Harbin bill would require drug tests for benefits

ATLANTA - If you want an unemployment check or other state benefits, be prepared to take a drug test if the General Assembly passes bi-partisan legislation Rep. Ben Harbin introduced Thursday.

House Bill 1163 drew immediate opposition from labor and advocacy groups.

Harbin, an Evans Republican, chairs the House Appropriations Committee, which writes the budget, but he said he's not trying to save money by keeping people off the dole.

Moments before the House passed an adjustment to the current year's budget that included more than $1 billion in cuts, his bill was assigned to the Industrial Relations Committee. Next year's budget will have deeper cuts.

In addition to the state's general budget troubles, the separate trust fund that pays unemployment benefits is essentially broke, having been propped up by a loan from the federal government.

Harbin said the bill aims to ensure those getting assistance remain focused on finding a job.

"The goal is not just to punish people. It's to help those who are able become eligible to participate in the workforce and therefore no longer be reliant upon public assistance," he said.

Anyone applying for benefits who refuses a test would be barred from getting benefits for two years. Those who test positive would still get their benefits, but they would also have to enroll in an approved treatment program followed by a job-training program.

Harbin said he is trying to calculate the cost of the testing. Because no such program has existed before, it is difficult to estimate how many people would test positive, he said.

Richard Ray, the president of the Georgia AFL-CIO, criticized Harbin's bill .

"They can't afford to buy groceries, much less drugs," he said of those collecting unemployment checks. "He should worry about people running out of benefits, not making people jump through hoops."

 

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