Scuttlebiz: Food stamp work requirements on the way

Coming soon to a job fair, temp agency or employment office near you: workers.

 

Hundreds of new workers. Possibly thousands. All hungry for the opportunity to earn a paycheck.

If you’re wondering where these new labor market entrants will come from, don’t. They were here all along.

Starting next year, 60 Georgia counties will be added to the list of 24 that require able-bodied adults without dependents to work, train or volunteer before qualifying for food stamps. That’s right; no labor, no lunch.

The work-for-your-welfare requirement that is spreading across the Peach State and others is trying to thin the number of people receiving benefits though the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the official title of the federally funded, state-administered food stamp program.

None of the 24 counties are near metro Augusta, but some of the 60 likely will be. By 2019, all 159 counties will have reinstated the work requirement that dates back to Clinton-era welfare reform in the 1990s.

Those policies, suspended during the Great Recession to be sympathetic to those who said they couldn’t find jobs, limits adults between the ages of 18 and 49 who are not disabled or have children to three months of assistance within a three-year period. They can continue in the program only if they find a job, enroll in a job-training program or do at least 20 hours of community service a week.

In areas that have reinstated the work requirements, the net effect has been able-bodied, dependent-free individuals leaving the program.

In the 24 Georgia counties, the number of childless, work-able adults seeking benefits has fallen more than 60 percent, according to the state Division of Family and Children Services. Total food stamp spending in Georgia during April was $206 million, down from $262 million in 2013 when the program reached national peak enrollment of 44 million people.

Reinstating the work requirement – coupled with a rebounding economy – is getting people to kick the EBT habit.

Program participation in Alabama, for example, plunged 85 percent after work requirements were rolled out this year. Kansas’ enrollment is a quarter of what it once was, and the Naples, Fla.-based Foundation for Government Accountability says that two thirds of that state’s able-bodied dropouts found jobs within a year.

It remains to be seen how quickly former stamp collectors in Georgia find work. Obviously, I’m rooting for self-sufficiency to prevail (as evidenced by my opening paragraphs). A more cynical viewpoint would be expecting many to milk the system by getting reclassified as “disabled.” Or by getting pregnant.

While fraudsters clearly exist, my thought is that most work-capable adults receiving poverty benefits aren’t criminal-minded. They’re simply unambitious, uninspired people who have been handed the tools they need to fulfill their dreams, or lack thereof.

As Georgia Public Policy Foundation’s Benita Dodd wrote earlier this month: “When people start seeing programs as an ongoing entitlement instead of a temporary benefit, they get comfortable receiving them and reluctant to relinquish the ‘free money; they don’t consider it cheating.”

It’s like the old proverb says: Give a man a fish … and he’ll ask for two sides and a roll.

 

WORK, WORK, WORK: Metro Augusta’s unemployment rate went up nearly a half percent in June to 5.1 percent, partly because the labor force grew from high school and college students entering the job market, the Georgia Department of Labor said.

The workforce consists of people with jobs and those who are unemployed but actively looking for jobs. By that measure, the workforce increased 2,488 people to 266,666 from May to June. But the number of unemployed increased by 1,304 to 13,699.

Still, June’s 5.1 percent jobless rate is still better than June 2016’s 5.8 percent, and the total number of employed residents during the year-over-year period grew by 4,545.

A total of 3,200 new jobs were created over the year, a 1.4 percent growth rate, with most of the new jobs coming from three sectors: leisure and hospitality; education and health services; and trade, transportation and warehousing.

 

A DIFFERENT KIND OF GOVERNMENT CHECK: Food stamps and unemployment benefits aren’t the only payments some would like to curtail. This month’s newsletter from the SRS Community Reuse Organization notes Congress is at odds with the Trump administration over how much local governments should receive in “PILT” money.

Short for “payments in lieu of taxes,” PILT is what Washington allocates to local government for services on tax-exempt federal land. Trump’s fiscal 2018 budget for PILT payments is $68 million below the $465 million proposed by Congress.

Though most of the money goes to Western states – where the federal government owns the most land – about 6.4 million PILT bucks went to three South Carolina counties touched by SRS last year. The bulk of that, 63 percent, or $4.7 million, went to Barnwell County.

Not surprising, local governments hope PILT allocations end up closer to what Congress has in mind than the president; even the government is addicted to government checks.

None of SRS falls in Georgia, so counties west of the river don’t receive big Department of Energy payments. Most PILT payments on the west side are small in comparison. Here’s what the Department of Interior gave a few of them during FY 2017: Columbia County, $51,303; McDuffie County, $37,868; Burke County, $21,343; and Richmond County, $138.

Obviously, military bases are not included in PILT’s federal land assessment. If it did, Richmond County’s 70 square miles of Fort Gordon would net it a check that amounts to more than an afternoon at the mall.

 

LINES, LINES, EVERYWHERE THERE’S LINES: I don’t envy the folks at Jim Hudson Lexus right now. Part of the reason construction at the dealership’s future location is so agonizingly slow is that the county line bisects the property.

So instead of dealing with just one set of government functionaries, developers of the site at the corner of Washington and Pleasant Home roads must deal with two. One can assume the phrase, “But the other guy told me yesterday that …” has been uttered more than a few times.

You might remember the M&C Spirits liquor store that sat on that property years ago. There were two cash registers; one for each county. The east side of the store, the liquor side, was for Richmond. The west side, where the beer and wine was sold, was for Columbia.

It should be interesting to see how the sales tax pie is sliced at the dealership, and how it affects the placement of various operations on the property. Will the service department – which is mostly sales tax exempt – get evenly split, or get shifted all to one side? Which side gets the new cars? Which side gets the preowned?

And who’s idea was it to put so many counties in this state anyway?

 

FOR ALL YOUR UPSCALE NEEDS …: The Atlanta company developing the Sprouts Farmers Market-anchored shopping center at the corner of Walton Way Extension and Interstate 20 appears to have a couple more tenants signed on, including a upscale purveyor of pet food.

Marketing material posted by Cobblestone Retail Group for its Crane Creek shopping center shows a Hollywood Feed store occupying one of the 3,500-square-foot boxes at the lifestyle center just outside the entrance to the upscale Grand Oaks at Crane Creek apartment community.

Hollywood Feed sells natural and “holistic” pet foods and supplies at 55 stores throughout the Southeast, including four in the metro Atlanta area. The company’s glamorous name doesn’t come from Tinseltown but from Memphis, Tennessee’s Hollywood Street, where the chain’s first store was opened in the 1950s.

Cobblestone’s sales pamphlet also lists Lush Nails as a future Crane Creek tenant. I have to assume that’s a nail salon. An upscale one.

 

Reach Damon Cline at (706) 823-3352 or damon.cline@augustachronicle.com.

 

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Tue, 12/12/2017 - 20:04

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