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Welfare Restrictions

Citizens Count Editor

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. 

Drug testing

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.

Photo identification

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.

Citizens Count Editor

"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.
Citizens Count Editor

"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.


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State Rep. Donald Lebrun (R) has filed a bill that would require applicants for welfare benefits (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) to pass a drug test (at their own expense, though the cost is recouped if they test clean). Lebrun says he doesn't want the state to enable illegal drug use by giving money to substance abusers, but opponents say drug testing would be challenged on constitutional grounds and the costs of testing (and fighting lawsuits) would outweigh the benefits. Should NH drug test welfare recipients?

This is the question that was asked on the LFDA Facebook page.

I spent a lot of time staring at this page wondering where to start and decided the best place was to contest the most common statements in support of this flawed legislation.

"If I have to test to get a job why shouldn't they have to test to get welfare"

I get the anger at being overworked and overtaxed. I understand the frustration of seeing some people abuse a system that was set up to help while you are struggling but forced to pay into it. Still, a fair amount of this just sounds like sour grapes from people who are unhappy with their job and their life. The crabs in a barrel philosophy if you will, 'since I have to be subjected to this sort of indignity, so should everyone else'. Perhaps they should consider working somewhere that doesn't make ritual humiliation a condition of employment. What would the founders say about being required to urinate in a cup so it could be analyzed to determine what you consume on your own time? How far we have fallen.

"Most people have to test already in order to work"

It turns out that 'most' people don't, in fact, have to take drug tests as a condition of employment. "Small and medium-sized firms employ 80% of the U.S. workforce where drug testing policies & programs aren't in place." -- Source: Illinois Chamber of Commerce

That is not to say that no small or medium sized firms have implemented drug testing, just that 80% of the workforce is employed at ones that don't.

"It's not unconstitutional because I have to get tested in order to work"

Apples and oranges. The contracts you enter into are completely irrelevant. The Constitution is not designed to regulate your employer (see the next point).

"Constitutional rights don't apply to welfare because no one is forcing you to apply for it"

This stems from a distressingly common misconception of what the Constitution is and does. What it does not do is grant rights. What it does do is specifically enumerate certain rights upon which the government  may not infringe. One of these is “The right of the people to be secure in their person(s) against unreasonable searches... [which] shall not be violated... but upon probable cause...”  Peeing in a cup or submitting to a blood sampling is certainly not being secure in one's person. Therefore, probable cause is required in order for the government to do it (but not your employer). Applying for welfare is not probable cause. It might be considered such if it were shown that an overwhelming majority of people on welfare were also on drugs, but this is simply not the case.

However you may FEEL about the above information, the fact remains that these types of laws have been found to be unconstitutional. If this legislation passes, the State of NH is inviting litigation that it will almost certainly lose. Even if you don't give a whit about the constitution, the court costs alone will be be more than any paltry savings from throwing a few pot smokers off the dole.

"When you apply for welfare you give up your rights"

Really? Where does it say that?

Now let's get into the meat of the issue.

Drug use -- "Lebrun says he doesn't want the state to enable illegal drug use" Does that mean he's ok with the state enabling legal drug use? It would appear so since the most abused drugs in society are alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs, none of which would be stopped by this program. So, should people who abuse alcohol receive government benefits? Oh, but marijuana is illegal.. well guess what? It probably won't be for much longer. There are medical marijuana and decriminalization bills pending which are supported by a majority of the state. What then?

Monies -- Several posters pointed to the Florida experiment where not only was the law struck down, but numbers clearly showed that the cost of testing was high relative to the savings. Only a small portion of those receiving assistance tested positive. The specific Florida numbers are; 2.6 percent of the state’s cash assistance applicants failed the drug test, or 108 of 4,086 (And again, these were mostly marijuana users. The hard drugs are easy to get out of your system within 24 hrs. so they are rarely caught). An additional 40 people canceled the tests without taking them. Because the Florida law requires that applicants who pass the test be reimbursed for the cost, an average of $30, the cost to the state was $118,140. This is more than would have been paid out in benefits to the people who failed the test, $45,780 more to be exact.

Well that was Florida and this is New Hampshire, right? Ok, let's see how our state stacks up. This bill also requires that those who pass be reimbursed. The 'at their own expense' language is a diversion as the vast majority of those tested will pass and be 'reimbursed' meaning that in the end, taxpayers still get to foot the bill for this feel good measure. The NH legislature's OLS estimates that between 2-8% of TANF applicants will fail the drug test. In each of those scenarios, the state is still losing money as testing costs will be almost double the expected savings. Those estimates don't include processing, administration, new state employees to handle the paperwork, retesting and appealing false-positives all of which come together to make this bill a fiscal turd.

Closing Questions - If people who accept public money should be drug tested, why not start with the police? If someone tests positive, are they banned from receiving benefits for life or only a certain period of time (more administrative cases and lawsuits)? If a parent tests positive for smoking pot, are you going to end the children's benefits? Are you going to criminally prosecute the parents? Are you going to take their kids from them and place them in foster homes?

It's unclear to me if the state lab would be doing the testing or if it would be contracted out. If it's the state lab, aren't they already overbooked? Do we want to delay important tests for this? If it's contracted out, who stands to benefit? Which companies are likely to land a lucrative welfare testing contract? What, if any, is their relationship to Mr. Lebrun? How is this not a redistribution of wealth (subsidy) to private drug testing companies?

We may have a problem with welfare fraud, but this bill isn't going to fix it. And no, it's not a step in the right direction, it's a step backwards. A conservative position is one that falls in line with the constitution and is fiscally sound. This bill is neither.


I'll support drug testing for welfare recipients when CEOs and other C-level executives of companies that receive tax breaks, subsidies or gov't bailouts are also drug tested.


I think it's discriminatory to assume that a welfare recipient would be a drug user. There are many parents/families who end up in a desperate situation in no time and turn to the government for assistance, which is their right. You can't just walk into a welfare office and automatically receive benefits. The process to even get approved is treacherous and for those who have or are going through a traumatic event, such as a loss of a spouse, find this process overwhelming. I am 100% against putting restrictions on welfare other than what is already in place. It takes humility for someone who has never shopped for groceries to now pay with an EBT card and to be judged by every store clerk and the person in line behind you, especially if you don't fit the "profile" of a welfare recipient. I think there is even more judgment if you don't "look the part". There are so many misconceptions that people "abuse the system" yet there really is no way to do that due to the extensive amount of proofs you must provide to even qualify for assistance. Even if you are unemployed, the state doesn't just spoon out free money, there is a rigorous program in place that requires you to be a part of an ongoing program where you have to actively be seeking a job, volunteering in a position, getting on-the-job training, or going to school up to an equivalent of 32 hours per week. These hours have to be reported and approved to continue to receive assistance. This program is designed to help those transition into the workplace, not to keep them on welfare. However, even after landing a job, most still need assistance due to a low income, childcare costs, and more. When weighing out the benefits of a higher paying job, some may still be inclined to stay within the qualifying income to receive benefits because if they don't they will end up being in a worse place financially, especially due to the unaffordability of healthcare costs and insurance. Not all who are on welfare fall into the stigmatic category of welfare that the majority of society perceives them as. What we need is empathy and resources and a livable income for those who will most likely never make more than either minimum wage and/or stay under the poverty line, not by choice but by circumstances out of their control. I speak from a place of experience and unspeakable hardship that I have endured in the not too distant past. 

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