SNAP usage shows recent rise, although not to level of peak early in pandemic
In an uneven economy — record-low unemployment paired with high inflation — Georgia has witnessed uneven usage of its anti-poverty programs: More people have signed up for food stamps, but fewer are collecting welfare.
Enrollment in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the formal name for food stamps, peaked during the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic in September 2020 at 905,000 Georgia households. Since then, it’s varied, although data the Division of Family and Children Services provided to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution shows a recent rise.
In June, the most recent numbers available, 778,000 households received about $251 million in food stamps, averaging about $322 per household.
Before the pandemic, food stamp usage had been falling.
That started in 2016, when “work” requirements were reinstated in several Georgia counties ahead of a statewide launch set for April 2020. The federal work rules required “able-bodied adults without dependents” between the ages of 18 and 49 to work at least 20 hours a week or take part in some sort of education or work training.
By 2019, about 600,000 fewer Georgians were receiving food stamps than six years earlier.
But then the pandemic hit, and the statewide rollout was scrapped. The work requirements will remain on hold as long as the federal government determines the country is facing a health emergency.
Meanwhile, welfare — the the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program — continues to follow a long trend of declining usage.
In June 2021, 7,358 Georgia households received welfare, according to DFCS data. By June 2022, the number had dropped to 6,190.
That’s down from 33,302 households in 2006, the earliest year for which DFCS could provide data.
Qualifying for TANF is more strict than for food stamps, DFCS officials said.
To receive welfare in Georgia, a family of three must have a gross income below $784 a month. That same family could earn as much as $2,311 in monthly gross income and remain eligible for food stamps.
Welfare recipients in Georgia also must work or participate in training for at least 30 hours a week.
Firm says it thought copying of election data for Trump attorney was legitimate
An Atlanta tech firm says it had “no reason to believe” it was breaking any laws when it sent four employees to Coffee County to copy sensitive election files.
The GBI recently opened a criminal investigation of computer trespass, which is a felony.
The company, SullivanStrickler, asserted this past week that it was doing legitimate work in January 2021 under a contract with Sidney Powell, an attorney for then-President Donald Trump who had promised to “unleash the kraken” of claims that the 2020 presidential election was rigged.
“SullivanStrickler was retained by and took direction from licensed, practicing attorneys to preserve and forensically copy the Dominion Voting Machines used in the 2020 election. The firm had no reason to believe that, as officers of the court, these attorneys would ask or direct SullivanStrickler to do anything improper or illegal,” Amanda Clark Palmer, an attorney representing the company, said in an email.
The sensitive election data collected by SullivanStrickler in Coffee County and a similar operation in Michigan was later accessed by conspiracy theorists seeking to reverse the outcome of the election that Trump lost, The Washington Post first reported.
Joining the team from SullivanStrickler in Coffee County were several Trump supporters.
Coffee County officials gave SullivanStrickler access to its election office, which was supposed to be kept secure, one month after the county had reported a discrepancy of 50 votes during a recount of the presidential election. A dispute over the count fueled suspicions of Dominion Voting Systems, the maker of the state’s voting machines, but state election officials said the results were accurate.
Subpoenaed records show involvement by county election board member Eric Chaney, former Coffee County Election Director Misty Hampton and former county GOP Chairwoman Cathy Latham, who attempted to cast the state’s Electoral College votes for Trump as a fake elector for the Georgia Republican Party.
Election integrity advocates say copying the files increases the risk of malware or hacks that could affect future elections.
“Having this material is so vital to being able to craft manipulations, to be able to create hacks,” said Kevin Skoglund, a cybersecurity expert working for plaintiffs in an election security lawsuit that includes the Coffee County allegations. “The person in the basement has the ability to get this software and analyze it and look for vulnerabilities.”
Palmer said the purpose of SullivanStrickler’s work was to preserve election data.
“With the benefit of hindsight, and knowing everything they know now,” she said, “they would not take on any further work of this kind.”
Panel’s review of Fulton elections won’t be completed in time for November vote
A panel that’s already missed one deadline in examining election management by Fulton County — whose many issues include a slow delivery of results — reports it has too much work to do to finish its job before November’s election.
Any state takeover of Fulton’s elections won’t happen until after that.
The General Assembly permitted state interventions in county elections as part of the voting law it passed last year, and Fulton — because of its history of long lines and other management issues — has faced the threat of takeover for more than a year since the performance review began.
The review initially had an “aggressive timeline” for completion by the end of last year, but Ryan Germany, a member of the panel and general counsel for Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, said that has been pushed back by the amount of work involved and the job responsibilities of election officials undertaking the review.
Once the review is completed, possibly by the end of this year, the State Election Board would hold hearings and consider replacing Fulton’s bipartisan election board with an interim superintendent who would have broad powers to close polling places, decide on challenges to voter eligibility and certify results.
Fulton, the most populous county in Georgia and a Democratic stronghold, drew scrutiny during the 2020 presidential election, although no fraud was proved.
State Rep. Josh McLaurin, a Democrat from Sandy Springs, saw positives in the delay.
“The fact that they’re willing to allow a major midterm election to go forward under Fulton’s supervision proves the point that there’s no urgent crisis in the moment,” he said, “and Fulton has done a lot to resolve its issues.”
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC
Walker has had enough with trees
During his days as a running back at the University of Georgia, Republican U.S. Senate candidate Herschel Walker always liked an open field.
He apparently still feels that way.
“Don’t we have enough trees around here?” Walker said while speaking at an event with the Republican Jewish Committee in Sandy Springs.
The candidate was criticizing the federal climate change, tax and health care law that President Joe Biden recently signed.
He described the measure as a waste of tax dollars, singling out a plan to spend $150 million per year to plant trees in “urban forests” in cities such as Atlanta where rapid development has stripped out established trees and increased the risk of flooding.
“They continue to try to fool you that they are helping you out,” Walker said. “But they’re not. Because a lot of money, it’s going to trees. Don’t we have enough trees around here?”
Walker also opposed a revival of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal that then-President Donald Trump pulled out of shortly after he took office in 2017.
Restoring the deal would embolden Iran, Walker said, and he criticized his opponent, Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, for not opposing the proposal.
“That’s what I don’t get. You’re going to give money to terrorists to be nice to you? He never read the definition of a terrorist, has he?” Walker said of Warnock. “They don’t like you. They like nothing about you.”
Credit: Stephen B. Morton for the AJC
Credit: Stephen B. Morton for the AJC
Kemp portions out more federal pandemic money for education
Republican Gov. Brian Kemp announced this past week the distribution of $37.4 million to education programs, his latest release of federal COVID-19 pandemic relief funds.
Receiving the funds are:
- The state Department of Early Care and Learning: up to $12 million
- The Georgia Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs: $12 million
- The Georgia Department of Education: $9.1 million
- Georgia Public Library Services: $2.3 million
- The Georgia Alliance of YMCAs: $2 million
The grants are intended to address pandemic-related learning loss with tutoring and resource acquisition.
Congress approved the funding starting in December 2020 to help schools cope with COVID-19. Georgia school districts were allotted over $6 billion, and Kemp, like other governors, was given a discretionary fund that still contains $59.7 million, his office said.
Kemp has called some of the federal relief money wasteful, but he has touted Georgia’s allocations as he campaigns for reelection against Democrat Stacey Abrams.
Earlier this month, he announced that $240 million in federal money would go toward expanding high-speed internet in rural Georgia. That was on top of $400 million in federal money that he set aside earlier this year to meet the same goal.
Union chief takes issue with findings of probe at Atlanta penitentiary
The leader of the union representing guards at the Atlanta Federal Penitentiary is worried they are bearing the blame for systemic issues at the prison that were highlighted in a U.S. Senate subcommittee report.
Union President Morell Huguley sent a letter to the panel’s chairman, Georgia Democratic U.S. Sen. Jon Ossoff, inviting him to tour the prison.
He said in the letter that union members who work in the medium-security prison were “embarrassed” by the investigation and objected to descriptions of employees there as “dirty.”
“The term ‘dirty staff’ is a horrific term in our profession,” he told Ossoff. “It is the most disgusting term to describe an individual correctional worker. This term has been used loosely to describe all staff here at (the penitentiary).”
A 10-month investigation by Ossoff’s panel, the Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations, depicted a number of problems at the prison, including sewage backups, mold, ubiquitous contraband and a troubling suicide rate among inmates.
A rat infestation was so bad, an ex-administrator testified, that staff propped open doors at the lockup so stray cats could enter and prey on the vermin.
Ossoff placed much of the blame for the penitentiary’s troubles on the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
“The investigation has revealed that gross misconduct persisted at this prison for at least nine years, and that much of the damning information revealing misconduct, abuse, and corruption was known to BOP and accessible to BOP leadership during that period,” he said at a hearing in July.
He added that the penitentiary’s Correctional Services staff “engaged in misconduct with impunity and, according to BOP’s own internal investigations, lacked regard for human life.”
“Vast quantities of contraband, including weapons and narcotics, flowed through the prison, enabled by staff corruption,” he said.
Huguley said the hearing placed an unfair amount of responsibility on union members rather than on managers. He traced some of the criticism to “disgruntled supervisors in management positions, who were otherwise complicit with the alleged corruption that has been ongoing in this agency for years.”
Ossoff’s office said the senator has since spoken with Huguley and has also expressed interest in touring the prison.
- Absentee ballots: Georgia is now taking applications for absentee ballots in the Nov. 8 general election. All registered voters in Georgia are eligible to cast absentee ballots, although the General Assembly added some restrictions — including tougher ID requirements — when it passed a new voting law last year. Voters can request applications for absentee ballots at securemyabsenteeballot.sos.ga.gov. They also can call their county election office and ask that an application be mailed to them, or they can pick one up at their local election office. The deadline for applying is Oct. 28. County election offices will start mailing out ballots Oct. 10.
- Housing proposals: Democratic U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock, who is running for reelection, unveiled three pieces of legislation this past week to make housing more affordable. One would create a tax credit for people who pay more than 30% of their income in rent. The second would establish tax-free savings accounts that can be used to make a down payment on a home. The third would require the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development to collect more data on affordable housing.
- Two-party backing: Former Democratic state Rep. Alisha Thomas Searcy picked up bipartisan support in her campaign for state school superintendent from two former U.S. secretaries of education: Arne Duncan, who served under Democratic President Barack Obama; and Roderick Paige, who was appointed by Republican President George W. Bush.
- Cops for Carr. The Police Benevolent Association has endorsed Republican Attorney General Chris Carr for reelection. The group also recently threw its support behind the campaigns of two other Republicans: state Sen. Tyler Harper for agriculture commissioner and state Sen. Burt Jones for lieutenant governor. It previously endorsed Gov. Brian Kemp.
More top stories online
Here’s a sample of other stories about Georgia government and politics that can be found at www.ajc.com/politics/: