Work requirements drop thousands in Georgia from food stamps

More than half of food stamp recipients in 21 Georgia counties have been dropped from the program after the state instituted work requirements.

State figures released this week revealed that 11,779 people considered able-bodied without children were required to find work by April 1 to continue receiving food stamps, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. Sixty-two percent were dropped after the deadline, whittling the number of recipients to 4,528.

State officials began enforcing the work mandate in 2016, and plan to expand work requirements to all 159 counties by 2019. About 1.6 million Georgia residents use food stamps, which are funded with federal dollars managed by the state Department of Family and Children Services. The number of food stamp recipients deemed able-bodied and without children in Georgia has dropped from 111,000 to 89,500 in a year, a drop that state officials believe is attributed to a statewide review of the population.

Reactions to the expansion of work requirements largely divide on political lines. Conservatives, nationally, have pushed for more welfare-to-work initiatives after the Great Recession put the federal mandate on hold.

Benita Dodd, the vice president of the fiscally conservative Georgia Public Policy Foundation, said the work mandate pushes people into jobs.

“It does show that if you give people an incentive to help themselves, they can become productive citizens,” Dodd said.

Progressives have criticized the policy as cruel for targeting access to food.

Melissa Johnson, a senior policy analyst for the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute says food stamps are “a meager benefit” as is, at about $129 a month in Georgia, and said time limits will inflict more harm on the assistance-seeking population.

The state also has drawn criticism for improperly deeming those with physical and mental limitation as able-bodied. The state first implemented the work requirements in Cobb, Gwinnett and Hall counties, giving recipients three months’ notice. State officials later acknowledged that hundreds of people in the three counties who were classified as able-bodied were actually unable to work. Several had already lost their food stamps.

DCFS spokeswoman Mary Beth Lukich said the department, which has a $505,706 contract with Goodwill of North Georgia for employment assistance services, has offered help with job search and training to affected recipients.

“The agency has many services to offer (them), but many have chosen not to respond to multiple notices,” Lukich said.

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