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Editorial: No drug-testing for welfare applicants

Is there any reason to think welfare recipients are more likely to be drug abusers than anyone else? Is there any reason to presume their guilt until they prove themselves innocent?

No and no.

Nonetheless, New Hampshire lawmakers are considering legislation that would require applicants for public assistance under the state’s Temporary Aid For Needy Families program to first pass a drug test. People who tested positive would be ineligible to apply for welfare benefits for one year, unless they successfully completed a substance-abuse treatment program recognized by the state Department of Health and Human Services. In such cases, they would be permitted to reapply in six months.

There are real costs involved with the testing – money that the state could no doubt find better uses for. There is a real lack of available drug-treatment programs in the state, making the proposed penalty problematic. And, judging the experience in other states, there is a real chance that such a law would be found unconstitutional.

But put those practical concerns aside for a moment and consider whether New Hampshire really wants to be in the business of criminalizing poverty.

All of us use state services all the time. We don’t require drug testing for drivers on state highways – not unless they first give the cops a concrete reason to worry. Drug tests aren’t required when students apply to state-supported universities, when swimmers enjoy an afternoon at a state beach, when tourists hike or picnic at a state park. When poor people apply for temporary assistance – money to help put food on the table for their children – they shouldn’t be treated differently.

New Hampshire need only look to Florida for evidence of the wrongheadedness of such a plan. That state had a brief experience with a similar law until a federal court declared it unconstitutional for violating the ban on unreasonable searches. But while the drug testing was in place there, only 2.6 percent of the applicants failed the test. And the money spent on the testing exceeded the money saved in denied benefits.

One of the sponsors, Rep. Donald LeBrun, recently wrote a column in the Nashua Telegraph defending his bill and explaining that his real goal is to highlight the problem of drug addiction and the need for more treatment options.

“The intent of this bill is to identify people in need of treatment for drug addiction. It also calls out the state Department of Health and Human Services for continuing to sweep the issue under the carpet, because as it states continually, there are not enough beds or accommodations for all the people who need mental health treatment. I think we all realize there is a drug problem in today’s society,” he wrote.

If that’s truly the problem LeBrun is trying to address, there are surely more straightforward ways to go about it.

Legacy Comments11

As a former trucking company owner and truck driver, my employees and I were required to "pee in a cup" whenever USDOT, NHDOT wanted or a random test pulled up our name. None of my employees or I was EVER found to have used illegal narcotics. But testing was requied and became a way of life. There are a number of businesses who require their employees to be drug free and, to ensure this, impose urine tests. I never saw an editorial in this paper complaining about the working man being required to take a urine test for drugs -- even for those who have no criminal record. Why should welfare recipients be treated differently? If you have money to spend on illegal narcotics, you don't need the taxpayers' money to pay rent or buy food.

Maybe it is me Fearless, but it seems to me that being poor these days is starting to have a life all of it's own. If your poor the rules do not apply. The reason for that is poverty now is like a disease, that just happens to some unlucky folks through no fault of their own. Poverty in my day was looked upon as a temporary situation. My own mother use to worry about landing in the poor farm when times got tough. She actually had relatives that did work on a poor farm at times. They existed in her time. Times sure have changed.

Thank you, I was thinking the same thing.

Oh what a great idea! But perhaps the bill doesn't go far enough. Nothing would stop welfare recipients from spending their money on booze and cigarettes, so let's make sure we give welfare recipients daily blood tests for alcohol and nicotine. Oh, and nothing stops them from buying lottery tickets and fast food, so we should probably send people out to search through their garbage looking for evidence. Hmm, but then again, nothing would stop them from buying a bunch of useless crap. We'd better hire private investigators to follow these folks around to make sure they're only buying sensible, useful products and food. We should spare NO expense in making sure that our tax dollars are not wasted!

I agree with you. I know a welfare mom that has to sell drugs and her EBT card to pay for her cigarette habit and her boyfriends alcohol habit. Her kids live on Ramen noodles and whatever they can get from the food pantry. So if they need to sell their meager 600 dollar food allowance to buy 300 dollars worth of cigarettes for her and her boyfriend to smoke we should allot them a ciggarette and alcohol allowance on top of what they already get!

AND that is why a "picture ID" should be required with every use of the EBT card - so people can't sell them!!!

If the recipients are tested, those needing help to kick their habits could possibly receive it. If companies hiring people require testing, those who are addicted will never get a decent job. If the aim of welfare is real help, the first step is to find the real problem.

Perhaps we should verify if they have a boyfriend living with them, who makes good money, that isn't included in determining if she qualifies for welfare, food stamps, daycare assistance, heating oil assistance, free cell phone, free school lunches, etc. I'm sure there are honest people who need help. But there are also people who apply to every state run assistance program they know of, all while they have their boyfriend living with him. Some will go so far as to not marry, because then the state will include his income and they won't be eligible anymore. I'm sure everyone reading this knows of somebody abusing the system.

It is sad to say but most of the time the boyfriend they are hiding is not employed and is taking from the small resources the family receives. I am all for drug testing recipients because if you need to be drug tested to get a job then what is the problem? You should get tested if you are living off the government's money that is provided to feed and clothe the children and mother not to buy drugs. If drugs are found then they have programs for that which would benefit the family.

Brilliant, well said, thank you. How uplifting it must be to be down on your luck, needing to feed your family, you finally ask for help and before we as a society will help feed your children you must first pee in this cup while someone watches you, oh and that'll cost you a week's groceries. How dignified. Maybe some of our legislatures should receive routine drug testing as well as breathalyzers before they are allowed to submit a bill.

Many companies including the federal government requires drug testing not only to get a job but routine testing during employment to keep the job. If it is legal to require it for employment, why should it not be legal and expected to apply for aid? I guess if everyone on aid showed up for some form of work by the government then it would all be fine.

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