House Republicans propose drug testing for unemployment benefits

On Thursday, Georgia Republican Jack Kingston introduced a bill that would require drug screening assessments in the form of questionnaires approved by the National Institutes of Health. 

Those identified by the assessment as having a high probability of drug use would be required to pass a drug test and would be subject to random screenings as long as they receive benefits, according to the legislation. Applicants who fail would be responsible for the cost of the test and may take one additional retest at their own expense.

Kingston argues that screening applicants, rather than testing each one, is less expensive and has been upheld by in the judicial system.  

Utah Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch gave the issue a thorough airing in June 2010, eventually backing off the idea because it lacked support in the Senate.

Opponents have questioned the costs of drug testing millions of unemployed workers while arguing that the plan was unconstitutional. 

If a recent court case in Florida is any guide, the proposal could face legal hurdles.  

In an October decision, a federal judge temporarily blocked a new state law requiring all welfare recipients to be drug tested because the "state provides scant evidence that rampant drug abuse exists among this class of individuals." 

Of the 7,000 applicants tested only 32 failed, less than one-half of 1 percent, according to news reports. 

The Republican plan announced Friday also eliminates unemployment benefits for millionaires, reducing federal deficits by $20 million over 2012-2021, according to the proposal. 

The plan said the reduction to 59 weeks of benefits by mid-2012, reflects more “normal” levels of unemployment and adopts President Obama's own “look back” proposal that determines if a state’s unemployment rate is “high and rising.” 

This would end the federal Extended Benefits (EB) program, expanded in the 2009 economic stimulus, in all but a small handful of states.

Republicans said the bill is fully paid for with spending cuts and costs $10 billion less than the president's plan. 

The legislation includes other permanent reforms, including requiring all state and federal jobless benefits recipients to search for work, be in GED programs if they have not finished high school and participate in reemployment services to help them get back to work. 

Advocates have argued that many states already have these requirements in place. 

The bill also gives states greater flexibility through federal waivers to use money for reemployment programs instead of unemployment checks.  

The measure also implements new data standardization processes to crack down on waste, fraud, and abuse as well as requiring states to reduce current benefits to recover past overpayments.