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Drug Testing for Welfare Idea Revived in N.H.

Concord — A bill that would require people seeking welfare benefits to pass a drug tests is drawing mixed reviews at the Statehouse.

State lawmakers heard testimony yesterday for and against the controversial bill, which would require that all people pass a drug test before receiving benefits through Temporary Aid for Needy Families, the state’s welfare program.

Two Nashua-area lawmakers introduced the bill earlier this year in an effort to curb what they see as abuses within the program, which provides cash assistance to struggling single-parent families. Social service advocates disputed the claims and ripped the proposal, which they say would leave some of the state’s neediest families struggling more than they already are.

The House of Representatives’ health, human services and elderly affairs committee, which will issue a recommendation on the bill to the full House, held the public hearing yesterday.

Under the proposal, an estimated 2,670 TANF applicants would have to undergo drug tests to become eligible for the program, which paid out an average of $505 a month in 2011, according to state figures.

The tests would be conducted twice a year.

Applicants would initially cover the cost — an estimated $45 a test. But, state officials would then reimburse the costs for those who pass, according to the bill.

Data from elsewhere in the country suggest that somewhere between 92-97 percent of applicants would pass the tests, leaving the state to cover costs between $220,000-$235,000 for the tests.

Similar laws passed in Florida and Michigan have been struck down in federal court.

“This is virtually certain to expose the state to litigation, and litigation the state would likely lose,” Mattson said. “We’re hopeful the committee will see this is not good public policy.”

With the hearing now complete, members of House health and human services committee will consider the matter over the coming days, eventually sending a recommendation on to the full House for a vote.

“Our intention is just to find out who is addicted to drugs, so they can be helped,” Notter, the bill co-sponsor, said, speaking in favor of the proposal.

“It’s unfortunate that there’s such a persistent myth about who uses the TANF program and what people who use the TANF program are like.” Mattson said. “This is a component of that myth to suggest that there are really high rates of drug use (among TANF applicants). It’s just not borne out in the numbers.”