GCO’s 2014 Annual Report

Georgia Center for Opportunity’s recently released annual report shows the impact that is being made in the lives of Georgians, thanks to the generous support of GCO’s donors. Over the past year, GCO has successfully advocated for prisoner reentry reforms which were signed in to law, presented an alternative to Medicaid expansion that would increase access to quality healthcare, and worked directly through Breakthrough Norcross to prepare students for academic and professional success. As always, we’re focused on removing barriers to opportunity by promoting strong families, access to quality education, and steady employment.

Read the full report: Georgia Center for Opportunity’s 2014 Annual Report

Your Gift has Real Life Impact

With your support, we have been working hard to make Georgia a state where ALL have a real chance to prosper.

In recent months GCO has:

• advocated for ideas and policies that will expand access to quality education, particularly for those for whom such access is severely limited
• recommended alternatives to Medicaid expansion that would increase Georgians’ access to quality healthcare. These recommendations have been presented to Georgia’s lawmakers and to many of our nation’s governors
• produced prisoner reentry policy recommendations—now signed into law and adopted by the Governor’s office — that increase the likelihood of ex-offenders finding and maintaining work, a key to successful reentry and public safety
• incubated Breakthrough Ambassadors, a community-based, mostly student-led program that prepares students for success both academically and professionally

But our work can’t stop here. Georgia continues to have high dropout rates, unwed childbearing rates, incarceration rates, and unemployment rates. Our obligation is to identify the barriers that stand in the way of human flourishing and remove them so that the men, women and children of today and tomorrow have a real chance to prosper.

We cannot seize opportunity on behalf of other individuals and families; but we can create a social, economic and even spiritual climate in which individuals and families are more likely to seize opportunity for themselves – to receive a great education, to find a steady job, to develop healthy relationships, and to form a healthy and stable family life.

Will you invest in our work at this time?

The impact we’ve had – and the success we will have – is tied to your investment in our work. Simply put, we stand on your shoulders. But more importantly, so do people like
• the tens of thousands of other kids benefitting from better access to a quality education;
• the hundreds of kids we’re working with in public schools who are seeing a clearer path to prosperity;
• the thousands of former prisoners who will safely and peacefully reenter society, reconnect with their families, and find jobs; and
• the tens of thousands of families that will have access to quality healthcare through healthcare charities.

In other words, your impact is big!

A significant portion of our annual budget – and therefore our impact – is determined by gifts that are received during December. Will you consider a gift of $50, $100, $250, $500 or more? A gift of any size will make a difference. You may make a donation online here.

As always, please know that we are thankful for you and your generosity.

New GCO Report: A High Price to Pay

GCO’s latest report provides solutions that aim to minimize the role debt has in driving recidivism rates.

Offenders often leave prison owing tens of thousands of dollars in debt, creating serious obstacles to a successful reentry. The state expects returning offenders to pay these debts, though many struggle to simply find a job and a place to live.

Debt Report Cover

Studies have shown average debt amounts in certain jurisdictions in the U.S. to be as high as $20,000 in child support arrears and between $500 and $2,000 in offense-related debt. Carrying an onerous amount of debt and having to immediately repay it puts tremendous financial pressure on recently released offenders. They face the threat of having their driver’s license suspended, having their wages garnished, and being re-incarcerated for failing to pay their obligations. These sanctions can discourage them from seeking legitimate employment and drive them to participate in the underground economy, leading them on a pathway back to prison.

Today, Georgia Center for Opportunity released a report titled A High Price to Pay: Recommendations for Minimizing Debt’s Role in Driving Recidivism Rates, which outlines several steps the state can take to encourage returning citizens to pay current obligations and repay debts in a realistic manner. Such action should result in more money going to support children and victims and result in fewer people ending up back behind bars.

 The report’s recommendations include:

  • Identify offenders with child support involvement upon entry to prison
  • Provide child support information and services to parents during their incarceration
  • Provide a 90-day grace period before indigent returning citizens have to pay their obligations and repay debts to ease the transition phase
  • Limit the amount of wages to be garnished by the state
  • Forgive fines, fees, and surcharges owed to the state for consistent payments of child support and restitution
  • Reinstate driver’s licenses that were suspended for non-payment of child support
  • Forgive arrears and interest owed to the state for a set number of consecutive payments of current child support***
  • Designate a single agency to track and consolidate returning citizens’ debts

GCO will post a series of blogs that highlight different sections of the report, including the various factors that cause offenders to accrue debt, the effect debt can have in driving recidivism rates, and an in-depth look at the recommended policies.

Read the full report: A High Price to Pay: Recommendations for Minimizing Debt’s Role in Driving Recidivism Rates


***Edit to the report: May 6, 2015

At the time of writing the report, the author was unaware that Georgia already has a detailed debt reduction program in place to assist indigent non-custodial parents who owe arrears to the state. The Division of Child Support Services’ (DCSS) State Debt Reduction Program (SDRP) provides non-custodial parents the ability to have a significant percentage of their state-owed arrears reduced if an agent determines that:

(1) “Good cause” existed for the nonpayment of the public assistance debt;

(2) Repayment or enforcement of the debt would result in substantial and unreasonable hardship for the parent owing the debt;

(3) The non-custodial parent is currently unable to pay the debt;

(4) The non-custodial parent is making regular payments of current child support, regardless of the amount.

The amount that eligible non-custodial parents can have their arrears reduced depends upon the amount they owe. Those with a greater amount of arrears owed to the state are eligible to have a greater percentage reduced (with the exception of those who owe less than $100, who can have their entire state-owed arrears balance waived). For example, non-custodial parents with state-owed arrears balances of $9,000 or greater can have their arrears waved or reduced by 75 percent, so long as they pay the remaining 25 percent owed in a lump sum payment or in 24 monthly installments.[i]

While Georgia has a detailed debt reduction program in place, it appears that the participation in the program is limited. In 2014, only 349 out of the 354,427 total non-custodial parents ordered to pay child support in Georgia entered into the plan, based on the 30 DCSS offices that reported.[ii]* More should be done to enroll struggling returning citizens with child support arrears owed to the state into the program. One way the state can do this is by promoting it within the Fatherhood Program and Child Support Problem Solving Courts (PSCs), which returning citizens will be likely to participate in.


[i] Division of Child Support Services, “State Debt Reduction Guidelines,” Employee Reference Guide – Standard Operating Procedure 251, Email Release May 24, 2013.

[ii] Erica Thornton, Manager of the Policy and Paternity Unit, Division of Child Support Services, Georgia Department of Human Services, email message to author, February 3, 2015; Georgia Department of Human Services, “Division of Child Support Services: Fact Sheet,” Revised November 2014.

*While not all 354,427 non-custodial parents ordered to pay child support in Georgia owe arrears to the state, the large figure suggests that there may be numerous non-custodial parents (particularly those reentering society from prison) who do (or should) qualify for the program, but are currently being overlooked.




A Reflection on a Norman Rockwell Classic

On September 25, 1954, the cover of The Saturday Evening Post featured what would become one of Norman Rockwell’s most iconic and revered paintings. It’s called “Breaking Home Ties” and it tells a poignant story:

A father and son sit side-by-side on the running board of a farm truck with a barely-visible railroad track in the foreground. The son sits upright, dressed in a suit and tie, train ticket protruding from his pocket, and a suitcase – adorned with a “State U” sticker – resting on the ground between his feet. The father, wearing blue denim work clothes, is leaning over with his elbows resting on his knees.

823581190_b52973c490_oOne of the more interesting aspects of the painting is the gaze of each person. The weary and slouched father appears to be looking down the track in one direction, while the college-bound son fixes his eyes-wide-open stare in the other direction. The juxtaposed postures and gazes speak of the past and future, of the obligations of the present versus the opportunities of tomorrow.

This Rockwell masterpiece is about more than heading off to college. It’s about that hopeful glance toward the future. It’s about the optimistic belief held by generations of American parents that their children would face a bright future – one possibly brighter than their own and one full of opportunity.

To be clear, by “brighter future” I do not mean “more material wealth.” Most parents, whether or not they can put it in words, have a fuller, more meaningful vision for the wellbeing of their children. It’s a vision that includes healthy relationships, strong families, steady employment and the opportunity to develop one’s God-given potential.

And there’s the rub.

I know you share my hope of making Georgia a state in which every single person has a real chance to prosper. And if public officials aren’t going to aggressively identify and remove barriers to opportunity, we at the Georgia Center for Opportunity will. That’s our mission. And that’s our obligation of the present.

We’ve been working hard to remove barriers to opportunity for the past two decades so that ALL have a real chance to prosper and an opportunity at a brighter future. I hope you’ll read through our initiatives page to learn more about the work we’re doing in areas such as education, family and community, healthcare access, and prisoner reentry. You can also join us in this important work by making a tax-deductible gift today.

A Real Chance to Prosper Event Recap

Georgia Center for Opportunity’s annual fundraiser, a Real Chance to Prosper, on December 4th was a great success. It brought together around 200 people at the newly opened College Football Hall of Fame for a night celebrating the legacy of the late Jack Kemp and raising important funds for GCO’s work.

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The event provided guests an opportunity to tour the College Football Hall of Fame including many interactive exhibits. During the reception, Jeff and Jimmy Kemp shared stories about their dad and gave insight into the kind of father, football player, and political figure he was.

There were several great items auctioned off throughout the evening from both a live and a silent auction, including a premier cruise excursion, a Peyton Manning signed jersey, an Al Pacino “The Godfather” signed shadowbox, and platinum tickets to the BB&T Atlanta Tennis Open. All donations from the night are used to support our mission to remove barriers to opportunity and ultimately help more Georgians achieve a better life.

Jack Kemp’s beliefs that we must reach every heart and ensure all individuals have the opportunity to reach their God-given potential are ones that we hold dear at GCO. That’s why we’re involved in the work of removing barriers to opportunity by promoting strong families, access to quality education, and steady employment, and why we’re so grateful for the sponsors, attendees, and volunteers who helped make this event a success.

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If you would like to support GCO’s important work, we invite you to make a gift now.

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