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Overhauling Welfare: Lessons from Georgia

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Overhauling Welfare: Lessons from Georgia

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Overhauling Welfare: Lessons from Georgia

Overhauling Welfare: Lessons from Georgia

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Manuelie Bailey, 19, is a recent GED graduate in Georgia's TANF program.

Manuelie Bailey, 19, is a recent GED graduate in Georgia's TANF program. Rachel Jones, NPR hide caption

toggle caption Rachel Jones, NPR

Hear Bailey address her fellow students at a GED class at DeKalb Technical College about why, despite the challenges, it's worth it for mothers on welfare like her to stick to the GED program.

  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/5691909/5693342" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">

Even before President Clinton signed the welfare law on Aug. 22, 1996, it was determined that states would take the lead in moving welfare recipients into the work force. Georgia is considered a model for reducing its caseload. But critics say that it has come at a high cost for some poor families.

Still, Georgia's approach is one that other states may soon have to follow.

In 1997, more than 83,000 adults were on welfare in Georgia. Not all of them were able to work, but tens of thousands were. By June of this year, about 4,000 able-bodied adults in the state were getting cash welfare. Some counties report they don't have anybody on welfare. Georgia Commissioner of Human Resources B.J. Walker is proud of that success.

"It's a harder program to run when you have to say to people at the front door, when they come in, 'I refuse to accept welfare as the fate of your family,'" Walker says.

Walker says Georgia's eligibility standards are just higher than some other states. If a person walks into a welfare office asking for food stamps or Medicaid, they won't automatically be given cash. And managers and caseworkers are much more accountable for why their caseload has or hasn't dropped.

Other states, such as Pennsylvania, Maryland and Minnesota, also report high work participation rates to the federal government. But some critics say Georgia has gone too far, overlooking some of the extra supports those other states offer.

Manuelie Bailey, 19, who has a 4-year-old son, says she was initially skeptical about applying for welfare, because she had heard about Georgia's strict rules. That's even though when she first moved to Atlanta from Boston about a year ago, times were tough.

"I was homeless," Bailey says. "I didn't have nowhere to go, slept in abandoned housing, still came to school though, still finished. I been through ups and downs and ups and downs."

Today, Bailey, who works part time at a Market Fresh store, gets assistance from Georgia's Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. She got her GED with help from the TANF program and starts classes at a local college next month.

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