Ga. Senate to require 'personal growth' classes for food stamps

ATLANTA -- A divided Senate endorsed Wednesday requiring people on food stamps to take “personal growth” courses such as job training or completion of their education.

The sponsor of Senate Bill 312, Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, noted that one-third of the people getting food stamps never finished high school and that the federal law establishing the food stamp program includes the training requirement. Georgia hasn’t enforced it because then-Gov. Sonny Perdue won a waiver from Washington.

Those working 30 hours per week, on unemployment or disabled would be exempt.

The vote was 40-14. Democrats opposed to the bill warned that it would create more problems than it solved.

Ligon didn’t buy their logic.

“You’re assuming that asking someone to improve themselves to become self-sustaining is not a good thing,” he said.

But Sen. Horacena Tate, D-Atlanta, warned that it would be bothersome for people already struggling.

“If you were experiencing hard times, if you were doing the best that you can, I don’t think you would like having 56 senators telling you (that) you have to get training,” she said. “... This is an insult to all Georgians who have worked terribly hard to do for themselves.”

Sen. Gloria Butler, D-Stone Mountain, said she would have been frustrated by the requirement when she was on welfare and food stamps in 1977 as the mother of two children who couldn’t find a job after moving from Florida.

“If I had been told that I had to go through professional development (as a college graduate), I would have been totally devastated by that,” she said. “I needed money for food. I needed money for gas to even get to the office to apply for that.”

Others objected to the $772 million estimated cost. But Ligon said half of that would be paid by the federal government and that if the training succeeded in reducing the food stamp rolls, savings would result.

Ligon’s proposal got reduced in committee to a five-county trial rather than a statewide program. That also reduced the projected cost to $25 million.

Now the bill moves to the House for its consideration.

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