Poverty Agenda 2021 | 5 policy prescriptions to reduce poverty in Georgia

Poverty Agenda 2021 | 5 policy prescriptions to reduce poverty in Georgia

Poverty Agenda 2021 | 5 policy prescriptions to reduce poverty in Georgia

As the Georgia Legislature reconvenes next week, the Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) is calling on lawmakers to make poverty-fighting measures one of their top goals. Along these lines, GCO has released the following 5 recommendations to reduce poverty in Georgia and expand economic mobility:

Civil Asset Forfeiture

GCO produced a report (PDF download) examining Georgia’s civil asset forfeiture procedures. Civil asset forfeiture laws allow for an arrested person’s property to be seized, sold, and the proceeds used for law enforcement purposes, even if a person is not convicted of a crime. Our report makes several recommendations to improve transparency and accountability in this program. GCO will seek to have our recommendations passed into law.

Occupational Licensing

Following up on legislation passed last year benefiting spouses of our brave military personnel, GCO will support legislation to allow many other people who move to Georgia and hold an occupation license to immediately be granted a provisional license. This will allow these new Georgians to immediately go to work and support their families.

Criminal Justice Reform

GCO will support legislation that seeks to remove suspending the driver’s license of a person late on their child support payments. We approach this topic with sensitivity, knowing these payments are meant to support children, but losing a driver’s license impacts the debtor’s ability to work—and thus the ability to pay. There are better ways to hold people accountable for past due child support.

Education Scholarship Accounts

GCO has long supported empowering parents by creating Education Scholarship Accounts (ESAs). We will support such legislation again this year. ESAs take the state portions of a child’s education funds and allow parents to seek other educational pathways for their child. This is especially important in the time of COVID-19, where face-to-face instruction is limited but still extremely important to a child’s development.

Special Needs Scholarship Program

Last year, GCO championed legislation to fix a loophole in Georgia’s Special Needs Scholarship Program that has been keeping thousands of otherwise eligible children out of the program. The legislation passed the Georgia Senate, but was sidelined when the pandemic hit our state. We will work to see this legislation pass both Legislative Chambers and be signed successfully by Governor Kemp this year.

The GCO team will keep you updated throughout the session as we work on these priorities. Keep up with us on Facebook or Twitter for regular updates and be sure to join us for Get Buzz’d a live update on Facebook from our VP of Policy, Buzz Brockway. Buzz shares his insight into how policies will impact your everyday life.

The Pandemic Doubles the Food Stamp Program Part 1

The Pandemic Doubles the Food Stamp Program Part 1

The Pandemic Doubles the Food Stamp Program

Part 1

By Erik Randolph

The monthly spending for food stamp benefits in Georgia nearly doubled since before the start of the pandemic. Surprisingly, only 45.3 percent of the increased spending is due to increased participation. The remaining 54.7 percent is due to enhanced benefits.

Congress Makes a New Food Stamp Rule

On March 18th, the U.S. Senate passed H.R. 6201 that the U.S. House of Representative passed just four days prior. President Donald J. Trump signed the bill that same day, making the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (P.L. 116-127) the second federal law to address the looming pandemic. 

The food stamp provisions in the law suspended work and work-training requirements and allowed states to request waivers to give recipients the maximum allotment for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the official name of the food stamp program. 

Along with all other states, Georgia requested and received a pandemic-SNAP waiver—P-SNAP for short. P-SNAP lasts as long as there is a declared health emergency by the Secretary of Health and Human Services, and the waivers are renewed on a monthly basis.

Here is what it means in practice: Currently, all households of the same size receive the exact same food stamp allotment. An eligible single mom with one child receives $374 a month in food stamp benefits, the same amount as every other eligible two-person household in Georgia, no matter what income the household earns. It does not matter if the single mom has no income or makes $22,400 annually, which is just below the gross income limit. She still receives $374 each month in benefits. 

Likewise, an eligible four-person household currently receives $680 each month no matter if the household has no income or $34,000 in income, which is also just below the gross income limit.

During normal times, DFCS calculates net income of the household by subtracting several deductions and allowances from a household’s gross income. Then, to determine the amount of the benefit, DFCS subtracts 30 percent of the calculated net income from the maximum allotment. 

Benefits and Costs 

The number of Georgia households participating in the food stamp program was 626,808 in February 2020. As of September, that total was 905,949 households—a 44.5 percent increase. The number of persons participating increased from 1,342,624 to 1,862,486 for a 38.7 percent increase. 

The regular issuance of food stamp benefits followed the increase in household participation. It increased from $163,247,601 to $236,170,166—a 44.7 percent increase. Although the average fluctuated as much as $10.58 on a month-to-month basis, the average household benefit was $260.44 in February compared to $260.69 in September, which are almost identical. 

However, P-SNAP enhanced the size of the payments to the participants. When combined with the regular issuance, the total benefits in September were $324,169,118 for a 98.6 percent increase, increasing the average household benefit to $357.82. Note that these numbers do not include $100,385,379 for free and reduced price school lunches in September that were funneled through the Electronic Benefit Transfer cards that are used to issue the food stamp benefits. 

Pandemic doubles food stamps image (2)

Was this the Best Way to Do it?

Note that Congress did not allow the states to expand the number of participants beyond the normal eligibility criteria for the program. The P-SNAP benefits of $581,085,040 spent since March were spent on those who would have normally qualified for the benefits.

Consequently, the households who benefited the most from the extra funding were those households with the higher incomes just under the eligibility limits. My next blog will show in greater detail how P-SNAP caused the welfare cliff to jump in magnitude.

In the meantime, if you have an opinion on whether this was a fair way to allocate extra funding for food stamps, be sure to let us know in the comments below.

 

Erik Randolph is Director of Research at the Georgia Center for Opportunity. This blog reflects his opinion and not necessarily that of the Georgia Center for Opportunity.

GCO reflects on the passing of Rep. John Lewis

GCO reflects on the passing of Rep. John Lewis

GCO reflects on the passing of Rep. John Lewis

 

 

By Georgia Center for Opportunity

 

The Georgia Center for Opportunity team was saddened to learn of the passing of U.S. Rep. John Lewis on July 17. Rep. Lewis served Georgia’s 5th congressional district from 1987 until the time of his passing this year. Rep. Lewis was a crucial figure in the civil rights movement of the 1960s—during the 1965 march across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, he was beaten so badly by police that he was hospitalized.

 

Even though Rep. Lewis’ policy prescriptions did not always align with those of GCO, we commend his years of service fighting for equal justice and the chance for all Americans to thrive and prosper. Here are selected reflections from GCO staff members on the life and legacy of John Lewis.

 

Randy Hicks, president and CEO: “John Lewis was a warrior for justice, frequently calling America to live up to its lofty, well-articulated principles. We join with so many others across the state of Georgia and the country in mourning the loss of a man who committed his life to making America better.”

 

Joyce Mayberry, vice president of family formation: “The way civil rights icon and Georgia Congressman John Lewis lived his life was the epitome of impact. He forever changed my life and the lives of so many others. While I never got the chance to personally thank him, hopefully my personal decision to serve my community daily is an action that would have received his approval. Rest in peace, sir.”

 

Buzz Brockway, vice president of public policy: “I am sad that John Lewis passed away. He had courage to stand for what he believed in, even when he knew he would be beaten and he was putting his life in jeopardy. It’s easy to say we have that kind of courage, but he proved it. I’m glad I got the chance to shake his hand. Prayers for his family and friends.”

 

Jamie Lord, director of government affairs: I met John Lewis only once. Though shorter in stature, he loomed large. He was a sort of North Star in the moral quest for justice and equality. Before he was even born, I bought my son Congressman Lewis’ graphic memoir, March. I can only hope Lewis’ story helps inspire my son as it has inspired me. I hope he comes to live, as Lewis did, demonstrating a love of others, a commitment to justice and the bravery to put his very life on the line standing up for what is right. He really was one of the best of us and even in his passing he challenges me to be better, to do more.”


Highlighting Legislation Passed in the 2020 Georgia Legislative Session

Highlighting Legislation Passed in the 2020 Georgia Legislative Session

Highlighting Legislation Passed in the 2020 Georgia Legislative Session

By Buzz Brockway

 Ordinarily, the Georgia Legislature would have wrapped up its 40-day legislative session by the end of March. But 2020 is no ordinary year. As the pandemic spread, the Legislature suspended its session in mid-March with no return date announced. Eventually, lawmakers reconvened with 11 legislative days left to address a plethora of issues.

 

Looming large was the fiscal year 2021 budget, and as you can imagine, the budget outlook was much different in June than in March. State revenues plunged due to the shutdown and budget writers scrambled to decide the best path forward. After tapping into the state’s rainy-day fund, lawmakers passed a budget with 10 percent  cuts, approximately $2.2 billion smaller than originally proposed. No state department was spared, but some departments—like education—received smaller cuts than other departments. 

 

Apart from the budget, perhaps the issue that garnered the most attention was a hate crimes bill, HB 426. The murder of Ahmuad Arbery in Brunswick, GA, as well as the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police, created a political situation where ignoring this issue was impossible. Georgia previously had a hate crimes law that was declared unconstitutional by the State Supreme Court. HB 426, now signed into law by Governor Kemp, provides sentence enhancements after a person has been convicted of certain crimes motivated by bias against defined groups of people.

 

Two pieces of legislation we at the Georgia Center of Opportunity actively supported passed both houses and await the Governor’s signature. SB 288 allows a person convicted of certain non-violent misdemeanors, who have kept a clean record for a specific length of time, to seek to have those records restricted. This will allow these folks to have a better chance of employment. Another bill meant to assist people obtaining a job is HB 914. This bill will provide a temporary occupational license to spouses of members of the armed forces who move to Georgia. Georgia has a large number of military installations, so many people will benefit from this bill.

 

Other legislation of interest includes HB 888, which seeks to prevent “surprise billing.” A “surprise bill” occurs when an out-of-network physician treats a patient. These bills can become quite large. It is hoped this legislation will prevent this situation from occurring again. 

 

More progress was made in the fight against human trafficking as HB 823 and SB 435 passed.  HB 823 would prevent a truckdriver convicted of human trafficking of ever holding a commercial driver’s license again in Georgia. SB 435, known as the “Debbie Vance Act,” would allow a person convicted of trafficking to have their conviction vacated if they can prove they were a victim of human trafficking. 

 

Foster parents will be allowed to arrange for short-term babysitting under HB 912, which awaits the Governor’s signature. 

 

Government transparency and accountability got a boost with the passage of HB 1037. This bill would require audits on production companies seeking to take advantage of Georgia’s film tax credit. An audit earlier in the year revealed oversite problems in this very large tax credit. Price transparency for non-emergency medical services is the subject of SB 303, which was sent to the Governor’s desk. Empowering patients with pricing information can help lower costs for shopping of these non-emergency services. 

 

Despite the strange nature of the 2020 Legislative Session, many things were accomplished. The Georgia Center for Opportunity will continue to work hard to advance legislation to increase educational opportunity, knock down barriers to employment, and strengthen families. We look forward to continuing this effort in the next legislative session. 

 

 

 

We are driven by a belief – supported by experience and research- that people from all walks of life are more likely to flourish if they have an access to quality eduction, fulfilling employment, and live within healthy families. See what policy issues we’re working on to break down barriers and create pathways for all Georgians to flourish. 

Visit our Policy Solutions Initiative

The Untold Story of Georgia’s Primary Elections

The Untold Story of Georgia’s Primary Elections

Georgia made national headlines after Tuesday’s primary elections. Most of the coverage focused on long lines, mail-in ballots, new voting machines, and results that were not finalized until the wee hours of the morning. (In fact, some results are still pending). 

There were some high profile contests, including a couple of congressional races. Every member of Georgia’s General Assembly (except, of course, for those retiring) were also on the ballot. 

But there was one outcome of Tuesday’s election that you’ve likely heard nothing about.

Both parties have the ability to put non-binding referendum questions on their respective primary ballots. While the results of these questions have no force of law, it is a great way to test voter opinion on various policy ideas. The results are far more accurate than a poll and can help parties and candidates understand the will of the super voters among the electorate.

This year, Republicans included the following as ballot question #1: “Should Georgia lawmakers expand educational options by allowing a student’s state education dollars to follow to the school that best fits their needs, whether that is public, private, magnet, charter, virtual or homeschool?”

The results were overwhelming: as of this writing (results are still coming in), more than 73 percent of voters said “yes.” In fact, the question had majority support in every single one of Georgia’s 159 counties, destroying a common narrative that rural voters don’t support school choice. In all but 12 counties, support was over  two-thirds. In many cases, the ballot question will ultimately receive more support than the Senate or House member representing the district. 

You might be tempted to argue that this only speaks to support for educational options among Republicans. And while the Democratic Party of Georgia didn’t include this question on their primary ballots, making an apples-to-apples comparison impossible, other polling in the state consistently shows support for school choice among all Demographics—Republicans, Democrats, rural, urban, young, old, men, and women. 

Even an AJC poll, worded in such a way as to be biased in the negative, found that 61 percent  of voters supported school choice, even when warned that it might “undercut public school funding.”

During the COVID-19 pandemic and resulting school closures, many families were forced into alternative ways of schooling for the first time ever. Families’ experience with how traditional public schools handled the shift to distance learning was mixed and inconsistent. Some schools and teachers excelled, ensuring students did not lose out on learning. Others threw their hands up  early, and kids have suffered. 

In the aftermath of these experiences, and in light of all the uncertainty facing a reopening of traditional public schools in the fall, many families have begun searching for alternatives–virtual education programs, private schools, and innovative public charter schools. 

But will public policy change to support these students who need something outside of the traditional model of education? So far, CARES Act relief has focused millions of dollars to the state Department of Education, local districts, and traditional public schools. Nothing to date has been offered to families whose students fell behind, need to play “catch-up” over the summer, or need a different environment when school returns in the fall. 

If legislators and state leaders are paying attention, that should change.

In recent years, there has been a reluctance on the part of legislators to expand existing school choice programs or create new ones. Usually, the argument goes that it will not be politically expedient to do so. 

Legislators might be dismissive of polling, but if they ignore actual voters who went all the way to the end of the ballot and chose to say “yes” when asked if money should follow the child to the best school for them, it could ultimately be at their own peril. 

Now that voters have spoken—clearly and specifically—how will legislators respond? Will they listen to the will of those who elected them? Elected officials (or those who wish to be elected in the future) have the ultimate opportunity for a win-win: they can give kids the educational opportunities they need and deserve while giving voters what they support and demand.

 

 

 

Policy Update: What will schools look like in the fall? | VIDEO

Policy Update: What will schools look like in the fall? | VIDEO

Policy Update: What will schools look like in the fall? | VIDEO

GCO’s Vice President of Public Policy, Buzz Brockway is joined by GCO’s Jamie Lord to discuss the Georgia Governor’s suggestions for returning to school in the Fall. While these are merely suggestions, and schools will be able to choose their plans by district, these new guidelines paint a picture of what school in Georgia could look like in light of Coronavirus.