Craig Schneider, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, May 24, 2017
Thousands of Georgians have lost their food stamps after the state gave them an ultimatum: Get a job or lose your benefits.
Is that good news or bad news? Depends who you talk to. Placing work requirements on food stamps has proven controversial across the country, with opinions often divided along political lines.
Georgia has been rolling out work requirements for food stamp recipients for over a year. The latest round affected some 12,000 people in 21 counties, several in metro Atlanta, who are considered able-bodied without children.
When the April 1 deadline came around for them to find work, more than half — 7,251 — were dropped from the program, according to state figures released this week. Essentially, the number of recipients spiraled down from 11,779 to 4,528, or a drop of 62 percent.
Views on the work mandate vary widely, and intensely. People on the political right see the requirement as a nudge to those who languish on public benefits. But those on the left believe many people who the state deems able-bodied really cannot hold a job due to physical or mental limitations. And they worry these people will suffer without the assistance.
State officials say they plan to expand the work requirements to all 159 counties by 2019, with another 60 coming on board next year.
But state Rep. Greg Morris, a Republican from Vidalia, said the precipitous drop in recipients shows the mandate is working. He believes many of these food stamp recipients have become complacent, if not lazy, about finding a job.
“This is about protecting taxpayer dollars from abuse, and taking people off the cycle of dependency,” Morris said. The big drop in numbers, he added, “shows how tax dollars are abused when it comes to entitlements.”
Food stamps come from federal dollars, but the program here is managed by DFCS. Some 1.6 million Georgians receive food stamps.
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’s time. That is an uncommon reduction of 21,500 people or 19 percent. Officials say they have no firm reason for the sharp decrease, though they suspect a statewide review of this population may have played a role.
The state began implementing the work requirements in 2016 with Cobb, Gwinnett and Hall counties. The state gave recipients there three months to find a job or training program or lose their benefits. A year later, the number of able-bodied, childless adults in those counties diminished 75 percent from 6,102 to 1,490, according to DFCS figures. The state selects counties with relatively low unemployment rates for the work requirements.
President Donald Trump’s new budget plan proposed to cut $192 billion from food stamps over a decade.