In late 2011, Congressman Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) introduced H.R. 3601, a bill proposing drug testing as a condition for federal unemployment insurance benefits.
Known as the Ensuring Quality in the Unemployment Insurance Program (EQUIP) Act, the legislation by Kingston requires the jobless to pass state-administered questionnaires and tests designed to assess drug use to prove entitlement to benefits. The congressman shaped the bill after speaking with unidentified business owners who asserted that jobs exist, but applicants are turned away because they can’t pass mandatory drug tests. The bill suggests that jobs are available for the taking, but the jobless are refusing to take steps to qualify for employment.
None of the congressman’s arguments in favor of regulating unemployment benefits are legitimate for the simple reason that he buttresses his points on anecdotal evidence and the questionable, blanket assumption that the unemployed remain jobless because of personal irresponsibility and laziness. Lacking tangible data to support his bill, Kingston relies on stories to shape policy.
What this bill represents is the likelihood that a significant number of jobless workers could potentially find themselves not only locked out of unemployment aid, but joining the ranks of a permanent underclass that has been taking shape since the onset of the recession.
Kingston argues that enacting such a program will save taxpayer dollars and help curtail fraudulent receipt of benefits by those who are otherwise able-bodied, but purposely avoiding entry into the workforce. The idea being, any barrier to benefits will force “drug users” to actively seek gainful employment.
Should the bill become law, it is unclear that it can deliver on the promise of saving taxpayer dollars and encouraging workforce participation; there are a variety of greater macro-level variables at play, which undermines the very premise of the bill. If benefits are denied, a greater strain would be placed on ancillary agencies that provide aid, charities that depend on state funds to operate, and other state-funded institutions that provide services to the jobless. If anything, taxpayer dollars would be re-allocated not to mention the costs involved to run the program.
The argument should not be who is entitled to benefits, but how to create a comprehensive jobs plan. Only then will applications for unemployment benefits drop. Kingston should take note.
Here’s to hoping common sense prevails.
Photo Credit: Daquella Manera