At a series of listening sessions with business owners throughout the First District conducted earlier this year, Congressman Jack Kingston (R-GA) heard repeatedly about barriers to job creation. While he heard many of the issues he expected like overly burdensome regulations and the pervasive uncertainty in the economy, one issue that was brought up in every meeting surprised him: abuse of unemployment insurance.
"I had an employer tell me of an overwhelming response for job openings," said Kingston. "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."
Kingston took the views of his constituents to Washington and crafted legislation to address the issue. His legislation, the Ensuring Quality in the Unemployment Insurance Program (EQUIP) Act, would require applicants for unemployment compensation to complete a drug screening assessment as a condition for benefits.
Drug screening assessments are questionnaires approved by the National Institutes of Health and are currently employed for some programs in several states. The Georgia Council on Substance Abuse, for example, has already integrated assessments into its work.
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. Applicants who fail would be responsible for the cost of the test and may take one additional retest at their own expense.
Screening applicants, rather than testing each one, is less expensive and has been upheld by in the judicial system. State courts in Indiana, Texas and New Jersey have upheld the practice for a variety of uses. A Federal court in West Virginia also upheld that state's practice of screening Social Security Disability Insurance recipients.
As a staunch defender of privacy rights, those rulings are important to Kingston who sees his bill as a means to protect taxpayer dollars from abuse.
"My proposal strengthens the safety net and ensures it will be available to those who use it as a stepping stone back into the workforce," Kingston said. "It does so without increasing federal spending or placing new, unfunded mandates on the states."