Some argue that New Hampshire needs to pass stricter laws on who can receive welfare assistance and how that assistance can be spent. Many taxpayers are angry to learn that even a penny of tax dollars can be spent by welfare recipients on alcohol and cigarettes.
On the other hand, the cost of enforcing stricter welfare laws often exceeds the savings from distributing fewer benefits (as explored further below). Is it really worth it to raise costs and stigmatize innocent recipients, just to catch a few bad apples?
What is "welfare"?
The term "welfare" has been used to describe many social welfare programs funded by the government, including Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Medicaid, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This page focuses primarily on Financial Assistance to Needy Families (FANF), the New Hampshire program for distributing the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
TANF was created by the federal government in 1996 to replace Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), the welfare program created by FDR in the 1930s. TANF distributes federal money to the states according to each state's population, and each state matches that money with its own funds. Each state can choose how to spend the TANF money, so long as no adult receives more than five years of assistance (children can receive more than five years of assistance).
Each year the federal government grants New Hampshire about $10 million for TANF. New Hampshire matches the federal grant with state money.
New Hampshire's program for distributing TANF money is called Financial Assistance to Needy Families (FANF). Under FANF a family can receive cash benefits from the state in the form of an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card, basically a debit card issued by the state. The state calculates a family's eligibility for FANF based on income, other resources, and the presence of dependent children. New Hampshire also requires FANF recipients to work or attend school. The New Hampshire Legislature has considered—but not passed—several other restrictions for FANF.
Limits on purchases
In 2012, New Hampshire convenience store clerk Jackie Whiton was fired for refusing to sell cigarettes to a man paying with an Electronic Benefits Transfer (EBT) card from the state. Since then, Whiton has led a crusade to forbid alcohol and cigarette purchases with EBT cards. New Hampshire already restricts the use of EBT cards at liquor stores, casinos, tattoo parlors, smoke shops, marijuana dispensaries, and adult entertainment venues.
As of March 2017, at least fifteen states had passed a law requiring some drug testing for welfare recipients. Florida's welfare drug testing law was struck down in federal court as a form of warrantless search.
In 2011 the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services estimated that drug tests would cost the state $219,000-$234,000 annually yet save the state only $50,000-$169,000 in denied benefits.
Caps on assistance
Some states have laws that cap welfare benefits for new children. Under those laws a mother cannot receive additional benefits for any child born after she started receiving benefits. In 2012, New Hampshire considered HB 1658, a bill that would have capped FANF benefits in that way. The bill was ultimately revised to remove the cap.
There have been attempts at both the federal and state level to require the use of a photo ID to make a purchase with an EBT card. So far, these requirements haven't passed, and those receiving assistance in New Hampshire can use their cards without an ID. The move is championed as a way to prevent welfare fraud. However, there are few statistics on EBT fraud, so there is no way to tell if the state is losing significant money through fraud.
"NH should add restrictions on welfare recipients."
- Restrictions on EBT purchases are necessary as taxpayer dollars should never be spent on cigarettes, alcohol, and other "vices."
- Drug testing is justified because the state has an interest in ensuring that taxpayer-funded benefits do not support illegal drug addiction. Testing could also help the state identify drug addicts in need of treatment.
- A cap on benefits would decrease the number of children born into poverty. Less than 1% of FANF families have additional children while receiving benefits, so the cap's negative impact on families would be minimal.
- Requiring photo identification would decrease the number of residents stealing, selling, or otherwise committing fraud with EBT cards.
"NH should not add restrictions on welfare recipients."
- EBT restrictions are easily sidestepped because EBT cards can be used at ATMs for cash withdrawals. Limiting those cash withdrawals could in turn hurt recipients who rely on cash transactions.
- The state could require recipients to hand in cash purchase receipts for examination, but reviewing those receipts would be burdensome on social service agencies that are already spread too thin.
- The cost of administering drug tests exceeds the savings of denying benefits to drug users.
- Welfare drug testing laws may violate the Constitution unless they are written to require a reasonable suspicion of drug use.
- At least two studies show that welfare caps in other states have had no impact on whether or not a woman becomes pregnant. Therefore a cap would only deprive newborns of much-needed financial assistance.
- Requiring photo identification for EBT purchases unfairly stigmatizes recipients. Many benefit recipients without driver's licenses may also lack photo identification to make purchases.
- If New Hampshire chose to issue photo identification to food stamp recipients, that would increase administrative costs for the state.