Georgia lawmakers took steps in the just-ended legislative session to improve the lives of some of the state’s most vulnerable people. Lawmakers allotted $900,000 more in the 2016 state budget to help Georgians with disabilities prepare for jobs and added more than $25 million to better protect children. Also significant is something left undone. Lawmakers didn’t put any money behind a misguided program to put ID photos on electronic cards used by food stamp recipients. The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute weighed in during the debate preceding each of these decisions.
- GBPI reported in 2013 that Georgians with disabilities missed out on more than $92 million in federal grants between 2009 and 2012. Drastic cuts to state funding for vocational rehabilitation services, including counseling and specialized job training, led Georgia to leave available federal funding untapped. For every $1 the state spends on most vocational rehabilitation services, the federal grant provides about $4 in return, up to a limit based on Georgia’s population and per-person income.
At the start of the 2015 legislative session, the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency estimated the state needed an additional $7.6 million of its money to fully leverage the federal share. The $900,000 lawmakers approved gets Georgia closer to maximizing available federal funding.
- GBPI sounded the alarm throughout the recession and recovery about ways cuts to child welfare funding affected the Georgia Department of Human Services’ ability to adequately protect children. After the Gov. Nathan Deal formed his Child Welfare Reform Council, legislators added more than $25 million to better serve child victims of abuse, abandonment and neglect. The 2016 budget addition included $12.5 million to support 278 more child protective services workers, $5.8 million for recruitment and training of foster parents, and $5 million to implement career ladders and performance-based salary increases for caseworkers and supervisors.
- State leaders also held off spending $7.8 million to put ID photos on electronic cards used by food stamp recipients. State officials requested this money to implement one of the requirements of HB 772, a bill passed by the 2014 General Assembly. GBPI argued against wasting money this way, explaining photo IDs are not an effective means to prevent fraud.
Federal law says seniors, people with disabilities and other food stamp recipients who struggle to get to the store are allowed to designate someone outside their household to shop for them. Cashiers aren’t likely to know if a person presenting a card with someone else’s photo ID is helping a home-bound senior or committing fraud.
Lawmakers found ways this year to improve chances for a better life for people with disabilities, children and the poor. Sometimes improvement results from actions like funding needed initiatives and other times it means setting aside the misguided ones, like the food stamp photo IDs.
GBPI takes seriously its role as an independent voice speaking up for vulnerable Georgians when state budget decisions are debated and will remain vigilant when lawmakers return to the Gold Dome in 2016.