Congress Considers Adding GED and Drug Test Requirements to Unemployment Benefits

In the payroll tax cut extension bill, Congress is considering adding GED and drug tests requirements to unemployment benefits, a move that would strip support from those suffering most in the recession, and violate the 4th Amendment rights of the jobless. 

Republicans have pushed the legislation, and some expect the Democrats in Senate to strike it down. But the content of the bill is troubling, nonetheless. The Bureau of Labor Statistics recently reported that people who were 25 years or older and did not have a high-school diploma were more than three times as likely to be unemployed as people without a college degree.

While conservatives consider the new requirement an education incentive, signing up for a GED program is not easy. From the Huffington Post:

it is bad policy to require these workers to enroll in education programs without doing anything to increase access to adult education services. A recent survey found that nearly every state had a waiting list for adult education services and that nearly three-quarters of local programs reported waiting lists. This means that even if a worker wanted to enroll in an adult education program, there is no guarantee that he or she could. States should certainly encourage and support workers in getting the education and credentials that they need to succeed in the labor market, but this punitive policy, which denies unemployment insurance benefits at a time when there are four job openings for every person looking and long-term joblessness is setting records, is not the way to do it.

Drug testing people for public benefits has gained momentum in several states, but civil liberties advocates stress that these laws violate Constitutional protection from undue search. What's more, they are based on the stigmatized perception that the poor or unemployed use drugs more than the average population, which is simply untrue.

As the Huffington Post noted:

States already can deny unemployment benefits to workers who have been fired for substance use or who were denied a job because of substance use. Widespread chemical testing is an expensive and ineffective way to identify workers with substance abuse problems

Most shocking about the damaging proposal may be its inappropriate timing:

Unemployment benefits are a support for workers who have been laid off for no fault of their own. Although unemployment has fallen to 8.3 percent, it is still high, representing 12.76 million people who are actively looking for work but can't find a job. Nearly 43 percent of unemployed workers, or 5.5 million, have been out of a job for six months or more. These workers foremost want jobs. In the meantime, many of them need access to the vital lifeline that is unemployment insurance to avoid financial ruin.

At this unprecedented economic time, our policymakers need to have empathy and understanding of what ordinary American families are enduring. Federal unemployment insurance (UI) benefits play a critical role in keeping workers and their families out of poverty and in making sure they can keep a roof over their heads, pay their bills, and buy the gas they need to keep looking for work.

The Drug Policy Alliance, a non-profit organization for the reform of drug laws, has been using Facebook to urge people to call their Senators and demand they  remove drug testing provisions from the bill, offering this template:

 "Hi my name is _______ and I'm from _______. Do not include any kind of drug testing provision in the final payroll tax cut extension bill. People should not have to be drug tested especially for benefits they've already paid into."

For information about contacting your local officials, click here

Read more about the legislation under consideration here

AlterNet / By Kristen Gwynne

Posted at February 8, 2012, 12:36pm

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