Magazine article Addiction Professional

Texas Poised to Test Unemployment Seekers

Magazine article Addiction Professional

Texas Poised to Test Unemployment Seekers

Article excerpt

Texas legislators three years ago formalized their intent to subject some applicants for unemployment benefits to drug testing, but a testing program still has not gotten off the ground. Officials with the Texas Workforce Commission cannot proceed to establish drug screening protocols for the program until the U.S. Department of Labor issues final regulations governing the process.

So far, all the state has heard is that the federal rule is scheduled to be issued sometime this year.

The key component in regulations will involve which occupations will be targeted in the testing, as only a small percentage of Texas applicants for unemployment benefits are expected to have to undergo testing in order to qualify for unemployment benefits.

"Not every [unemployment insurance] claimant will be impacted," says Lisa Givens, spokesperson for the Texas Workforce Commission. "What we anticipate at this time is that a few limited occupations in healthcare and transportation may be impacted."

Once the federal guidance on which occupations can be subject to testing is issued, state officials can proceed to devise a mandated prescreening questionnaire that will determine which individuals can actually be administered a drug test.

"So it's a limited group of individuals as determined by the [Department of Labor] occupations guidelines, and from among that group a limited number would be subject to drug testing," says Givens.

State leaders appear committed to the idea that drug testing should be included in the decision-making process around some applications for unemployment benefits.

"Once it is fully implemented, this law would enable another tool for the agency to ensure those who are receiving unemployment insurance benefits are in fact ready to work," says Givens. "If someone is taking illegal drugs, that person may not be ready and available to return to work."

Growing lawmaker interest

The Texas law that was adopted in 2013 reflects a growing interest among legislators in some states in requiring drug tests of applicants for-or current recipients of-public benefits. Most of the focus has targeted Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) welfare applicants. While federal law governing TANF gives states significantly more leeway to test benefit applicants than is the case for some other federal benefit programs, some recent data from states that have opted for testing TANF applicants call into question the usefulness of such policies.

In North Carolina and Tennessee, state leaders have observed that a very small percentage of tested welfare applicants have tested positive for drugs since the measures' implementation. …

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