Georgia’s 2022 Human Services Budget
The $817 million FY 2022 budget for the Department of Human Services (DHS) increases spending from FY 2021 levels by $20 million to protect the safety of Georgia’s most vulnerable children and families. The Department remains $13 million below FY 2020 spending levels, which were reduced due to anticipated declines in state revenue because of COVID-19.
The largest share of state funding for the agency will remain in child welfare and foster-care-related services in FY 2022. The Division of Family and Children Services’ efforts to protect vulnerable children account for nearly 60 percent of the agency’s overall budget.
The state invests state dollars to maintain eligibility staff for federal low-income assistance programs such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), or food assistance, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), or cash assistance. Smaller yet vital programs such as vocational training for adults with disabilities and elder protection services account for the remaining funds.
Child Welfare and Foster Care
Georgia will spend a combined $518 million on Child Welfare, Foster Care and Adoption Services in FY 2022. Thirty percent of the previous budget’s spending cuts are restored towards FY 2020 pre-pandemic levels, as addressing the needs of Georgia’s youth in foster care and investigating the abuse of children remain top priorities for the Department of Human Services.
Child welfare funding will increase by $1.2 million as contracts are restored for educational services with the Multi-Agency Alliance for Children and contract funds are increased for vocational training services and court-appointed special advocates for the development of select underserved counties.
Adoption Services funding will increase to serve caseload growth and compensate for a reduction in the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage (FMAP) from 67.03 percent to 66.85 percent, while a net reduction in foster care spending follows trending declines in foster care placements.
Modest reductions to foster care will occur naturally as a result of more youth exiting the foster care system.
COVID-19, Unemployment and Underemployment in Georgia
The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated economic hardship in Georgia. Claims for unemployment benefits have totaled more than 4.7 million, with nearly 60 percent of Georgia’s pre-pandemic labor force turning to the unemployment safety net at some point during the last year. Before the pandemic, Georgians in many pockets of the state were already struggling with unemployment, jobs offering low wages and fewer hours than they were willing to work or simply a scarcity of quality job opportunities. Moreover, Georgians of color and women were disproportionately represented in jobs that fail to offer economic mobility.
The COVID-19 crisis has exposed the employment security vulnerabilities unique to Georgians with low incomes, as well as the general lack of support for these families. From January 2020 to March 2021, employment rates for Georgians with low incomes declined nearly 6 percent, while increasing by at least 13 percent for middle- and high-income Georgians. These unique challenges have led to greater demand for safety net support, which would normally require that the agency add additional caseworkers to administer benefits and help individuals find work that pays family-supporting wages.
Although overall unemployment filing trends have steadily declined since peaking in April 2020, Black workers remain consistently overrepresented among unemployment claimants. And while Georgia’s economy further heals as workers resume seeking and finding suitable jobs, Black and Latinx workers show signs of slower recovery.
Cuts to the Safety Net Will Worsen Economic Hardship
The FY 2022 budget maintains two-thirds of the cuts in safety net spending that were mandated last year because of state revenue shortfalls, reducing spending from $121 million in FY 2020 to $117 million in FY 2022. Unlike child welfare and foster care, low-income support programs administered by the department depend overwhelmingly on federal dollars. However, state funds support the systems that make access to those federally-funded programs possible, and Georgia cuts those state funds. Maintaining the $4 million cut means there are fewer dollars available to pay the salaries of the hundreds of state employees who administer federal safety net programs, which are meant to provide a base level of support for people until they get back on their feet. The funds are also used to contract with community-based organizations that help people with low incomes enroll in public assistance and access job training opportunities.
For example, the budget reduces funding for Georgia Gateway, the state’s online eligibility system, and also cuts funding for community partnerships that help people with low incomes find employment, a requirement to access Georgia’s TANF program. Finally, Georgia cuts funding for direct cash assistance as well, and has, since the Great Recession, used federal TANF funds to supplant state funds in child welfare and foster care.
ARP Funding for the Department of Human Services
During the 2021 Legislative Session, state lawmakers allocated $190 million of ARP funding to selected programs within the Department of Human Services.
COVID-19 has heightened Georgia children and seniors’ vulnerability to abuse, neglect and economic instability. Reductions to the state budget have posed additional challenges to the department’s ability to serve their heightened needs. ARP funding provides an opportunity to fill those gaps, through:
- $970.7 million for child care stabilization grants
- $606.9 million for a Child Care and Development Block Grant
- $139.9 million for low-income energy and family assistance
- $37.7 million for elderly community living services
- $26.7 million for Head Start
- $17.5 million in Child Care and Development Fund mandatory and matching funds
- $12.3 million for aging supportive and senior centers
- $8.4 million for community-based child abuse prevention grants
- $3.3 million for child care and child welfare services
- $642K for the Capital Assistance Program for Elderly Persons and Persons with Disabilities
- $274K for long-term care Ombudsman services
The Department of Early Care and Learning provides access to affordable child care for working families with low incomes. Parents who receive child care subsidies experience fewer work disruptions, stay employed longer and enjoy higher family earnings.
The FY 2022 budget maintains a $7 million spending reduction for the Quality Rated Subsidy Grants offered to providers, which create child care slots for families with low incomes. This impacts nearly 2,000-3,000 slots; however, the agency will allow the impacted families to convert to a traditional Childcare and Parent Services (CAPS) scholarship using existing federal funds and will boost state funding by $3.5 million to further assist low-income families with access to affordable child care. The COVID-19 pandemic caused many child care providers to close permanently, decimating Georgia’s child care infrastructure. As of May 2021, 36 percent of licensed child care providers were reported to be open. DECAL was allocated $1.6 billion in federal funds in the ARP.
The annual cost of child care for two children in Georgia was about $15,000 in 2018. Child care expenses can consume more than half of a low-income family’s budget. The state’s child care assistance program serves about 50,000 children per week, but it is likely more than 364,000 income-eligible children in working families with low incomes need it. More funding is needed to ensure all Georgia parents can afford high-quality child care and parents are not left behind in the state’s economic recovery.