drug testing to certain sensitive law enforcement and public safety positions. Kingston’s bill would seek to get around that obstacle by using the drug screening assessment to establish which applicants have a “high probability” of being drug users.
Still, the bill is generating harsh criticism from Democrats and employment law experts.
“This is just another attempt to demonize the unemployed, most of whom have no job for no fault of their own,” Rep. George Miller (D-CA), top Democrat on the House Committee on Education and the Workforce told the Los Angeles Times. “Why doesn’t he propose to drug test executives at Wall Street banks? It was their actions that have been documented to have directly contributed to the recession and high unemployment rate in the first place.”
“There is no reason to single out the unemployed as a particular category that is more likely to be abusing drugs,” said George Wentworth, senior staff attorney at the National Employment Law Project. “There is no justification for it. The vast majority of unemployed Americans have fallen on hard times and are looking hard for another job. With long-term unemployment at record levels, Congress should be focused on renewing federal unemployment benefits, not devising new ways to insult American families struggling to hold it together until they can find that next job,” Wentworth said.
The bill has so far garnered just one cosponsor, Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-TX). It now goes before the House Ways and Means Committee and the House Energy and Commerce Committee.