Tens of thousands of Georgians risk losing food aid because of state's new labor rules • Georgia Recorder

Food aid advocates claim that a Georgia agency's refusal to apply for federal work exemption is putting thousands of Georgians at risk of losing much-needed monthly food payments.

As of July 1, more than 87,000 adults without children in Georgia must work at least 80 hours per month to receive benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as food stamps. The policy change comes after the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services declined to request a temporary waiver from the U.S. Department of Agriculture of work guidelines that had been suspended since March 2020 during the public health emergency.

The Disabled Adults Without Dependents program requires participants to work at least 20 hours per week, enroll in vocational training, or perform state-recognized volunteer work. Participants who fail to meet these standards for three consecutive months will be ineligible for further food stamps for an additional three years.

Proponents of compulsory work see it as an incentive for adults to put up some equity to earn the benefits that help keep the family fed. But Ife Finch Floyd, director of economic justice at the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, says the state's Family and Children Services is reversing a longstanding policy while ignoring research that minimizes the motivational effects of mandatory work hours.

Floyd says that since the Great Recession, officially counted as late 2007 through June 2009, Georgia has sought waivers from the federal government that suspended work rules for areas where jobs were difficult to find. Georgians who have jobs with inconsistent schedules and work an average of 70 hours per month would be excluded from the federal program after three months.

“There were certainly many difficult economic conditions across the states during the Great Recession, but even as the overall economy improved, some counties still struggled,” Floyd said.

“What concerns us is that unemployed people, people who are underemployed, are at risk of losing benefits if they have difficulty meeting those work requirements,” she said.

In a response to a question about the decision not to apply for the waiver, a spokeswoman for the Georgia Department of Human Services' Division of Family and Children Services pointed out that federal law limits the waiver to areas where the unemployment rate is above 10 percent or this is otherwise not the case, there are a sufficient number of workstations.

Georgia's statewide unemployment rate was 3.2% in June, below the national average of 3.6%. Before declaring a public health emergency in spring 2020, Georgia routinely requested waivers for dozens of counties with unemployment rates above 20% over a 24-month period.

Over a one-year period ending in May, average unemployment rates in several counties were at least 4.3%, exceeding the 20% threshold.

The maximum monthly allowance for the SNAP disability program is based on the household's monthly income. A single-person household receives up to $281 per month.

The state offers a variety of job training programs and educational opportunities that count toward work requirements and improve SNAP recipients' chances of finding employment, the state agency said.

“The goal of the program is to help all SNAP recipients who are unemployed or underemployed find a well-paying job that frees them from dependence on public assistance programs,” DHS spokeswoman Kylie Winton wrote in an email. Mail.

The changes to Georgia's able-bodied adult program also coincide with major adjustments on the horizon from Congress, which has passed legislation Tax Responsibility Law June will address additional work requirements for adults ages 18 to 55 without dependents.

The new law also exempts veterans, people experiencing homelessness and those under age 24 who are transitioning out of the foster care system from the workload policy

Starting this fall, the age at which the deadlines must be met will increase until it reaches 55 in 2025.

Catherine Buhrig, USDA's deputy administrator for SNAP benefits, recently briefed federal food assistance directors on the upcoming changes. In the letter dated June 30thShe urged states to update their policy documents, train staff, work with other agencies and meet directly with potentially affected families.

“Implementing these provisions requires state agencies to make extensive changes in a short period of time,” Buhrig wrote.

One of the groups calling for restricting the SNAP program for able-bodied adults is the conservative American public policy think tank the Foundation for Government Accountability.

According to the foundation, many states have used the system over the years to exempt as many counties as possible from the work requirement. According to a research report, about four million people took part in the program this spring, and three-quarters of participants were unemployed published by the foundation in May.

“States have used loopholes and gimmicks to waive congressionally enacted work requirements, even in areas with record-low unemployment,” the report said.

Charles Bliss, advocacy director for the Atlanta Legal Aid Society, said understanding the requirements for each SNAP program can become so complicated that many people don't understand what's happening or why their benefits are being cut off.

Atlanta Legal Aid provides free civil legal services to low-income people throughout the metro area. Most of the problems Georgians face with the state related to food assistance programs are related to administrative issues such as paperwork and coordinating interviews, Bliss said.

But he fears the mandatory work requirement could have unintended consequences.

“ThThe real problem is that it doesn’t really help get more people to work,” Bliss said. “It just does more to cut people off from welfare.”