ATLANTA - Georgia has shifted federal welfare money away from programs meant to help recipients find jobs to child-protection programs and other areas, according to a recent report.
The state agency responsible for running the welfare program, though, says it has chosen the right priorities and points to new programs to help people who have left the rolls keep their jobs.
Between 2002 and 2007, welfare spending on "work-related programs" fell from $141.6 million to $103.2 million, a drop of more than a quarter, according to the report by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, a nonpartisan think tank.
Meanwhile, the state budgeted $218.5 million on child protective services and similar programs for the fiscal year ending June 30, up from $102.2 million five years ago, the report says.
That suggests the Department of Human Resources, which runs welfare in Georgia, is using the federal money to make up for funding shortfalls in areas where the state should be picking up the tab, said Alan Essig, the executive director of the institute.
"The question is, are we giving up some federal funding that could be used to help people become employable to plug holes in the budget?" Mr. Essig said.
But the Division of Family and Children Services, the DHR agency responsible for welfare, said the money is being shifted around because of a dramatic drop in the number of people receiving help in recent years.
The reduction of welfare recipients has allowed the state to move around money from the program, formally known as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, to fund other needs, said Cliff O'Connor, the deputy director of DFCS.
"We thought it was a reasonable choice on our part to redirect some of the TANF funding to child welfare services," Mr. O'Connor said. "... We make the decisions based upon what information we have and based on what we think are the most pressing priorities."
He pointed out that his agency has begun programs to help TANF recipients stay employed even after they leave the rolls.
He said the state has begun giving cash assistance to people even after they began working and also provides one-time assistance to former welfare recipients for problems such as car trouble that might make them miss work.
The report, though, also points out that other signs of poverty in Georgia, such as the number of people applying for food stamps and Medicaid, have been rising even as welfare rolls have fallen.
IN THE REPORT
A report issued by the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute points out that the number of adult welfare recipients has fallen by nearly 90 percent and the number of children getting help from the program has dropped by 60 percent.
- Morris News Service