Battles Rage over Drug Tests for Unemployed

Senate Democrats have offered an emergency plan for extending unemployment insurance (UI) benefits for millions of jobless Americans whose benefits are set to expire on February 29, 2012.

The Democratic proposal rejects GOP calls to require jobless applicants pass a drug test and enroll in GED classes in order to receive benefits – two issues GOP leaders have been pushing unsuccessfully at the state level for months.

Bills to drug test the unemployed are currently making their way through state legislatures in South Carolina, Texas and Virginia. Similar proposals in New Mexico and Arkansas have failed. And a Republican member of the Indiana General Assembly withdrew his bill to create a pilot program for drug testing applicants after one of his Democratic colleagues amended the measure to require drug testing for lawmakers.

In addition to nixing the GOP’s drug testing and GED requirements on the federal level, the Senate Democratic plan caps the maximum number of weeks of UI eligibility at 93 weeks. Although this is down from the current cap of 99, the Republican proposal caps benefits at 59 weeks.

The Democrats’ plan also proposes a competitive grant program to promote innovative programs not funded by unemployment benefits in order to gives states more flexibility.