New Hampshire lawmakers are considering a bill that would tie drug testing to welfare assistance, although one sponsor of the measure insists the aim is to identify people who have problems, not to take away benefits.
According to the New Hampshire Union Leader
, the bill requires all applicants for the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program to submit a clean drug test to receive benefits. The program is administered by the state, which issues an electronic benefits transfer card to recipients so they can obtain cash once they qualify.
"I'm not trying to take anything away from anyone who qualifies," said Republican state Rep. Donald LeBrun, a key sponsor of the measure. "I'm trying to identify people who have [drug] problems and have them treated."
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The proposal calls for applicants to pay for the testing themselves. The cost would refunded to them in their first benefit payment if they pass the screening exam.
Opponents of the measure argue that if the bill becomes law, applicants could be punished and their families may end up worse off.
But LeBrun says his bill isn't designed to punish anyone because if an applicant is denied benefits after a positive drug test, another adult in the family could be designated to receive benefits instead, if that person also passes the screening.
The bill, however, would disqualified applicants from the program for a year after a positive test. To re-qualify, they would have to complete a substance abuse program.
Similar drug testing laws have been attempted in Florida and Michigan, but federal district courts ruled have blocked or overturned them.
New Hampshire's Department of Health and Human Services estimates the state would require drug tests of about 2,600 applicants a year if the bill becomes law. According to studies cited by the Union Leader, between 2.4 and 8.8 percent of applicants would likely fail the screenings.
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