By: Faith Alvarez
Valparaiso University Law School
J.D. Candidate, 2016
Tax Day was April 15, 2015, a day when some 60,000 low-wage workers in the United States walked off the job in more than 200 cities demanding a $15-an-hour minimum wage. The protest was reportedly held on Tax Day because more than 150 billion taxpayer dollars are spent on public assistance to support underpaid workers.
Then the following day, the Indiana House passed a measure that would require Indiana welfare recipients to take a drug test in order to receive benefits.
The cost of the program is about 2.2 million taxpayer dollars.
These tax dollars would in large be spent drug testing those earning minimum wage. Which, judging by the prior day’s protests, include fast-food workers, home-care aides, child-care providers, Wal-Mart clerks, adjunct professors, and airport workers.
Representative Terry Goodin is the author of this bill from Scott County, where there are more than 130 confirmed HIV cases – almost all are linked to drug use. His bill wasn’t new to Indiana, which has tried to follow other states with such a requirement before. But Goodin’s proposal is a bit different than past failed attempts. Specifically, his proposal would not take those who test positive off of welfare, but would provide counseling and drug rehabilitation programs. Nor would it impact anyone on disability, over 65 years old, or a child.
But then just hours after it passed with an 83-13 vote, Goodin told reporters that he was rethinking his decision.
Why the change of heart? He saw the statistics:
- Only 9 of the adults testing positive for HIV in his home Scott County receive welfare benefits.
- Otherwise, 60 adults in Scott County receive benefits on behalf of 93 children.
- Statewide, about 3,909 adults and 17,194 children receive benefits.
- The average payment is $88.30 per month in a child-only or one-parent family and $52.23 per month in a two-parent family.
After passing the measure, Goodin said, ” Maybe there’s not as much fraud as people say there is. … It even makes me rethink my position. Since now we found out the drug testing isn’t going to reach many people, maybe there’s a different way to reach these people who are hooked on drugs.”
After the state plans to spend $2 million on public relations expert Porter Novelli out of New York (plus the cost of actual advertising), how much are taxpayers willing to spend to find out who is smoking marijuana or taking heroin? Do we really know if the cost will be worth the potential savings?
Even Indiana’s own Rock and Roll legend John Mellencamp has chimed in on recent Indiana Politics, saying that he doesn’t want tax revenue from his ticket sales going to the Indiana government. His editorial can be read here.
What is going on in Indiana? Is there a disconnect?