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Georgia missing a chance to strengthen its workforce
Melissa Johnson

While most adults who rely on cash and food assistance in Georgia lack any education beyond high school, not enough of the state’s workers are trained for so-called middle-skill jobs. Middle-skill jobs require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree.

A new Georgia Budget and Policy Institute report shows how the state could better leverage the potential of safety net programs Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Employment and Training (SNAP E&T) to build a more skilled workforce. Using these initiatives to educate Georgians with low incomes would have long-term benefits for the state. As these residents secure in-demand skills, they are less likely to need to rely on public benefits. It makes sense for Georgia to:

Partner with technical colleges and nonprofits to leverage more SNAP E&T money to help food-stamp recipients secure marketable job skills and postsecondary credentials.

The SNAP E&T program is designed to help food-stamp recipients meet work requirements and gain the skills, training or experience to help them get a steady job. A substantial amount of federal money can be leveraged through the SNAP program to provide case management, child care, transportation and other support services to help food-stamp recipients secure college credentials.

Georgia recently expanded its SNAP education and training initiatives to serve underemployed, childless adults without disabilities in 12 counties. More than 90 percent of these adults are assigned to job search activities. Washington state, through partnerships with all of its community colleges and community-based organizations, operates a model program that helps food-stamp recipients earn college credentials in fields like welding, nursing and transportation.

• Use more of its $331 million federal TANF block grant to help residents earning low incomes attain college credentials. This money can be used for four broad purposes, including job preparation. Georgia spent little more than 1 percent of its TANF block grant to educate and train parents for work, while it spent most TANF funding on child welfare. Arkansas, Kentucky, Oklahoma, and California are among the states that use money to help more of their residents earning low incomes attain college credentials.

• Employ state workforce-development resources to serve more public-assistance recipients. The recent passage of the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act provides a great opportunity for Georgia’s public workforce-development system to collaborate with both federal assistance programs, including sharing skills assessments, making referrals and creating career pathways.

Georgia should take full advantage of the federal resources available to help educate its citizens who get public assistance. It is a win-win for the recipients, their families and the state’s workforce.

Johnson is a policy analyst for the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, an independent think tank that analyzes budget and tax policies and aims to inspire responsible decision-making.

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