How to Take Away Something Positive from the COVID Crisis

How to Take Away Something Positive from the COVID Crisis

How to Take Away Something Positive from the COVID Crisis

By Kristin Barker

The year 2020 has been difficult for everyone. It has caused organizations and businesses to pivot from their planned strategies and shift quickly to identify new ones. It has forced individuals to find new career paths and create new support structures. It’s kept us from our families and isolated us from the communities we are used to counting on. In short, it has been one tough year.

It has been the most difficult year I have seen over my lifetime. But I will say it has also been inspiring. I have been inspired by the ability of our community and its leaders to come together. Leadership in Columbus has been able to connect in new and sometimes surprising ways to support and meet continually changing needs. 

Betsy Covington at the Community Foundation and Ben Moser at United Way acted very early in the year to coordinate COVID Response calls to keep Columbus connected, positive, and focused throughout much of this crisis year. Their efforts and the efforts of others to join hands and find out-of-the-box solutions in the moment has been very encouraging.

While seeing these efforts gives hope to myself and (I’m sure) to others, our Hiring Well, Doing Good (HWDG) partners also know there will be many additional challenges to address and emerging issues to tackle in the future. We began to talk about the shifts that were happening with our own efforts in Columbus. We heard about the new practices that our business and nonprofit partners were having to adopt and the heightened needs that continue to arise among the populations we serve. 

Our subcommittees began to ask, “What can we learn from our ability to pivot in 2020 that will allow us to react more effectively and responsively in 2021?” This question led us to develop a series of events focused on The Changing COVID Workforce

Our first event in this series will be held on January 21, 2021. This event will address Economic Forces During a Pandemic: How COVID is Shaping the Labor Market. During this event we examine the labor-supply gaps that exist and look at business policies and practices that impact workforce participation. This discussion will set the stage for later events and will consider the need for possible shifts in training and hiring practices. 

Our second event in the series will be on March 24 and will examine how we leverage our community assets to mitigate the impact of COVID. Betsy Covington and Ben Moser are going to speak during this event and help us think through what our community did really well in 2020. We will discuss how we can leverage what we have learned to navigate 2021 and to improve our community in the future. The final event on May 19 will focus on maintaining the strength of our workforce.

All three of these discussions will help us prepare to successfully repair our local economy in light of the COVID-related adjustments we have been forced to make along the way. We need to be sure that businesses (large and small) can prosper while keeping all people in our community safe and avoiding as much collateral damage from this virus as possible. 

There are also some existing issues that COVID has shined a light on. In comparison to other areas of the country, Columbus has very low average wages. This has created a situation locally where national stimulus efforts may harm our local economy disproportionately. In some cases, businesses have shared that their challenges in hiring additional labor have hamstrung their efforts to produce at scale or accept additional contracts. In other cases, employers have had to scale down production due to workforce restrictions. These situations open up an essential conversation about both average and living wages in Columbus, because it’s important for everyone to earn enough to support their families.

Ultimately, I see a heart at work in our community that is something I don’t believe you can find everywhere. There is a genuine and pervasive desire to work together for the common good. This is something special about Columbus, and I believe the Changing COVID Workforce event series will allow us to take greater advantage of our outstanding community spirit.


Vulnerable kids have been hardest hit by COVID-19 learning losses. We need to get educational options to their families

Vulnerable kids have been hardest hit by COVID-19 learning losses. We need to get educational options to their families

Vulnerable kids have been hardest hit by COVID-19 learning losses. We need to get educational options to their families

By David Bass

There has been much focus—and rightly so—on the nearly 370,000 victims of the COVID-19 pandemic in the U.S., plus the millions more who have been touched by this terrible disease in some way

What hasn’t gotten as much attention are the unseen victims of the pandemic: The tens of millions of low-income, vulnerable students who have experienced devastating learning losses due to school closures and lack of educational options.

Highlighting this disturbing trend, McKinsey & Company recently put out an assessment of student learning outcomes during COVID-19 school closures. The results are bleak: Students of color are about three to five months behind in learning, while white students are one to three months behind.


Worsening educational inequities 

The sad reality is that virtual learning tends to favor wealthier, whiter families who have access to the types of resources needed to make this environment successful. Families of means have the resources to purchase whatever educational resources they deem necessary—from private-school tuition to individual tutors to new equipment to having one parent cut back their work hours in order to serve as a learning facilitator at home. 

 Low-income families don’t have these options. Many of them lack access to even basic reliable Internet or a desktop or laptop computer, not to mention a quiet place to learn and active parental involvement.


More options needed right now

A common refrain here at the Georgia Center for Opportunity when it comes to education is this: We can’t afford to wait another date to bring real options to Georgia students. The COVID-19 pandemic has only added to the urgency.

2020 has come and gone, and sadly it is too late to stem the tide of learning losses for our most vulnerable populations. But we can do new things in 2021 to help struggling students.

It begins by providing access to the widest range of educational options possible—to give immediate access to these options for all families regardless of income, zip code, or race. That option might look like a locally zoned public school, a charter school, a private school, or a home school. 

Some parents feel most comfortable keeping their children home in an exclusively virtual learning environment. Others want their kids back in school full-time. The need is for options, not top-down declarations or one-size-fits-all approaches. This means that schools must reopen for families who feel comfortable returning their children to in-classroom instruction.

If our goal is truly to achieve educational equity regardless of income or neighborhood, then expanded options are essential, now more than ever.


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.

As Georgia heads toward a pair of runoff elections for U.S. Senate, what happened to basic civility?

As Georgia heads toward a pair of runoff elections for U.S. Senate, what happened to basic civility?

As Georgia heads toward a pair of runoff elections for U.S. Senate, what happened to basic civility?

By David Bass

Where’s the Christmas cheer? 


That’s what I find myself asking as I look at all of the bitter partisan rancor surrounding Georgia’s pair of runoff elections for two U.S. Senate races. Civility has definitely taken a backseat to rage and bitterness this month in the Peach State as we march toward January 5, election day for the runoff (although early voting has already begun).


In the two races, incumbent Republican senators David Perdue and Kelly Loeffler face challenges from Democrats Jon Ossoff and Raphael Warnock. The two races are the most important in recent memory because their outcome will determine whether Republicans or Democrats control the Senate beginning in 2021.


Here’s what’s getting lost amid all the political squabbling: When the dust settles and winners are declared, both sides will need to come together to work on solutions to our country’s challenges. But if we lose our dignity and sense of purpose in an effort to get our candidate elected, that kind of cooperation is far more challenging. Ultimately in that type of scenario, we will have lost regardless of the electoral outcome.


What’s more, it’s important to remember that our problems won’t magically disappear after the January 5 runoff. Thinking so is to believe that elected officials hold the absolute power to solve our problems. They don’t. 


The fact of the matter is that peoples’ lives meaningfully improve locally when neighbors help neighbors. That’s the key: Our neighbors, whom we’re treating so poorly right now in this election fight, will still be there after we know the election results. We’ll still need to love them, help them, to build better neighborhoods, communities, and ultimately a better Georgia.


That is a fundamental value of the team here at the Georgia Center for Opportunity. We put the dignity of people far above temporary election wins. We realize that in-fighting and partisan squabbling hurts people, when we should be looking for ways to cross the aisle to cooperate in an effort to reduce poverty, expand economic mobility, increase access to quality education options for all families, help people succeed in their relationships and families, and connect people with meaningful work.


We must remember the humanity of other people. We must understand that a difference of opinion does not diminish our inherent worth as human beings worthy of respect. We’re encouraging all Georgians to go vote in these crucial runoff elections, but don’t cast your ballot and call it a day. Let’s practice the Golden Rule: Loving our neighbors regardless of their politics and looking for ways to work together to find common solutions to the challenges we face.


In the end, I realize that Christmas cheer is alive and well across Georgia, evident in everyday acts of kindness, charity, and goodwill. We’ll still be helping our neighbors in the weeks leading up to January 5, and we’ll continue helping them in the weeks, months, and years that follow.


Managing Stress | HEALTHY @ HOME

Managing Stress | HEALTHY @ HOME

Managing Stress | HEALTHY @ HOME

As if the holidays weren’t enough, we’re now in the midst of another surge in the Coronavirus pandemic. 2020 has been stressful. Join licensed professional counselor, Janae Combs, as she gives us some practical advice and tips for managing stress in a healthy way.

To learn more about the Healthy @ Home series and see additional videos click here

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 intact, healthy family and strong relationships.


To learn more about how the Healthy Families Initiative is active in the community, click here

The Pandemic Doubles the Food Stamp Program Part 2

The Pandemic Doubles the Food Stamp Program Part 2

The Pandemic Doubles the Food Stamp Program

Part 2

By Erik Randolph

It has been said that haste makes waste. Apparently, this saying also applies to legislation.

Back in March with the pandemic looming, Congress quickly passed major legislation to address the pain of the pandemic. It was well known at the time that the quickness by which the pandemic legislation became law would lead to mistakes and inefficiencies. Here is just one of them.

The Food Stamp Cliff

My last blog highlighted the new food stamps rule created by Congress to address the pandemic. I hinted at how it made welfare cliffs worse.

Welfare cliffs, also known as benefits cliffs, show up whenever a loss in benefits exceeds an increase in earnings. These cliffs are disincentives for earning more money and can show up in tax and welfare programs individually or in combination. 

When it comes to the food stamp program, our research shows that normally these cliffs are fickle. Whether a cliff occurs for a family depends on several factors. In some cases, such as when there is an elderly or disabled member of the household, there are no welfare cliffs. However, if the household has no member who is disabled or elderly and especially receives the maximum deductions and allowances, there can be significant cliffs.

Now with the pandemic food stamp program, all households have cliffs—and they are steeper than ever before.

The table below shows the cliffs for households up to six6 persons when no member of the household is disabled or elderly. The benefit amounts stay the same no matter what income a household receives. Therefore, any household over the gross income limit—even just one dollar over the limit—would lose the entire benefit no matter what level of income it had prior to its income exceeding the limit.


Food Stamps Double - Cliff Table 2

Households with an elderly or a disabled member also have cliffs of the same magnitude. However, the gross income level when they hit the cliffs varies depending on the net income calculations, but in every case, these levels would be greater than the gross income limits listed in the table. 

From March 2020 to August 2020, these cliffs were immaterial because the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services (DFCS) received permission from the Federal government to extend eligibility certification for six months. In practice, this meant that those households no longer qualifying for benefits were allowed to stay in the program. 

However, DFCS began processing renewals again in September, and now households gaining in earnings can find themselves faced with the cliffs at the magnitudes displayed in the table.

What was Congress thinking? 

The food stamp changes were part of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act (P.L. 116-127), which had overwhelming bipartisan support. With the legislation, Congress intended to ensure the physical and financial security of families.

One concern was access to food. Congress wanted to make more food available through the food stamp program. Fair enough. 

However, changing the rule so that every household participating in the program gets the maximum allowable benefit was crude and blunt. It guaranteed steep welfare cliffs across the board. A single-parent household with one child earning $1,868  a month would lose $374 in monthly benefits if the parent received just one dollar more in income. 

The action also favored wealthier participants. A four-person household with $2,839 in monthly income gets $680, which is exactly the same amount received by a four-person household with no income despite being more vulnerable. 


Four Person Household Food Stamp Benefits

Congress did not have to be so crude and blunt in its approach. Just as easily, Congress could have simply increased the maximum allotment. This action would have spread out the extra funding across all incomes more evenly among the participants. 

Congress could have also been more daring by simultaneously increasing the gross income limit, making any potential cliffs less severe.

The dilemma 

Perhaps Congress chose not to consider these two easy alternatives because key members believed it would be too difficult to roll back the enhanced benefits once the pandemic is finally over. 

There is probably some truth to this fear. However, we do not escape the political difficulty. My next blog will focus on the coming food stamp crisis. 

If you have experience with the food stamp cliff, we would like to hear from you. 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.


Based on the most recent 2015 data, this report provides an in-depth look at the welfare cliffs across the state of Georgia. A computer model was created to demonstrate how welfare programs, alone or in combination with other programs, create multiple welfare cliffs for recipients that punish work. In addition to covering a dozen programs – more than any previous model – the tool used to produce the following report allows users to see how the welfare cliff affects individuals and families with very specific characteristics, including the age and sex of the parent, number of children, age of children, income, and other variables. Welfare reform conversations often lack a complete understanding of just how means-tested programs actually inflict harm on some of the neediest within our state’s communities.