Georgia…over the past decade has set itself up as the poster child for the ongoing war on welfare. Even as unemployment has soared to 9 percent and 300,000 Georgia families now live below the poverty line— 50 percent higher than in 2000, for a poverty rate that now ranks sixth in the nation —the number receiving cash benefits has all but evaporated: Only a little over 19,000 families receiving TANF remain, all but 3,400 of which were cases involving children only…. What’s Georgia’s secret? According to government documents, interviews with poor Georgians, and those who work with them, it’s a simple one: Combine an all-Republican state government out to make a name for itself as tough on freeloaders; a state welfare commissioner so zealous about slashing the rolls that workers say she handed out Zero candy bars to emphasize her goal of zero welfare; and federal rules that, regardless of who’s in the White House, give states the leeway to use the 1996 law’s requirement for “work activities”—the same provision that Republicans have charged President Obama wants to unfairly water down—to slam the door in the face of the state’s neediest.
If Georgia has demonstrated anything, it’s the willingness and ability of Republicans to ignore the depth and breadth of human suffering. No reasonable person would disagree with the assertion that the goal of public assistance should be to get people back on the path to self-sufficiency as soon as possible, but Georgia’s view of its responsibility to its poor is something akin to criminal neglect.
In flush economic times, taking a long, hard look at the welfare rolls with an eye toward reform and maximum efficiency would be a very good thing. These being anything but flush times, how a state government could so blithely ignore the needs of its own defies rational understanding. You simply can’t solve the problem of poverty in your midst by ignoring the poor. Unfortunately for those on the lower end of Georgia’s economic food chain, the social contract has been broken by Republicans who see those on public assistance as parasites, “takers” too lazy and/or shiftless to do for themselves, and so they’re dependent on government.
That’s undoubtedly true in some cases; there’s no perfect system, no way to ensure that everyone receiving public assistance is doing so legitimately. An imperfect system doesn’t mean that system should be abandoned altogether, and Georgia’s “throw the baby out with the bath water” approach is callous and inhuman at best and dangerous at worst. The idea behind the social contract- and government’s role in it- is that Americans look after one another. We’re better off together, and sometimes people fall on hard times. That’s when we help each other out. Except that in Georgia’s Republican-dominated Randian environment, it’s a dog-eat-dog world and survival of the fittest is not only good policy, but the lowest ultimate cost. Compassion is for losers and Liberals.
Besides, if Georgia’s spending taxpayer dollars on supporting its poor and unemployed, those are dollars that can’t go to tax breaks for businesses and the wealthy, right?