A Quick Summary of Key Safety Net Programs in Georgia

News stories and online commentary have noted that states with bans on abortion also lack strong social and economic supports for expecting women and birthing people and families with infants. Georgia is one of the states that has now instituted an abortion ban starting when embryonic cardiac activity is detected, usually around 6 weeks. Women and birthing people need access to the full range of reproductive health care and strong economic supports for a healthy life. Just as before the ban, the safety net continues to be an important support when a life challenge creates financial instability for women and birthing people. This blog summarizes key federal and state programs available in Georgia for people with low or modest income and who are expecting or already care for an infant.

Health Insurance

Medicaid and PeachCare: Medicaid and PeachCare serve about 2.3 million Georgians, or about 1 in 5 residents. Low-income Medicaid serves children, pregnant women and some parents with very low incomes. The Aged, Blind and Disabled portion of the program serves older adults with low incomes and people with physical and developmental disabilities. PeachCare is a separate program serving children from families with incomes above the Medicaid threshold, but who often lack access to other forms of coverage.

The Health Insurance Coverage Gap: Georgia is one of 12 states that have refused to fully expand Medicaid through the Affordable Care Act. Though there are pandemic-era federal protections that allow many to access Medicaid, those protections are temporary and will likely start unwinding in the fall or winter (when the COVID-related public health emergency declaration ends). Without Congressional action, Medicaid access will revert to the pre-pandemic status quo where most adults without children will not qualify because their income is too high, but their income is too low to be eligible for the subsidies in the insurance marketplace.[1] This is called the coverage gap. Before the pandemic, 269,000 people did not have health insurance because they fell into the coverage gap.

Postpartum Medicaid: In the last legislative session, the Georgia General Assembly passed, and Gov. Kemp signed, a bill that extended postpartum Medicaid coverage from 6 months to 12 months. Mothers and birthing people with low income can continue to access Medicaid coverage for 12 months after the end of pregnancy.

Housing Assistance

Rental Assistance: Federal rental assistance programs help households by requiring them to pay no more than 30 percent of their income for rent. There are three main federal rental assistance programs operating in the state. The largest program, the House Choice Voucher (HCV) program, provides rental subsidies for renters to find housing in the private market and is administered by the state and local public housing agencies. In 2019, HCV reached about 57,600 households in Georgia. The second largest, Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance, which provides rental support attached to a specific unit where the landlord has a contract with the US Department of Housing and Urban Development, reached about 31,800 households in 2019. Finally, about 27,500 households lived in public housing developments in 2019. Local public housing authorities administer public housing developments. Rental assistance programs have very long waitlists on which applicants can remain for years at a time.

High Housing Costs: The state average of fair market rent (FMR) for a 2-bedroom apartment has grown from $848 in 2016 to $1,010 in 2021; however, many local area FMRs exceed the statewide average. Affordable housing means a renter should not be paying more than 30 percent of their income. However, with high housing costs, people earning low or moderate wages may be cost-burdened, paying more than 30 percent of their income on housing. In Georgia, there are almost 341,000 extremely low-income (ELI) households, those with income at or below the poverty line or 30 percent of the area median income. There is a shortfall of about 207,000 affordable and available rental homes for ELI households in Georgia.

Emergency Housing Assistance: The American Rescue Plan (federal relief package) provided the state and localities with temporary funds for emergency housing assistance if households are behind on rent or their mortgage.

Nutrition Assistance

Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC): WIC is a federal program that helps pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding individuals, infants and children afford nutritious food. It also provides nutrition education, breastfeeding support and health care referrals. People who have a gross income of 185 percent of the poverty line (about $42,000 a year for a family of three) or less can qualify for WIC. Those who are already receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) support, Medicaid or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) are automatically income-eligible.

However, WIC participation declined during the pandemic. In February 2021, WIC participation in Georgia was down 6.7 percent from the year prior even though enrollment in SNAP and Medicaid during the same time period increased. WIC participation in Georgia was already low before the pandemic. In 2018, between 45 and 50 percent of eligible individuals in Georgia were participating in WIC.

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP): SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps, is a program that helps individuals and families afford the cost of food. The federal government pays for full benefits to recipients. SNAP reaches about 83 percent of eligible individuals in Georgia, and nearly three-fourths of SNAP recipients live in families with children. As in previous downturns, SNAP caseloads increased during the economic crisis caused by the pandemic but have come down as the economy improved. SNAP lifts thousands of Georgia’s children above the federal poverty line.

Financial Supports

Earned Income Tax Credits (EITC): The EITC is a federal tax break that provides an income boost for people working for low or moderate wages. The credit increases as wages go up, before phasing out at higher incomes. This incentivizes work and encourages able workers to earn more. About 1.1 million Georgia tax filers, most of whom have children, received the federal EITC in 2019. The federal EITC is one of the strongest anti-poverty programs for adults and children.

Some 30 states and the District of Columbia have state EITCs, which bolster the impact of the federal program. Georgia does not.

Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF): TANF is a federal- and state-funded cash assistance program for families with children who have very low income. Benefits to families are very low, $280 a month for a family of three, and have remained unchanged for more than 30 years. TANF in Georgia only reaches about five families for every hundred families in poverty. Most of the families served are children living in the homes of relatives.

TANF family cap: The family cap prevents families already on TANF from receiving an increase in the monthly grant after the birth of a child. For example, if a TANF family of two becomes a family of three, they will still only be given a benefit for a family of two. Georgia is one of 11 states that still has a family cap. In fiscal year 2021, the family cap affected 310 TANF families.

Childcare Assistance

Childcare and Parent Services (CAPS) Scholarships: The CAPS program is a subsidy that helps families afford the high cost of child care. The federal government provides most of the funding for CAPS, but the state also contributes resources. Because of limited funding, the state prioritizes certain categories of children. For example, children living in families with very low income, children in foster care and children of student parents are among the highest priority for CAPS subsidies.

CAPS typically serves about 50,000 children a year. However, in 2021, the state temporarily expanded the program by about 10,000 slots using federal relief dollars. This expansion will end in 2024. Despite the expansion, the number of CAPS subsidies still falls short of the number of families who need childcare assistance.

In 2021, Georgia lawmakers passed legislation establishing a three-week paid parental leave program for all qualified state and public-school employees. Under this policy, a parent can utilize the leave for the birth or adoption of a child or a foster care placement and can be paid up to 100 percent of their salary. As of March 2022, 555 people said they utilized the program since its implementation in July 2021.

State legislators did not include funding for the paid leave benefit. This may have created challenges for smaller school districts to implement the program.

There is no state-mandated, family-medical leave program that covers all Georgia workers. While some employers may provide paid family or medical leave, many workers do not have access to any paid leave benefit beyond short-term sick leave.

[1] If Georgia expanded Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act up to 138 percent of the federal poverty line, this would close the coverage gap.

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