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Bill Aims at Nonexistent Problem to Target Georgia’s Poor

Posted February 19, 2016 by Melissa Johnson

melissa blogGeorgia House Bill 1006 proposes to rip another hole in the state’s frayed safety net, cutting lifetime eligibility for cash assistance for the poorest of Georgia’s poor by 75 percent. Lawmakers assigned the bill to the House Health and Human Services Committee this week. At stake: Georgia parents could only receive cash aid from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program for just 12 months in their lifetimes instead of the 48 months allowed now.

Georgia parents who receive TANF cash assistance include domestic violence survivors and parents struggling to get back on their feet after a period of homelessness. Only people with extremely low incomes qualify to receive the tenuous lifeline offered by the program. Families of two must earn less than $659 per month to qualify and the top monthly benefit is $235.

Proponents of the bill argue cutting lifetime limits prevents long-term dependence. It is an unwarranted solution in search of a nonexistent problem.

Long-term dependence on TANF cash assistance is atypical in Georgia. Only 2,400 parents statewide received cash aid for themselves and their families in December 2015, a recent snapshot of the program’s limited reach. Nearly six in 10 families typically receive the help for less than 12 months. More than 80 percent receive help for less than 24 months.

The bill is an outgrowth of a new report by the Georgia House Study Committee on Welfare Fraud, which raises concern that TANF recipients can potentially secure a benefits extension from 48 months to 60.  That happened zero times in Georgia in 2015.

Should this bill pass, the families most likely to feel pain are Georgia’s most vulnerable. Families that run out of time now are far more likely than other TANF recipients to struggle with physical and mental health problems and lower levels of cognitive functioning and education that make it hard to find work, according to national studies. Cutting lifetime TANF eligibility by three years undermines the state’s ability to address barriers to employment and train the neediest recipients for jobs.

Educating and training parents is a better way to reduce reliance on government assistance because it improves earning potential and employability.  Georgians with no education beyond high school are more than twice as likely to live in poverty as those with some higher education. Georgians with no college education are also more likely to suffer through unemployment.

Contrary to the premise of HB 1006, TANF can be used to educate and train parents and put more Georgia families on better financial footing for the future. As the seventh poorest state in the nation, Georgia needs more financially stable families. Wouldn’t it be great if Georgia’s policymakers spent working hours thinking of ways to optimize the TANF program so it creates opportunities for families living in poverty instead of wasting time tackling problems that don’t exist?

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