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Granite State Rumblings: Protecting Children From Accidental Gun Violence And Drug Testing Welfare Recipients

This weekend my newsfeed was filled with the story of a 6 year old child who accidently shot his 3 year old brother during a game of “cops and robbers.” The loaded gun had been kept on the top of the refrigerator, wrapped in a pair of pajamas.

In July, two young boys were playing with a gun when it went off and fatally struck one of them in the head. The 11-year-old and 8-year-old found two guns inside an upstairs bedroom at a home in which they were visiting.

In February the father of a 4-year-old Toms River, NJ boy who shot and killed his 6-year-old friend was sentenced to three years in prison for leaving the weapon unsecured and accessible to the children in the house.

Children often have easy access to guns in their homes, according to the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

  • 1 in 3 homes with children have guns, many unlocked or loaded.
  • 3 in 4 children ages 5 to 14 knows where firearms are kept in the home.
  • 80% of unintentional firearm deaths of kids under 15 occur in a home.
  • 82% of adolescent suicides involve a gun belonging to a family member.
  • Guns are the 2nd leading cause of death among children and teens.

If you’re like most parents, you probably have some questions the first time your child asks to play with a new friend or in a new place. How will they be supervised? Are the TV shows and games age-appropriate? What about Internet access and pets and allergies?

However, we’ve learned that there’s one important question that over half of parents never think to ask:

“Is there an unlocked gun where my child plays?”

It may feel a little awkward, but it could save a child’s life.

In 2015, 570 Children (age 0-11) and 2,093 Teens (age 12-17) have been killed or injured due to gun violence. Source: Gun Violence Archive

As of October 1, 2015 there have been 294 Mass Shootings in the United States this year. There were a total of 336 in 2014. Source: Mass Shooting Tracker

On October 1st, we witnessed yet another horrific mass shooting in Roseburg, Oregon, this time at a community college. This was the 142nd school shooting since 2013 and the 294th mass shooting so far this year in America.

Here in New Hampshire, someone is killed with a gun every 4 days. From 2002 to 2011, 874 people were killed with guns in our state.

Despite this staggering amount of violence, Congress has done nothing to pass a single sensible gun law since the Sandy Hook tragedy in December 2012. It’s time that we said enough is enough. Americans should be able to feel safe in their schools, churches, and everyday lives, and we need to demand action from our elected officials to #stopgunviolence.

Last Thursday, a number of U.S. Senators announced a plan that will strengthen our nation’s gun laws and save lives. If you agree that this can’t wait any longer, please contact Senator Kelly Ayotte and urge her to take action now on sensible gun legislation.

CALL / EMAIL Sen. Ayotte HERE

TWEET / FACEBOOK / Sen. Ayotte


GROWING UP GRANITE

Our NH legislators are filing bill requests for the next session. These are called Legislative Service Requests (LSR’s). These are the beginning of the drafting process to create a bill. The Office of Legislative Services (OLS) processes all legislation that passes through the New Hampshire General Court. The Office has attorneys who draft the legislation as well as other support staff. Only a member of the House of Representatives or a member of the Senate can sponsor an LSR. While the titles of LSRs are published, the actual language is confidential because of an attorney-client relationship between the drafting attorneys and the sponsor. LSRs become public once they are introduced to the appropriate chamber and they become bills. However, you can always ask the sponsor about the content of an LSR, and the sponsor will often share the language.

As of Monday evening there were 688 LSRs for the 2016 session. Every Child Matters in NH tracks the LSRs to determine, as best we are able based on the language, which ones we will want to watch and follow.

There is one LSR in particular that has caught our attention. It is number 2016-2208 HB – requiring drug testing of public assistance recipients.

I have spoken with the sponsor of this LSR (who happens to represent the ward I live in) and, at his request, will be e-mailing to him information on drug testing results from the handful of states that have had or do have drug testing requirements. One piece of information that I will be passing along is the article below from Think Progress.

What 7 States Discovered After Spending More Than $1 Million Drug Testing Welfare Recipients

BY BRYCE COVERT & JOSH ISRAEL  – FEB 26, 2015

Proposals keep cropping up to drug test applicants to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, or welfare. Bills have been introduced so far in Montana, Texas, and West Virginia, with a handful of others also considering such a move. Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker (R) has gone further, proposing to drug test applicants for food stamps and unemployment benefits. They follow recent bills put into action in Maine, Michigan, and Mississippi.

Proponents of these bills claim they will save money by getting drug users off the dole and thus reduce spending on benefits. But states that are looking at bills of their own may want to consider the fact that the drug testing programs that are already up and running haven’t seen such results.

According to state data gathered by ThinkProgress, the seven states with existing programs — Arizona, Kansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee, and Utah — are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to ferret out very few drug users. The statistics show that applicants actually test positive at a lower rate than the drug use of the general population. The national drug use rate is 9.4 percent. In these states, however, the rate of positive drug tests to total welfare applicants ranges from 0.002 percent to 8.3 percent, but all except one have a rate below 1 percent. Meanwhile, they’ve collectively spent nearly $1 million on the effort, and millions more may have to be spent in coming years.

Does Drug Testing Welfare Applicants Work?

Lawmakers who push these bills claim that they will cut down on costs by rooting out drug abusers while also helping to refer those users to treatment. But in reality, they come with few, if any, benefits.

“The main impact of it is first…to spend TANF money that could go into other things,” said Elizabeth Lower-Basch, policy coordinator and director of income and work supports at CLASP, a non-profit focused on policy for low-income individuals. While many states told ThinkProgress that the funds don’t necessarily come out of the pot that would go to TANF benefits, it is still money that could go elsewhere. “The money could certainly be spent on other things if it wasn’t going to drug testing,” she said. “Even if it’s a state where it can’t go to into childcare or cash assistance, it probably comes out of their administration pot, so that’s caseworkers and things like that.”

The other impact is increasing stigma around both welfare and drug use. It can increase the shame people feel around applying for welfare benefits in the first place, which could drive them away from getting assistance they may need to get by. At the same time, it may make drug users less willing to disclose and therefore keep them from connecting with treatment, according to Lower-Basch. “If people are afraid they’ll lose their benefits if they admit to using drugs, it makes it hard for them to say, ‘Hey, actually I have this issue,’” she explained. A study of Florida’s program, which has since been struck down by the courts, found that it didn’t produce any reliable estimates of drug use among welfare recipients.

Even if the policies did unearth drug users in need of help, however, that doesn’t mean states are going to get it to them. Many “don’t guarantee your slot [in treatment facilities] or in some cases pay for it,” she noted. Centers often have long waiting lists, so someone who gets referred may not even be able to get in. Some states used to use TANF money to expand access to drug treatment, but as the money allocated to the program has dropped in real value, those efforts have dried up.

There is one way Lower-Basch thinks drug testing welfare recipients used to be helpful: not to determine eligibility for benefits, but to help them get work. “It was part of the work assessment,” she explained, “what are your barriers to work, what do you need in order to get a job.” If it was a barrier to employment, states could try to help them get what they needed to overcome it.

The High Costs And Few Rewards In Each State

The drug-testing regimes in the seven states all differ slightly, but the lack of effectiveness is widespread.

Missouri – In 2011, Missouri adopted a law to require screening and testing for all TANF applicants, and the testing began in March 2013. In 2014, 446 of the state’s 38,970 applicants were tested. Just 48 tested positive.

Oklahoma – Oklahoma passed its law in 2012, requiring a screening of all applicants and chemical tests for those for whom there is a “reasonable cause” to believe they are using illegal substances. From November 2012 through November 2014, 3,342 applicants were screened and 2,992 selected for further testing (though those numbers could include some who applied more than once). Two-hundred and ninety-seven tested positive for illegal substances.

Utah – Utah also enacted its law in 2012, requiring a written screening and a drug test for anyone with a “reasonable likelihood” of having a “substance use disorder.” Between its implementation in August 2012 and July of 2014, 9,552 applicants were screened and 838 were given drug tests. Just 29 tested positive at a cost of more than $64,000, according to a Utah Department of Workforce Services spokesman.

Kansas – Kansas enacted its drug screening law in 2013, requiring that from 2014 onward, all TANF applicants be tested if a “reasonable suspicion exists” that they might be illegally using “a controlled substance or controlled substance analog.” In the first six months in which the system was in place, Kansas received 2,783 TANF applications. A spokeswoman for the Kansas Department of Children and Families told ThinkProgress, “The first three months of implementation yielded very few drug tests, as staff became comfortable with the criteria. Referrals have increased since that time. So far, 65 individuals have been referred for suspicion-based drug testing. 11 tested positive [and] 12 failed to appear for their scheduled test appointment.” She estimated that the cost to the department over those six months was about $40,000.

Mississippi – Last year, Mississippi passed a law requiring all TANF applicants to complete a written questionnaire about drug use and mandating testing for anyone whose questionnaire suggests a “reasonable likelihood” of a “substance use disorder.” The new system went into effect in August 2014. Over the first five months, 3,656 TANF applicants were screened for use of illegal substances and 38 were referred for drug testing. Just two tested positive.

Tennessee – A 2012 Tennessee law was particularly descriptive about its reasoning for TANF drug testing. After observing that “persons who are not under the pernicious influence of illegal drugs [are] less disruptive of the social fabric, persons and neighborhoods around them are safer as well,” that ” tax dollars should go to persons who are trying to better themselves rather than to persons who violate our state and national laws and support a network of illicit purveyors of misery and disappointment,” and that “the public image of TANF recipients will be enhanced by removing the stigma that is too often attached to such recipients that they use government funds to purchase illegal drugs,” the legislature mandated “suspicion-based drug testing for each applicant” otherwise eligible for TANF.

The program went into effect in July 2014 and, between that time and the end of the year, 16,017 applied for Families First, Tennessee’s TANF program. Of those, 279 were given drug tests and 37 failed then.

Arizona – In 2009, Arizona’s legislature passed a new requirement to “screen and test each adult recipient who is otherwise eligible for temporary assistance for needy families cash benefits and who the department has reasonable cause to believe engages in the illegal use of controlled substances.” Anyone who tested positive would be ineligible to receive the benefits for a year. Supporters claimed this move would save the state $1.7 million annually.

While the legislature has kept the rule each year since its 2010 implementation, very few people have actually even been referred for drug testing after completing a written drug use statement. Since 2014, more than 140,000 Arizona TANF recipients have been screened by the Arizona Department of Economic Security. Just 42 have been referred for a drug test over that time — of the 19 who completed the test, only three have ever tested positive.

Our next door neighbor instituted drug testing requirements in April of this year. Maine Governor Paul LePage argued for legislators to pass this legislation in 2014 saying, “We must ensure that our tax dollars do not enable the continuation of a drug addiction.”

From April through June, the state attempted to screen 15 out of about 5,700 Temporary Assistance for Needy Families recipients, according to an Associated Press investigation, and just one person tested positive.

As you can see drug testing welfare recipients has not created the millions of dollars in projected savings, instead it has cost taxpayers more money in the end. And the stubborn stickiness of the idea that drug testing low-income families is good policy reflects a broader misunderstanding about the lifestyles of the poor. In reality, people who rely on public assistance programs to make ends meet are thriftier than the average American. They have to be. There is not one county in New Hampshire where the amount of a monthly TANF check covers the cost of rent.

So, let’s get ready to work together to insure that Granite State families who need a temporary hand up to make ends meet are not subjected to this humiliating and insulting kind of treatment by our legislature.

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About MaryLou Beaver

New Hampshire Campaign Director Every Child Matters Education Fund
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