Could states eventually require a drug test for those seeking unemployment benefits?
That appears to be the goal of the GOP-controlled Congress, as the U.S. Senate considers rolling back an Obama administration law that limits drug testing on those seeking unemployment benefits.
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy supports drug testing unemployment applicants.
The Bakersfield Congressman was one of 232 Republicans in the House to support nixing the law, which allows states to drug test unemployment applicants, but only if he or she was previously fired for drugs or if the occupation sought involves a drug test required by state or federal law.
Texas, Mississippi and Wisconsin drug test unemployment applicants under this provision.
"While states and welfare programs can’t make people’s decisions for them, giving unemployment insurance only to those who stay clean provides a great incentive for people to stop using drugs," McCarthy said in a Feb. 14 post.
California does not drug test unemployment insurance applicants, but experts, such as National Employment Law Employment Senior Counsel George Wentworth, say this attempt at changing the law is an effort to drug test everybody.
In a February policy brief, he notes that its also a poor investment of public funds, comparing it to those receiving Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) benefits. In 2015, states ended up spending more than $850,000 on drug testing TANF recipients.
"321 people tested positive, a cost of nearly $2,650 per positive test," he reported in the brief.
Unemployment insurance is a federal-state benefit that dates back to the Social Security Act of 1935. Those collecting the benefits can usually do so for a maximum of 26 weeks, while looking for work.
"The fact of the matter is, most people who are applying for unemployment are just unlucky enough to have lost a job," Wentworth said. "It’s unnecessary, it’s humiliating for the workers."
Kevin Aslanian, Executive Director of the Coalition of California Welfare Rights Organizations, said people seeking benefits cannot afford drugs.
"It's picking on people," he said.
It remains to be seen if the Senate decides to follow their House counterparts and nix the current law for drug testing unemployment insurance applicants.
But, President Donald Trump's administration already supports the cause.
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