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Drug test failure could imperil jobless benefits

Steve Carmody/Michigan Radio

Jobseekers who refuse or fail an employer drug test would put their unemployment benefits at risk under legislation that has cleared the state House.

The measure would create a one-year pilot project to try out the idea. Employers would not have to participate, but could choose to report to the state if a job applicant either refuses to take a drug test, or fails one.

State Representative Frank Foster (R-Petoskey) says this would help ensure jobless benefits go to people who are serious about looking for work.

“If they’d rather sit home and do drugs, maybe they’re not ready for work, maybe they’re not ready for these benefits,” he says. “Businesses, families, employers, employees. We all pay into this system. We want to maintain the integrity of this system. So what we’re saying is we’re no longer going to give those people’s hard-working taxpayer dollars to people who want to sit on the couch and do drugs.”

But some Democrats say the state shouldn’t be dissuading anyone from looking for work. They say the plan is poorly designed and won’t work as intended.

State Representative Vicki Barnett (D-Farmington Hills) says people faced with losing jobless benefits they helped pay for should be offered a chance for treatment.”

“I would like to make sure that people who use illegal drugs and are addicted to them get the care that they so desperately need,” she says. “This bill fails on all accounts.”

The measure is attached to a package of bills to enact federally required changes to the state’s unemployment system. It goes now to the state Senate.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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