Fewer than 4,000 adults in the southern state receive welfare, even as poverty is soaring. How Georgia declared war on its poorest citizens—leaving them to fight for themselves.
When the economy crashed in 2008, millions of Americans lost their jobs. Applications for food stamps soared. So did attendance at emergency food providers—soup kitchens and food pantries—that help the estimated 50 million people, working and non-working, who can’t afford enough groceries to get through the month.
Unlike in past economic downturns, though, the welfare rolls barely budged. Where 15 years ago 68 percent of poor Americans received cash via Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (as welfare was officially renamed in 1996), today only 27 percent of Americans with incomes low enough to qualify for cash benefits receive them. As the New York Times’ Jason DeParle discussed in a front-page article earlier this year, the resulting welfare gap has left at least 4 million families with neither jobs nor cash aid.
The size of the welfare gap, however, varies widely from state to state. In states like California and Maine, which have focused on getting their poor citizens into jobs programs, about two-thirds of those eligible still receive welfare. On the opposite end of the spectrum is Georgia, which over the past decade has set itself up as the poster child for the ongoing war on welfare. Even as unemployment has soared to 9 percent and 300,000 Georgia families now live below the poverty line—50 percent higher than in 2000, for a poverty rate that now ranks sixth in the nation—the number receiving cash benefits has all but evaporated: Only a little over 19,000 families receiving TANF remain, all but 3,400 of which were cases involving children only. That’s less than 7 percent, making Georgia one of the toughest places in the nation to get welfare assistance.