Food assistance plays a critical role in helping Georgians working low-wage jobs put meals on the table. An average of 546,900 working Georgians lived in households that participated in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, commonly called food stamps) in the last year, according to analysis from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. In a state just shy of 4.5 million workers, that represents nearly 12 percent of the state’s total workforce.
For many Georgians, even full-time work doesn’t provide enough income to feed their families. Georgia’s minimum wage, one of the lowest in the nation, hovers at $5.15 an hour, although most workers are subject to the $7.25 federal minimum. Many workers earn wages so low that a full-time job doesn’t pay enough to lift a family out of poverty. Low-wage jobs often come with irregular schedules. The number of hours available changes frequently and the jobs often lack crucial benefits such as paid sick leave. Turnover rates are often high in these positions, so workers in low-wage jobs experience periods of unemployment more frequently than higher-paid workers.
When working Georgians struggle to feed their families, they often turn to food assistance to help supplement low wages, smooth out income fluctuations due to shifting schedules or help sustain them during periods of unemployment.
Take, for example, the recent struggles of a family served by the Atlanta Community Food Bank. The wife is a shift manager at a fast food restaurant and her husband was laid off from his job. The couple must provide for their three children and they’ve taken in a nephew as well. The wife’s salary alone just wasn’t enough to cover the family’s expenses. They enrolled in SNAP benefits for less than a year when he was laid off. The food assistance helped make sure the growing family maintained a nutritionally adequate diet during a temporary setback.
In Georgia, 27 percent of workers who receive food assistance are employed as service workers, most often as aides in nursing, psychiatric care and home health care, as dishwashers, cooks and servers, personal care aides, maids and housekeepers. Another 13 percent work in sales and related lines of work as cashiers, retail customer service and retail supervisors. Another 7.5 percent are construction workers, such as as roofers and carpenters.
Surprisingly, many Georgians filling some of the most respected roles in our communities also receive food assistance. Roughly 5,800 elementary and middle school teachers, 5,500 teacher assistants and even 1,600 police officers got SNAP benefits.
For more than half a million working Georgians, SNAP mitigates low wages and job instability by providing workers and their families with supplementary income to buy food. As calls for deep cuts in food assistance programs continue to make headlines, let’s remember that many Georgia families depend on SNAP benefits as a critical hand-up, not a hand out.