Work, job-training rules reinstated for metro Augusta food stamp recipients

Welfare-to-work rules have been reinstated in metro Augusta area counties in 2018 that require able-bodied adults without dependents to be employed or enter work-training programs before being eligible for food stamps. SPECIAL/ZUMAPRESS

Starting this year, able-bodied adults without dependents in metro Augusta counties will have to get a job, enroll in a job training program or perform volunteer service to get food stamps past three months.

 

The Clinton-era welfare-to-work rules were reinstated as of Jan. 1 in the metro area counties of Burke, Columbia, McDuffie and Richmond as part of a sweeping movement to wean childless, work-able adults off long-term benefits in the post-recession economy.

“That is our goal – for anyone who is employable to get employed,” said Jalil Isa, a spokesman with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s’ food and nutrition service, which oversees food stamp program – known officially as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

SNAP rules for childless adults without disabilities had been relaxed under the Obama administration’s 2009 stimulus bill. Program enrollment grew steadily after the recession and reached an all-time high of 47.6 million in 2013.

The federally funded, state-administered program enables those who qualify to purchase food items on electronic benefit transfer, or EBT, cards.

Able-bodied adults without children in most Georgia counties will once again be required to find a job, enroll in a job-training program or perform at least 20 hours of community service a week to continue receiving benefits past three months in a three-year period. South Carolina was among the states that never relaxed SNAP program rules.

Agriculture Secretary and former Georgia Gov. Sonny Perdue said in a news release last month that he wants states to adopt programs that reduce SNAP costs and fraud and promote job training.

“SNAP was created to provide people with the help they need to feed themselves and their families, but it was not intended to be a permanent lifestyle,” he said.

The number of childless, work-able adults seeking benefits fell more than 60 percent in the 24 Georgia counties where work rules were reinstated last year, according to the state Division of Family and Children Services. The plan is to reinstate work rules in all 159 Georgia counties by 2019.

The Georgia Department of Labor last month reported the Augusta-Aiken area created 6,000 new jobs since November 2016, a 2.5 percent growth rate that exceeds the state’s 1.9 percent rate and the nation’s 1.4 percent rate. Metro Augusta’s November unemployment rate, 4.5 percent, was down a half percent from November 2016. Nationally, unemployment is at a 17-year low.

The Agriculture Department is partnering with organizations in states to help work-able adults find jobs and obtain job training. Last year Georgia established its first third-party SNAP employment and training program partnership with Goodwill of North Georgia. Goodwill operated a similar program in South Carolina.

James Stiff, president of Goodwill Industries of Middle Georgia and the Central Savannah River Area, said the organization plans to launch a SNAP training program in the metro Augusta area through a subcontract with its Atlanta-based affiliate.

The group is awaiting formal approval of the contract to proceed, he said.

“(We) are looking forward to the eventual launch of a state-wide partnership with Goodwill North Georgia to help SNAP recipients develop new skills in high-demand occupations at our three CSRA Job Connection career centers, so they can experience the dignity of a paycheck and an earned career pathway out of poverty,” Stiff said in a statement.

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

 

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