Research & Commentary: Georgia Welfare Reform

Published February 29, 2016

A proposal from State Senator Hunter Hill (Republican – Atlanta) to reform Georgia’s welfare system would implement a cash diversion plan and enact stronger work requirements for some of the state’s welfare programs.

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act, implemented in 1996, ended the national entitlement to welfare for families with dependent children and created Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), a block-grant program granting states the flexibility needed to reform their welfare systems.

In The Heartland Institute’s 2015 Welfare Reform Report Card, Georgia receives an F grade and ranks 44th for its anti-poverty policies. While Georgia has successfully reduced its number of TANF recipients since 1996, its overall poverty rate has continued to increase. According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Small Area Income and Poverty Estimates (SAIPE) data and information from the Annie E. Casey Foundation, Georgia had a 24.2 percent increase in poverty rate from 1996 to 2013.

Proponents of the current welfare system argue many people in poverty need aid from the state, but reformers understand the system requires taxpayers to pick up the bill for failed programs that can destroy opportunities for impoverished citizens.

Strengthening the sanctions regime for failure to participate in work activities and requiring TANF aid recipients to begin work immediately upon receiving benefits would likely cause a substantial increase in work participation in Georgia. That participation would make it more likely recipients would gain the necessary skills to earn an income sufficient for them to leave welfare rolls permanently.

Georgia has failed to follow the lead of 33 other states that have adopted a cash diversion program that allows case workers to make grants to people who need short-term assistance rather than requiring full enrollment in TANF and needlessly creating more dependency.

Georgia has taken measures to reduce its lifetime eligibility limits from 60 months, the highest recommended limit of lifetime eligibility for individuals and families, to 48 months. In recent years, six states have adopted policies limiting access to certain welfare programs to less than 48 months, creating a strong incentive for welfare recipients to prepare for work and accept opportunities when available.

Other states have also increased the integration of welfare and state social services by co-locating service providers, which helps government bureaucracies share information and gives caseworkers more flexibility to direct their clients to the services they need.

Georgia’s current set of welfare and anti-poverty programs disincentivizes work, trapping welfare recipients in long-term poverty. The proposed reforms would improve opportunities for upward mobility and self-sufficiency.

The following documents provide additional information about welfare reform.

Welfare Reform Report Card: A State-by-State Analysis of Anti-Poverty Performance and Welfare Reform Policies
In 2015, The Heartland Institute published an updated version of our Welfare Reform Report Card. This report card compiles extensive data on five “inputs” and five “outputs” of state welfare and anti-poverty programs and assigns a final grade to each state on the strength of the welfare policies it has adopted. In this report card, Georgia receives an F grade and ranks 44th for its anti-poverty policies.

Welfare Reform after Ten Years: A State-by-State Analysis
In 2008, The Heartland Institute published Welfare Reform after Ten Years: A State-by-State Analysis, which reports the welfare policy choices of all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The report ranks the states by how aggressively they implemented effective policies. This data provide policymakers with a roadmap to successful anti-poverty efforts.

The Work Versus Welfare Tradeoff: 2013 
The Cato Institute estimates the value of the full package of welfare benefits available to a typical recipient in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. It found welfare benefits outpace the income most recipients can expect to earn from an entry-level job, and the income gap between welfare and work may actually have grown worse in recent years.


 Comparing Program Participation of TANF and Non-TANF Families Before and During a Time of Recession
Shelley K. Irving examines whether participation in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program has increased and whether employment has decreased during the current economic recession. The study also compares participation in other assistance programs based on welfare and poverty status before and during the economic recession.

Welfare Rules Database 
The Urban Institute’s Welfare Rules Database website provides a “comprehensive, sophisticated resource for comparing cash assistance programs between states” and allows researchers to examine changes in cash assistance rules between states.

Implementing Welfare Reform: A State Report Card
Writing for the Cato Institute in 2004, Jenifer Zeigler analyzes state welfare reform implementation and identifies reform policies that were most effective at encouraging personal responsibility and self-sufficiency.


Nothing in this Research & Commentary is intended to influence the passage of legislation, and it does not necessarily represent the views of The Heartland Institute. For further information on this subject, visit Budget & Tax News at, The Heartland Institute’s website at, and PolicyBot, Heartland’s free online research database at 

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