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Welfare Drug Tests Sought By New Hampshire GOP

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New Hampshire state Republicans have introduced a bill with a strict message for welfare applicants: If you can't pass a drug test, you won't receive benefits.

The bill, co-sponsored by Reps. Donald LeBrun (R-Nashua) and Jeanine Notter (R-Merrimack), would mandate that welfare applicants first submit a clean drug test before receiving assistance under the federally funded Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Republicans in other states have proposed a plethora of similar schemes in recent years, with hardly any becoming law.

"[There are] people who have worked and paid taxes their whole lives and get no help when they need it," Notter wrote in an email to The Huffington Post, explaining the reasoning behind the bill. "Meanwhile, there are those who know how to work the system and to get free stuff. There are many loopholes in the system."

New Hampshire Democrats are not convinced. House Majority Leader Terie Norelli (D-Portsmouth) criticized the measure, saying the bill would stigmatize individuals receiving federal assistance without truly reforming the welfare program.

"It speaks to a lack of understanding about vulnerable citizens in our state and elsewhere," Norelli told HuffPost. "This doesn't reform anything. It singles out and makes the suggestion that if you need assistance, you must be doing something bad."

LeBrun said in an interview with the New Hampshire Union Leader that he was "not trying to take anything away from anyone who qualifies" for assistance and that he just wanted "to identify people who have problems and have them treated." (LeBrun did not respond to HuffPost's requests for comment.)

The proposed law would require applicants to cover the screening costs upfront, which a "fiscal note" attached to the legislation estimates at $45 per test. Those who submitted a clean test would be refunded in their first TANF allotment. Applicants who tested positive for illegal drugs would be blocked from receiving benefits for a year, but would then be allowed to reapply if they could prove successful completion of a substance abuse program.

Although this is the first time New Hampshire state lawmakers have introduced a bill to require mandatory drug testing for welfare applicants, similar legislation requiring random drug testing of food stamp recipients was introduced in 2011. That measure, which was also co-sponsored by LeBrun, failed to pass the House.

With a Democrat-controlled House and a Democratic governor, the New Hampshire bill has little chance of becoming law. Prior to November's elections, Republicans controlled 298 of the 400 House seats. Now, Democrats control 220 of the 400 seats. Although state rules dictate that all bills receive a vote on the House floor, Norelli said she "can't image that it would pass."

Notter also said that it is "highly doubtful" that her proposal will pass, but added that "the response from taxpayers has been tremendous."

Over the past several years, Republicans in statehouses across the country have sought to force recipients of various forms of government assistance to pee in cups. But Florida is the only state to have followed through with a screening system that actually tested everyone who applied for welfare. A federal court halted the program, citing the Constitution's ban on unreasonable searches, and a final ruling is still pending.

LeBrun maintains that his bill addresses a real problem in the welfare system. "I'm going to present the bill as a common-sense housekeeping or stewardship kind of thing," he told the Union Leader. "I hope to convince people that there is a problem and we have to do something about it."

In fact, there's not much evidence suggesting that welfare beneficiaries use illegal drugs at a significantly higher rate than those who do not receive federal assistance. According to a 2011 report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, "most estimates find that 5 to 10 percent of welfare recipients have substance abuse problems, rates that are a few percentage points higher than those found in the general population."

In a given month, roughly 8 percent of Americans say they've used illegal drugs, according to annual surveys.

Recent welfare drug-testing schemes have shown far lower rates. In Florida, roughly 2.6 percent of welfare applicants tested positive for drug use. According to a 2012 New York Times story, the state had to reimburse more than $118,000 in a four-month period for all the completed drug tests that came back clean. This was more than Florida would have paid to the beneficiaries who failed the drug test had the state not implemented the mandatory drug test rule -- $45,780 more.

According to the New Hampshire bill's fiscal note,, between 2.6 percent and 8.8 percent of applicants will test positive for drug use, saving the state between $49,982 and $169,171 annually.

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