Georgia Legislature Moves to Keep Poor People Poor

Almost 2 million low-income Georgians will find it harder to get ahead in the future, thanks to counterproductive policies adopted by state lawmakers in the just-concluded legislative session.

Lawmakers took potshots at the poor from a variety of directions, ranging from erecting new barriers to food to limiting access to health care coverage. I’ll focus on a couple of the more objectionable bills here to kick off a series of upcoming blogs about the 2014 Georgia General Assembly GBPI analysts will post in coming weeks.

The Legislature passed HB 772 to require applicants for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, commonly known as food stamps, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families cash assistance to take a drug test at their own expense, based on the suspicions of a caseworker.  The bill also requires the Department of Human Services to put photos of food stamp applicants on benefit cards.

The Legislature also passed HB 714 to prevent school workers under private contract, including bus drivers and lunch workers, from collecting unemployment insurance benefits during school breaks.

Both bills will become law if they are signed by Gov. Nathan Deal.

If he signs the food stamp bill, Georgians who already struggle to make ends meet would be forced to waste money on drug tests that could be better used for things like transportation to a job interview or reading glasses for a child.  What’s worse, both of these measures will prevent  Georgians from getting food to feed their families, cash assistance to clothe their children and unemployment insurance benefits that help school workers provide for their families.

The plight of Georgia families that could suffer if the proposals become law matters to all of us. A mom who receives cash assistance might be forced to pay for a drug test, leaving her short of money to pay for gas to get to work. That is a setback for someone striving for the day she doesn’t need the assistance at all.  When a working father takes a day off to visit his local state office to get his photo taken to meet the new requirement, it could jeopardize his job, his primary means to make sure his family does not need food assistance in the future. When a working family has no money to pay for basic needs during the summer because there is no unemployment benefit, it hurts Georgia companies that would otherwise profit.

Besides the pain these proposals hold in store for families, HB 772 is not likely to save the state any money.  Other states found the cost of placing photos on food stamp benefit cards can range from $2 million to $17.6 million.  That doesn’t even take into account additional costs that will probably result from the new program, including money to train caseworkers and the potential fees of lawyers the state might need to hire to defend the constitutionality of the law.

As I have discussed before, Georgia’s low-income families do not need any more barriers blocking their escape from poverty and hardship.  These Georgians need leaders who look for ways to create opportunities so they can become financially self-sufficient and contribute more to the state’s economy.

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