Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Urine Need of Better Representation

I attended a hearing today at the NH House for HB121, "An act requiring drug testing of applicants for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families." (TANF)

This bill is sponsored by Donald LeBrun of Nashua (who sponsored the bill to drug test food stamp recipients in 2011) and Jeanine Notter of Merrimack. 

   The analysis of the bill:

The bill requires the Dept. of Health and Human Services to implement a drug testing program for applicants of TANF. 

It's so much more than that. Not only do they want to drug test everyone, they want the person being tested to pay for the test. If they pass the test, the money will be reimbursed. If they don't pass the test, they'll be ineligible to receive TANF benefits for a year. Children under the age of 18 are exempt from the testing - UNLESS they  happen to be a teen parent who is not living with a parent or guardian. 

A person who fails the test will get a list of substance abuse treatment providers available in their area. No word on how, if they have no money, they'll pay for the treatment. The bill is very clear that the state of NH will NOT be paying. 

The good news is that if a parent is deemed ineligible for benefits, their dependent child(ren) can still receive benefits. An appropriate payee will be designated to receive the benefits on behalf of the child. 
This appropriate person will also undergo drug testing before being approved. No word on who pays for that drug test. 

Those who are deemed physically or mentally "hindered" will not be required to undergo testing. 

There's more - so much more. The entire text is available at the NH General Court website. 

I missed the first few minutes of the  hearing because I was fighting my way through the huge assembly of gun nuts clogging up the hallway to testify in favor of keeping the so-called stand your ground bill. There were lots of men talking about protecting women, but they were oblivious to the women trying to navigate past them. 

Bill Sponsor Donald LeBrun spoke on behalf of the bill. HHS committee member Rep. Martel asked him what form of drug testing would be used. Rep. Martel didn't know. The bill doesn't specify. As we would learn, the bill doesn't specify a great many things. 

Rep. Barbara French asked "What is your main intent? To identify a person who needs help, or ensure that they don't get welfare?"

Rep. LeBrun answered, "we want to get them the help they need." 

Rep. Susan Ticehurst asked about prescription drugs, since there was no language in the bill to allow someone testing positive for drugs they are legitimately taking to continue to receive benefits. 

Rep. LeBrun said, "The bill does not specify that, but as I've said before, no bill is perfect. Someone can offer an amendment." It seemed he'd made the point about the imperfect nature of the bill a number of times already. 

Next was Assistant AG Ann Rice, opposing the bill on behalf of the Attorney General's office. The constitutionality of the bill would be challenged she said - under both the 4th and the 14th amendments. 
SCOTUS has upheld random drug testing only in the case of public safety. People who run trains, drive trucks, etc. Attorney Rice said this bill will most likely not be found to be constitutional. There is presently litigation proceeding in other states with similar laws. To go down this road will likely lead to litigation. 

Sarah Madsen from NH Legal Assistance pointed out that TANF is a federal block grant given to the states. She also stated that there is little evidence that drug use is prevalent amongst TANF recipients. She believes the bill will cost the state money. Ms. Madsen also pointed out that TANF is a means tested program. Families on TANF do not have the money to pay for a drug test up front, even with the promise of reimbursement. This would be a greater burden for those in rural areas who might have to drive a great distance to a testing facility. 

Rep. Martel had questions for her about the percentages of people who failed the drug tests in Florida. It was 108 out of 4,086. 

Mary Lou Beaver from Every Child Matters stated that the bill is based on stereotypes of drug use among poor people. TANF is a safety net program for children - and the cost of living for TANF recipients is already outstripping the benefit amount, making the paying for the testing especially hurtful. 

She also pointed out that the state will be on the hook for the legal costs accrued by the potential lawsuits. 

(A side note - Rep. LeBrun was listening to the testimony; smiling, laughing, and shaking his head in disagreement with those testifying before the committee.) 

Rep. Martel asked Ms. Beaver if people can buy cigarettes with EBT cards. "They can afford to buy cigarettes but they can't afford drug testing?" Apparently all TANF recipients are cigarette smokers, too. 

Next was Deb Shorter, who identified herself as a former caseworker, taxpayer, and author. She believes that people who are denied TANF will apply for disability. "THEY" will find loopholes, because that's what "THEY" do. She supports the bill, but did point out that "those people" don't even have money for gas, so expecting them to pay for the drug testing is unreasonable. 

She said that she has to pass a drug test to get a job, therefore everyone should. Most of her remarks were along the lines of "I have had many clients who were on drugs." Rep. Sherman from the committee asked her if she had any numbers or data other than "a lot." She said, "I'm not a statistician." She left with Rep. Notter. 

(Note: Her book is self published, and what I read of it on amazon.com proved long on anecdote and short on verifiable fact.)

Next was Jennifer Jones, attorney for NH HHS. She pointed out that TANF is a welfare to work program, intended to lift people out of poverty, that they do in fact have to work. 

(Rep. LeBrun was shaking his head no during her testimony.)

Jones said that the department was able to determine only a small part of the potential fiscal impact of this bill. They were not able to determine the cost of the extra personnel that would be required to monitor the taking of samples, monitor the samples, or handle the storing and delivery process. Certainly there would be a negative fiscal impact on the dept. She mentioned that Rep. LeBrun had stated we would help them with drug treatment, and he became indignant. "I never said that," said  he. Except he kinda did, when he said, "We want to get them the help they need." The bill does specify there will be no help. 

Ms. Jones emphasized the fact that the maximum time limit anyone can receive TANF benefits is 60 months in a lifetime. She said that the average length of time most people get benefits is 19 months. 

Rep. Martel asked, "Is the department taking a position on this bill?" Jones replied, "We're taking the position that there will be a negative financial impact on the department." 

Next was Devon Chaffee, from NH ACLU. She testified that there have been no net savings as a result of these bills, that some states have chosen not to implement testing laws because of the costs. 

She also spoke of the issue of medical privacy and what manner of health related issues might come to light as a result of this sort of testing. The bill doesn't provide any protections for the people being tested. 

She called the bill a solution in search of a problem. 

I had to leave at this point, because I was due at another hearing - but you get the idea. No one offered a compelling rationale for why this testing is necessary, or what savings will result from it. 

It's a bill guaranteed to create lawsuits and expense for the state, and one unlikely to go anywhere. That begs some questions: why do Representatives LeBrun and Notter have so little respect for their colleagues that they'd waste their time on a do-nothing bill? And why do they feel justified in thumbing their nose at NH taxpayers? 


Harriet Duffy said...

WOW....How misguided. So, basically everyone who asks for assistance is a druggie, incapable of working and just looking for a handout. So, in order to rectify this problem they suggest all potential recipients be drug tested, at their own expense (up front) and if they pass (YAH!!!) they get their money back. If not what? Good Lord, do the legislators in NH have nothing better to do with their time? Look, I understand there are many folks out there who truly believe welfare recipients are lazy no-do-gooders. But that is not the case in MOST instances....how reprehensible....Susan keep your mouth going....the average folk need you.

susanthe said...

In 2011 Rep. LeBrun sponsored a bill that called for mandatory drug testing for food stamp recipients. Food stamps are a federally funded program. It would have cost the state over $3 million to do the testing, and saved NOTHING. That bill didn't go anywhere either.

This legislation is the product of a kind of mean spiritedness that I can't fathom.

Anonymous said...

I want drug testing for everyone and I want this Federal law to start with our Legislators in DC. Since they are all recipients of my tax funded platinum health care they need to be drug and alcohol tested weekly. Those that fail the test forfeit all coverage. And we want names. Next come our NH legislators regardless of whether or not they benefit from any social programs.

NH Labor News said...

Susan a great report on what happened. I am sickened by the fact that they are proposing to have people who cannot find two nickels to rub together are going to have to pay for a drug test to get TANF money. They have already proven in Florida that 'A Lot' Actually turns out to be 3-6% overall, not really a lot.

It is a waste of taxpayer time and money to even think about this idea. Provide the help to those who need it. The children!