A new Indiana rule requiring drug tests for unemployed people participating in state-funded job training programs reflects a hard stance many states are taking regarding public assistance as they struggle with limited financial resources.
The U.S. Department of Labor says Indiana is the first state to require drug testing of people seeking job training. But at least 30 states have considered requiring drug tests for those receiving government assistance, including Florida, which began requiring drug tests of welfare applicants on July 1.
Workforce Development Commissioner Mark Everson says Indiana's change reflects the state's economic realities and also some frustration from business owners, who've questioned why drug users should be participating in the job training program when they won't pass workplace drug screening.
"Why should we invest in that individual? They're less likely to complete their training if they're using drugs," Everson said. "We want to help people who are motivated to get jobs. They can't get a job if they're using drugs."
Indiana's new policy gives people applying for job training one business day to undergo a urinalysis test at a site approved by the state. Tests will be conducted for marijuana, cocaine, opiates, the hallucinogen PCP and amphetamine and methamphetamine.
Those who pass the test will be reimbursed the $35 cost of the test. Those who fail will not be reimbursed and are not eligible for job training for 90 days. A second failure makes a person ineligible for job training for a year.
Failing a test will not affect unemployment benefits.
Everson said the state is confident the requirement will pass constitutional muster despite court challenges in other states. Michigan briefly required drug tests for welfare recipients in 1999, but the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit. A federal judge ordered the tests stopped, and a federal appeals court in Cincinnati later ruled the law unconstitutional.
Indiana already is in court over a sweeping school voucher law, efforts to cut Medicaid funding to Planned Parenthood and its new illegal immigration law.
"When we looked at this, we determined this was allowable," Everson said.
Ken Dau-Schmidt, an IU professor of labor and employment law, isn't so sure. He thinks the requirement violates the Fourth Amendment's guarantee against unreasonable searches.
The state argues that private employers require drug tests, but Dau-Schmidt said those employers aren't governed by the Fourth Amendment. The state is, and drug tests are considered searches under existing law, he said.
Dau-Schmidt said courts have ruled that drug tests generally are only allowed in cases where there is some risk or expectation of harm, such as in the cases of truck drivers or train operators.
"To just take a person who is a trainee, I'm having trouble seeing the reasonableness of the search," he said. "They may get away with it. They could say there's no right to job training, so therefore it's a voluntary waiver when you go into it, so you're not actually giving up anything. But that seems a stretch."
Many of those visiting a WorkOne unemployment office in South Bend recently said they supported the new policy.
Debra Loprete, who was laid off from her job as a special education teacher in South Bend more than a year ago, said she was informed she would need to be tested for drugs if she wanted the state to pay for a class on autism.
"I told them I have no problem with that," she said. "I have nothing to hide. I'll be glad to take a drug test."
David De La Rosa, a 59-year-old from Mishawaka who was laid off from his maintenance job 18 months ago, said he doesn't want to work next to someone who's using drugs.
"It's not safe for you and it's not safe for the people around you," he said.
Everson said he proposed the drug testing change because employers frequently complained that people coming out of training programs were failing drug tests.
Tom Easterday, executive vice president at Subaru of Indiana Automotive, thinks the new rule is a good idea.
"You have to have a very strong work ethic to succeed in today's manufacturing and a lot of other industries, and strong work ethic goes with not using drugs," he said.
Everson said the program will cost the state between $300,000 and $400,000 a year, depending on how many people take the test. He said the money is worth it to make sure people who are motivated to get jobs are receiving the training.
"Why should we give one person the benefit of the training if they're going to fail a drug test and not get a job and deny it to another person who is clean and would get the job? That just doesn't make sense to us," he said.