Kemp pushes bill to grant welfare during pregnancy

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Credit: Arvin Temkar/AJC

Low-income pregnant women could soon qualify for welfare, according to a bill filed on behalf of Gov. Brian Kemp.

The legislation, House Bill 129, comes after the governor announced the policy last week during his State of the State address.

Under the proposal, sponsored on behalf of Kemp by Lawrenceville Republican state Rep. Soo Hong, low-income women could apply to the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program while pregnant. Currently, those women would only be eligible for TANF, commonly known as welfare, once the child was born.

To qualify now for welfare, a child must be in home with one parent, or if two parents are in the home, one must be physically or mentally incapacitated. School-age children must be immunized and have an acceptable school attendance record. There also are income requirements. For example, a family of three must have a gross income below $784 a month.

HB 129 would make it so pregnant women who don’t yet have children qualify for the benefit.

Representatives from the governor’s office and the Department of Human Services, which manages the distribution of TANF in the state, said they did not know how many more people would qualify for the funds.

The proposed bill is a slight change in Georgia’s policy concerning welfare — for more than a decade, the state has sought to reduce enrollment in the program.

In June 2022, welfare benefits were granted to 6,190 Georgia households, according to data from the Division of Family and Children Services. That’s a decrease of nearly 81% since 2006, the earliest year for which DFCS data is available, when 33,302 households received welfare benefits.

HB 129 is the latest effort by Kemp to support pregnant women and new moms. Last year, the Legislature approved legislation to extend the amount of time low-income Georgia mothers can receive benefits under Medicaid, the public health program that provides care to the poor and disabled, from six months to one year after the birth of a child. Lawmakers extended the benefits from two to six months the year before.

All are efforts to tamp down Georgia’s maternal mortality rate, which for years has been among the worst in the nation.

“Living up to his commitment to improve maternal health in Georgia, Governor Kemp is proud to push for the expansion of these benefits to expecting mothers,” said a spokesman in the governor’s office.