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Pre-employment is the most crucial time to drug screen your workforce

CSS Workforce New York has no official position on drug tests for people getting unemployment benefits, but it does have a public advertising campaign informing job hunters that employers are increasingly using pre-employment drug screening.

 The question of whether states should be allowed to require that people getting jobless benefits be tested for drugs is among the issues congressional negotiators need to resolve in reaching agreement on extending long-term unemployment benefits through the end of the year.

As of mid-January, 239,343 New Yorkers were receiving long-term unemployment benefits, according to the state Department of Labor.

House Republicans want to give states authority to conduct drug testing — and add other requirements — as a condition for renewing the extended benefits program and a payroll tax cut.

The proposals would require recipients to register for re-employment help within 10 days of filing for benefits and to post their resume or qualifications with a state database. They also would bar recipients from turning down offers of re-employment training.

Exceptions would not be allowed for workers on temporary furloughs or union members on strike.

People without a high school diploma would be required to begin working on a GED in order to receive unemployment checks.

The Senate version of the bill extending the payroll tax cut and jobless benefits doesn’t include any of those requirements.

In addition, the House bill would bar millionaires from receiving unemployment benefits or food stamps. And up to 10 states could spend some of their federal jobless benefits money to experiment with other programs, such as job training.

Republican Rep. Richard Hanna, of Oneida County, said he supports drug testing as “a fair thing to do.”

“I am OK with it,” he said.

New York Republican Rep. Tom Reed, of Corning, a member of the conference committee working on a final deal on the tax cut and jobless benefits legislation, said he supports requiring that people have a high school diploma or at least begin working on a GED while receiving unemployment benefits.

“We really need to talk about not just giving a check,” Reed said. “We need to give the tools to American folks so they can get back to work.”

Reed also supports drug testing because of “anecdotal stories” he’s heard from work force directors in his congressional district.

“Work force directors talk about that 40 or 50 percent of applicants in our area can’t pass the prescreening drug test that employers give them,” Reed said. “We have to be proactive and come up with some policies to deal with that.”

Reed’s office suggested calling Daniel Porter, executive director of CSS Workforce New York, who said employers have complained to his agency that a significant number of job applicants fail pre-employment drug tests.

“I don’t have numbers and percentages on it, but we have individuals we have given training grants who failed the drug tests,” said Porter, whose agency covers Chemung, Schuyler and Steuben counties.

Judy Conti, federal advocacy coordinator for the National Employment Law Project, said the drug testing proposed by House Republicans wasn’t cost effective when Indiana experimented with it for job-training applicants.

Only 1 percent of job-training applicants in Indiana — 13 out 1,240 — failed their drug tests, the Associated Press reported in December.

CSS Workforce New York has no official position on drug tests for people getting unemployment benefits, but it does have a public advertising campaign informing job hunters that employers are increasingly using pre-employment drug screening.

Porter said long-term jobless benefits are still needed because there are multiple applicants for every job opening.

“In the depths of the recession we were up to 5 or 6 (applicants per opening),” he said. “Now it’s down to about 4.”

Unemployed New Yorkers now are eligible for jobless benefits for up to 93 weeks. Up to 99 weeks of benefits are available in states with higher unemployment.

House and Senate negotiators are expected to agree on a shorter time frame in working out a deal to renew the benefits program through the end of the year.

The House-passed bill would cut the maximum 99 weeks of eligibility to 59 weeks, meaning an estimated 205,190 New Yorkers would lose eligibility, according to Democratic staffers on the House Ways and Means Committee.

The Senate bill would cut also the maximum eligibility period to 79 weeks.

Jobless workers in New York currently are eligible for three of the four levels of federal jobless benefits after their state benefits are exhausted.

“Current negotiations include not just a discussion of the number of weeks of eligibility, but also what Democrats call burdens and Republicans call reforms,” said Chad Stone, chief economist for the liberal-leaning Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “We think they violate what (unemployment insurance) is supposed to be.”

Brian Tumulty is a staff writer for the Gannett Washington Bureau.

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