Posted by Anna Strong on February 19th 2013
Senator Jeremy Hutchinson has filed SB38, which proposes drug-testing individuals who are unemployed as a condition of receiving benefits. This bill requires workers who have already been through the emotional turmoil of losing a job to submit to random drug tests to receive benefits that help them make ends meet while looking for a job.
While we of course want all hard-working families to be drug-free, we have several concerns about the impact this bill could have on children and low-income families who have experienced job loss. We don't want to punish children by taking away unemployment benefits for which their parents have already paid taxes. Taking away unemployment insurance could jeopardize the well-being of a child if the parents can't pay electricity or heat bills, cover rent, or purchase healthy food.
We also have specific concerns with the bill language.
- The original bill does not include a time frame or condition upon which an individual can re-qualify for benefits. Does the bill ban someone from receiving unemployment insurance for a lifetime? Sen. Hutchinson's amendment does deem that passing a drug screen reinstates an uninsured person's eligibility.
- This bill is an unfunded mandate to the Department of Workforce Services, which is already at risk for federal TANF cuts. TANF cuts have already taken child abuse investigators out of schools - what will we cut to pay for the staff, training, and resources needed to drug test recipients in every county? We already know across-the-board drug testing for welfare recipients is not cost-effective.
- The bill does not help families get treatment following a positive screen. Adults today have very limited access to substance use disorder treatment in Arkansas. Without strengthening Medicaid as the new health law allows, about half of low-income adults are uninsured. Even if a positive drug test is identified, there is no path to treatment for many families.
- This bill could overstep regulations being set by the Federal Department of Labor. States are waiting on final rules to be promulgated regarding drug testing for UI benefits. Though the Department of Labor said drug testing may be allowed for a limited number of occupations, drug testing as a part of initial eligibility is not allowed. The only cases in which drug testing can be part of an initial application for unemployment insurance are separation from a past job for drug use OR if the only work that's suitable for the individual requires frequent drug testing due to industry regulations (i.e. truck driving).
Senator Hutchinson, when presenting his bill initially, even shared that he felt the testing could be found unconstitutional. Suspicion-less drug testing may violate the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. In short, we feel this bill does not help Arkansas families who have met hard times to find new jobs or access to needed health services such as drug treatment.