A Better Safety Net In Georgia: Mapping The ‘One Door’ Policy (HB 738) Would Be A Big Step Forward

My colleague at the Georgia Center for Opportunity David Bass, wrote this blog post in support of HB 738, which currently sits in the House Rules Committee on the General Calendar. We’re hopeful it will get a vote before Crossover Day on Thursday. – Buzz

  • Legislation pending in the Georgia Legislature, House Bill 738, would create a task force to explore how Georgia could use Utah’s One Door policy to allow more people to find meaningful work and pathways out of poverty through our safety-net system.
  • Georgia’s economy remains strong, but many individuals who could be employed are still missing from the labor force or are discouraged from working. Barriers in the safety-net system are a big reason this is happening. 
  • Creating a One Door policy task force would be an important first step in reimagining a safety net in Georgia that empowers upward mobility and better opportunities for millions of Georgians. 

Georgia’s labor force continues to show its historic resilience, as there are tens of thousands of jobs available across the Peach State. As of December 2023, there were 313,000 job openings, according to the Georgia Department of Labor.

Even so, there are problems. Although the state boasts a robust unemployment rate of 3.4%, our state’s labor force participation rate stands at 61.5% as of December 2022, compared to 62.2% prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. These percentages mean a considerable number of Georgians who could work are not doing so.

Part of the reason is due to design flaws in our nation’s social safety-net system. The complexity and requirements of programs like food stamps, housing assistance, and medical benefits turn these programs into poverty traps instead of bridges to work and independence.  

There is a policy states can use to give people an easier path out of the safety net and into work. It’s called the One Door policy, and the solution is in the name: This reform transforms how the safety net delivers support by streamlining multiple disconnected programs into a single welfare and workforce program.

The One Door policy solves the overwhelming barriers of the safety-net system

The truth of the matter is that our nation’s welfare system is a fragmented hodgepodge of programs. The dozens of programs that make up the system have different and, at times, competing goals, inconsistent rules, and overlapping groups of recipients. Often, recipients must resubmit the same information multiple times for multiple programs with the aid of multiple caseworkers. This disconnect fosters despair and keeps recipients in a cycle of poverty—as every hour spent navigating the system is an hour not spent pursuing a path out of it. 

At the same time, there is often a disconnect between safety-net programs and welfare-to-work initiatives. The end result is that people stay mired in generational poverty rather than receiving a helping hand to live a better life.

How many people are affected in Georgia? For the 2022 calendar year, more than 1.6 million Georgians were enrolled in the food stamps program, while more than 2.4 million were on the Medicaid/CHIP program—two of the largest safety-net programs. That compares to a statewide population of 10.9 million people. 

These groups of millions are made up of real individual people who have their own futures and potential. When a safety-net system discourages work and family stability—two of the most important building blocks of a better future—people lose hope. As individual states and as a country, we can better address the suffering of poverty, unemployment, and fragmented families and relationships by creating a simpler, more humane system that rewards work and supports family and community stability. 

Proposed legislation (House Bill 738) takes the first step to bring the One Door policy to Georgia

In this environment, the Georgia Center for Opportunity team is on the vanguard of educating about safety-net reform. A key way we are doing so in Georgia is by pushing forward this legislation to create a One Door task force in the state, House Bill 738—Task Force on Workforce and Safety Net Integration.

The task force would create a plan to integrate the safety net with workforce development, in line with the successful One Door approach in Utah. Other states, including West Virginia and Louisiana, are weighing similar proposals. So why not here in Georgia?

People across the political spectrum agree that work is key to lifting people out of poverty. Toward this end, the goal of the task force authorized by the bill is to “study the intersection of workforce development programs and safety net programs.” The Task Force on Workforce and Safety Net Integration, housed within the Technical College System of Georgia, would be composed of nine members appointed from various corners of the government.

Georgia has already taken important steps forward to improve our safety-net and workforce development systems. The Georgia Gateway is a unified enrollment system for food stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Childcare and Parent Services program, and the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, but is limited to only those programs. Georgia has also taken steps to consolidate workforce programs under the Technical College System of Georgia.

But to remain a great place to live, work, and raise a family, Georgia must make sure all its citizens are participating in the economic growth we are experiencing. That’s why we need HB 738. 

How would Georgia’s One Door policy task force work?

The duties of the task force would include:

  • Developing best practices for the state agencies and departments involved with administering workforce and safety-net programs.
  • Exploring ways to merge state agencies or departments to better serve Georgia citizens.
  • Exploring how to best integrate the delivery of Georgia’s various workforce development programs and safety-net programs.
  • Creating implementation strategy for an integrated delivery system, including a customer-driven platform, simplified program governance and operations, and safeguards to ensure program integrity.

A final report is due to the governor and the General Assembly no later than December 31, 2025.

What problems does the task force solve?

By forming a task force, Georgia can explore further consolidating service delivery via Georgia Gateway and the Technical College System of Georgia—and how those entities and others can better coordinate service delivery. 

The task force will also prepare Georgia in the event that Congress reauthorizes the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which could include the process allowing individual states to pursue a Utah-style One Door consolidation of welfare and work support services. 

The great news is that Georgia doesn’t have to wait on Congress to act. Through the task force and other means, the state can explore additional means of consolidation, up to and including consolidating entire departments. Georgia can also provide job training to more of its citizens, fueling additional economic growth.

The exciting part is the end result of these changes—more Georgians who will have the opportunity to escape systemic poverty, achieve self-sufficiency, and climb the economic ladder to create a better, more prosperous future for themselves and their children.

For more on this issue, you can read this op-ed by Rachel Greszler and Rachel Sheffield, both of the Heritage Foundation.

Leave a Reply