Bill Targets Unemployment Benefit Recipients (and Puts Arkansas at Odds with Federal Regulations)

We all want to believe that the worst of the recession is behind us. That people who have lost their jobs are finding work. Sadly, we’re not there yet. Families are still struggling and jobs aren’t readily available for all who need them. Unemployment insurance (UI) benefits have helped many families stay out of poverty while looking for work during this recession. These benefits are still helping many Arkansas families stay afloat. Why would we want to make it harder (and more expensive) for a hard working Arkansan who has been hit by these rough economic times to receive their UI benefits?

SB157 would require that all applicants for UI benefits to pass a drug test AND pay for the test. According to the National Employment Law Project (NELP) no other state drug tests applicants for UI benefits, let alone requires an applicant to pay for the test.

Why don’t other states require UI applicants to pass a drug test? Cost for one thing. On average, drug tests cost between $40 and $100 per test. In order to perform these tests, the state would have to hire additional employees and put in place privacy protections. That means more money being spent to administer a state program.

Very few states have even TRIED to pass the cost of these tests on the UI recipients and NONE have succeeded. Why? That would put them at odds with 2 longstanding federal regulations which have to be followed when administering UI benefits. Under the Federal Unemployment Tax Act (FUTA) all money taken from the unemployment fund has to be used to pay unemployment compensation. (Compensation is defined as “cash benefits payable to individuals with respect to their unemployment.”) The cost of a drug test is not considered a cash benefit. Under Section 303(a)(8) of the Social Security Act has been interpreted to mean to states cannot transfer the costs of administering the state law on to the recipient and/or applicant of the program.

Many Arkansas families are still fighting against the impact of this recession. Many of these same families have been buoyed by UI benefits. We can’t jeopardize a program that helps so many families out of poverty when times get tough.