House passes bill requiring some unemployment benefit recipients to be drug tested

By | 12.14.11 | 3:34 pm

Pic by micahb37, via Flickr

The U.S. House of Representatives passed an unemployment insurance bill yesterday that included a provision requiring beneficiaries to take drug tests before receiving public assistance.

HR 3630, a bill extending President Obama’s percent payroll tax cut, includes measures that “would require applicants for federally subsidized jobless benefits to fill out a drug screening questionnaire to determine whether they should have to take a drug test,” The Los Angeles Times reported. “Those identified as having a high probability of drug use would be required to pass a drug test.”

Florida had a similar law in place, requiring a drug test for temporary cash assistance applicants, until the measure was halted by a judge in October.

During the short time that Florida’s law was in place, about 2.7 percent of temporary assistance applicants were denied because they tested positive for illegal drug use. Pete Digre, who briefed who briefed the Florida Legislature about the law’s implementation, said that “very, very few people are testing positive,” contradicting claims made by state policymakers, including Gov. Rick Scott, that welfare beneficiaries had a higher percentage of drug use than the public at large (which is about 8.7 percent nationally). The state of Florida has since appealed the federal judge’s decision to block the law in Florida.

Rep. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., sponsored this federal provision; he agrees with Florida’s law.

“I think what Gov. Scott is doing is moving in the right direction,” Kingston said during a television interview.

In a press release, Kingston stated that an employer told him “half the people” who applied for the job openings he had  ”could not even pass a drug test” — which Kingston says was the impetus for the law.

“While we need a safety net, taxpayers should not be on the hook to pay someone who renders themselves ineligible for work,” he said in a statement. “My proposal further incentivizes beneficiaries to ensure they are preparing themselves to re-enter the workforce.”

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