ATLANTA — Out-of-work Georgians will soon see their benefits slashed nearly in half, and those seeking food stamps will have to pass a drug test under news laws that start today.
Gov. Nathan Deal signed more than 500 bills into law after the legislative session ended this spring. Many of them, as well as Georgia’s 2013 budget, will take effect today at the start of the state’s fiscal year.
This session, Republicans argued that the state needed to find a solution to begin repaying more than $760 million borrowed from the federal government in recent years to cover Georgia’s unemployment benefit payments when the state’s trust fund was drained during the prolonged recession. The answer was to reduce unemployment benefits from 26 weeks to a sliding scale of between 14 and 20 weeks, depending on the unemployment rate.
Deal spokesman Brian Robinson said now is the responsible time to act with the unemployment rate declining.
“The best way to help the unemployed is to create jobs in Georgia, and that’s where Gov. Deal’s focus is,” Robinson said. “It’s important to note the safety net is still there, but we had to reform the system or it would have collapsed — that’s the worst outcome for Georgians in need.”
The new law requiring some people applying for welfare to pass a drug test is likely to face a court challenge. Opponents say they will likely pursue a lawsuit, but not until the measure is put into practice. Courts have struck down similar laws in other states, but supporters in Georgia have expressed confidence that the law here would be upheld.
Under it, the state Department of Human Services must create a drug-testing program that would be paid for by welfare applicants. Those able to prove they are receiving Medicaid would pay a maximum of $17 and those without Medicaid would be responsible for the full cost of the test. Applicants who test negative would be eligible for reimbursement.
Those who fail would be ineligible to receive benefits for a month. A second positive result would ban applicants from participating for three months, and a third violation would make an applicant ineligible for a year.