Criminal records expungement expansion in Georgia takes effect Jan. 1 | The Center Square

Criminal records expungement expansion in Georgia takes effect Jan. 1 | The Center Square

Criminal records expungement expansion in Georgia takes effect Jan. 1 | The Center Square

Millions of Georgians will start the new year with a second chance. 

A new law that increases the number of criminal records that can be sealed takes effect Friday. The law, the result of Senate Bill 288, allows certain misdemeanors and nonviolent felonies to qualify for expungement.

“It is vital that we continue to reform Georgia’s criminal justice system so that reformation and reintegration is the goal, and not just punishment,” said Corey Burres, GCO’s vice president of communications. “With SB 288, we are making real efforts to help past offenders access opportunities that may not be available to them due to their criminal record.”

“We are encouraged that thousands will no longer be held back by their criminal record and will be able to find the dignity of work,” Burres said. “We must continue down this path and remove the barriers that oftentimes drive returning citizens to a place of hopelessness and lead to re-offending.”

 

Read the full article 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.

DISINCENTIVES FOR WORK AND MARRIAGE IN GEORGIA’S WELFARE SYSTEM

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.

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.

Criminal records expungement expansion in Georgia takes effect Jan. 1 | The Center Square

Nonprofit organization offering free job training to Columbus residents | WTVM-9

Nonprofit organization offering free job training to Columbus residents | WTVM-9

COLUMBUS, Ga. (WTVM) – As many continue to deal with unemployment, a local nonprofit has created a program to help people wanting to get back to work.

 

Under the Hiring Well, Doing Good program, the Georgia Center for Opportunity is offering something free called ‘Marketing Yourself’ training. The training is offered virtually and in person.

 

The goal is to help people who may have trouble finding good employment. The training includes what employers care about, mastering interviews, showing your strengths, and dressing for success….

Full story and video available at WTVM-9

 

Criminal records expungement expansion in Georgia takes effect Jan. 1 | The Center Square

Op-Ed: We don’t need to rely on elections to do good in our communities

Op-Ed: We don’t need to rely on elections to do good in our communities

This election season has been the most rancorous of our lifetimes. Is anyone surprised? We’ve come to expect the unexpected in 2020, a year that has seen searing social strife, suffering and pain through the COVID-19 pandemic. Our political and social fabric is badly damaged.

But in the midst of a chaotic political season and the suffering of so many, I’m reminded of this simple truth: the most impactful changes occur in our homes, neighborhoods, and communities. It is a model we live our lives by each and every day at my organization, the Georgia Center for Opportunity. We know the role of government is important, but it is in our communities where lives are formed and, when things go badly, where lives are transformed. And it’s there that neighbors, businesses, communities of faith, schools and nonprofits can come together in local unified action.

Politics and policy do matter, but ultimately they are not the main driving force that moves the needle when it comes to people’s lives. That must come from you and me, rolling up sleeves and working alongside others who may or may not have voted like we did, but who share a belief that everyone deserves the opportunity to achieve a better life, regardless of their race, the circumstances of birth, or past mistakes.

I’m thinking of women like Latesha Jackson, a Columbus native and single mother of four. She struggled for years in poverty, cycling between periods of unemployment and low-paying jobs in the service sector before a local cooperative of nonprofits, businesses, and schools known as Hiring Well, Doing Good helped put her on the path to a four-year degree.

My mind also goes to men like Kevin Johnson, a convicted felon who was looking for a second chance after paying his debt to society and spending years behind bars. He found it with Columbus Water Works, a company that has as a core value the need to give second chances. Kevin is now employed there and has hope for a better future.

My challenge to my fellow Georgians is this: what steps can we take today to begin impacting our neighbors for good and healing our national wounds? Don’t think about what government should or shouldn’t do. Think about what you can do. Because in the end, no one needs to wait for election results or government action in order to serve their communities. And no one needs to let election results keep them from doing good on behalf of others.

The road won’t be easy. It will take hard work. It’s far easier to stay in our silos and echo chambers, harshly judging our political enemies. But the far better path is one of service, care and compassion that restores human dignity and empowers everyone to live up to their potential.

As we live through the coming days, weeks, and months, let’s let our lives match the high standard set by Georgia’s earliest founders, who took on these timeless words as their motto: not for self, but for others.

Full Article First Appeared in The Center Square

Story: Joyelle got an education, a job, and a promotion. She never expected her success would mean this

Story: Joyelle got an education, a job, and a promotion. She never expected her success would mean this

Story: Joyelle got an education, a job, and a promotion. She never expected her success would mean this. . .

Joyelle never expected to be a position where the very system she thought was a safety net ultimately failed her.

 

After fleeing an abusive relationship, this single mother of four ended up in public housing in Lawrenceville, Georgia. Until that point, Joyelle had never relied on welfare for help. She always paid her rent on time and made ends meet. So, falling back on public housing was an entirely new scenario for her. It was not where or how she wanted to live, or where she wanted her four children to grow up. 

That’s why she was determined to get back on her feet. She graduated from school and was offered a full-time job with the state of Georgia, a career trajectory that put her above the poverty line. Things were looking up. 

“I was excited and grateful,” Joyelle says. “I had worked hard: I started out with the state as a student assistant and worked my way up.”

 

Falling over the benefits cliff

But that’s when Joyelle got a shocking surprise: Due to her new salary, her subsidized housing allowance disappeared and she was forced to pay almost $1,000 a month in rent.

“I was heartbroken,” she says of learning that she was losing her housing subsidy. “You work hard. They tell you to go to school and get a job. You do all these things, and you’re still not able to provide for your family. That’s devastating. I suffer from anxiety. It causes stress. It causes severe depression.”

She now faces the difficult decision of looking to move but being unable to afford apartment rent even with her salary increase.

 

 

Hindering upward mobility

Joyelle encountered what we call the “benefit cliff,” where well-intentioned policies actually prevent people from getting off public services. They make just enough to not qualify for services, but not enough to make up for the services lost in extra income. The result is a system that keeps people trapped in poverty rather than one that propels them toward self-sufficiency and the dignity that comes with it.

“There’s no help for people like me, stuck in the wealth gap,” Joyelle shares. “You have help, but if you help yourself you’re faced with adversities that you shouldn’t be faced with.”

We believe that these services should move people into a prosperous life, not keep them stuck in cycles of dependency. Visit welfarecliff.org to learn more about ways to end benefits cliffs so that more Georgians can prosper.