U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney’s ‘One Door’ bill would allow states to integrate social safety net with workforce development

U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney’s ‘One Door’ bill would allow states to integrate social safety net with workforce development

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U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney’s ‘One Door’ bill would allow states to integrate social safety net with workforce development

PEACHTREE CORNERS, GA—U.S. Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, has introduced a bill that would free up the 50 states to implement a “One Door” safety-net reform strategy similar to the very successful model created in Utah. As part of the Alliance for Opportunity, a coalition of groups seeking to drive state-level change in the safety-net system, the Georgia Center for Opportunity is in full support of the bill.

U.S. Rep. Burgess Owens, R-Utah, has previously introduced a “One Door” bill in the House, a version of which passed out of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce in December.

Despite a historically low unemployment rate across the country, states are still facing a workforce crisis with millions of able-bodied Americans on the economic sidelines. Our nation’s workforce participation rate has not fully recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic. By the end of 2023, 41 million Americans relied on food stamps to make ends meet and nearly 90 million Americans were enrolled in Medicaid.

Many of these Americans remain stuck in a safety-net system that simply doesn’t work. The One Door to Work Act, introduced by Sen. Romney on Feb. 28, would allow states the flexibility to implement Utah’s consolidation of federal workforce development and social safety-net programs into a single state entity. The end goal is to help work-capable recipients reintegrate more quickly into the workforce, empowering them to achieve the independence, stability, and purpose that are crucial to human well-being.

“Every state should have the flexibility to design an integrated workforce and safety-net model that enables people to succeed,” said Randy Hicks, president and CEO of the Georgia Center for Opportunity. “Every hour a safety-net recipient spends finding their way through the system is an hour they can’t spend working their way into opportunity. The One Door to Work Act allows states to create a system that works for people.”

The dozens of programs that make up the system have different and, at times, competing goals, inconsistent rules, and overlapping groups of recipients. Often, recipients must resubmit the same information multiple times for multiple programs with the aid of multiple caseworkers. This disconnect fosters despair and keeps recipients in a cycle of poverty—as every hour spent navigating the system is an hour not spent pursuing a path out of it.

What’s more, there is often a disconnect between safety-net programs and welfare-to-work initiatives. The end result is that people stay mired in generational poverty rather than receiving a helping hand to live a better life. The One Door to Work Act would free up state governments to explore ways to create a safety net that works for all citizens and doesn’t cause generational poverty.

“There are 8.7 million open jobs in this country, and the workforce participation rate has not fully recovered from the COVID-19 pandemic. States need the flexibility in the One Door to Work Act to use our workforce dollars to move our people off the sidelines,” said Greg Sindelar, executive director and chief operating officer of the Texas Public Policy Foundation, which is a member of the Alliance for Opportunity.

 “A robust workforce is not only integral to a thriving state economy, but also to its social fabric,” added Daniel Erspamer, CEO of the Pelican Institute for Public Policy, also a member of the Alliance. “When a person is unemployed for longer than six months, it is associated with decreased well-being, even measurably affecting mortality. The One Door to Work Act gives workers, employers, and taxpayers the system that they deserve.”

Learn more about the “One Door” policy here.

 

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Georgia Center for Opportunity (GCO) is independent, non-partisan, and solutions-focused. Our team is dedicated to creating opportunities for a quality education, fulfilling work, and a healthy family life for all Georgians. To achieve our mission, we research ways to help remove barriers to opportunity in each of these pathways, promote our solutions to policymakers and the public, and help effective and innovative social enterprises deliver results in their communities.

 

A Better Safety Net in Georgia: Mapping the One Door Policy (House Bill 738) Would Be a Big Step Forward

A Better Safety Net in Georgia: Mapping the One Door Policy (House Bill 738) Would Be a Big Step Forward

The One Door policy connects welfare programs and work support to help people overcome poverty faster.

A Better Safety Net in Georgia: Mapping the One Door Policy (House Bill 738) Would Be a Big Step Forward

Key Points

  • Legislation pending in the Georgia Legislature, House Bill 738, would create a task force to explore how Georgia could use Utah’s One Door policy to allow more people to find meaningful work and pathways out of poverty through our safety-net system.
  • Georgia’s economy remains strong, but many individuals who could be employed are still missing from the labor force or are discouraged from working. Barriers in the safety-net system are a big reason this is happening. 
  • Creating a One Door policy task force would be an important first step in reimagining a safety net in Georgia that empowers upward mobility and better opportunities for millions of Georgians. 

Georgia’s labor force continues to show its historic resilience, as there are tens of thousands of jobs available across the Peach State. As of December 2023, there were 313,000 job openings, according to the Georgia Department of Labor.

Even so, there are problems. Although the state boasts a robust unemployment rate of 3.4%, our state’s labor force participation rate stands at 61.5% as of December 2022, compared to 62.2% prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. These percentages mean a considerable number of Georgians who could work are not doing so.

Part of the reason is due to design flaws in our nation’s social safety-net system. The complexity and requirements of programs like food stamps, housing assistance, and medical benefits turn these programs into poverty traps instead of bridges to work and independence.  

There is a policy states can use to give people an easier path out of the safety net and into work. It’s called the One Door policy, and the solution is in the name: This reform transforms how the safety net delivers support by streamlining multiple disconnected programs into a single welfare and workforce program.

The One Door policy solves the overwhelming barriers of the safety-net system

The truth of the matter is that our nation’s welfare system is a fragmented hodgepodge of programs. The dozens of programs that make up the system have different and, at times, competing goals, inconsistent rules, and overlapping groups of recipients. Often, recipients must resubmit the same information multiple times for multiple programs with the aid of multiple caseworkers. This disconnect fosters despair and keeps recipients in a cycle of poverty—as every hour spent navigating the system is an hour not spent pursuing a path out of it. 

At the same time, there is often a disconnect between safety-net programs and welfare-to-work initiatives. The end result is that people stay mired in generational poverty rather than receiving a helping hand to live a better life.

How many people are affected in Georgia? For the 2022 calendar year, more than 1.6 million Georgians were enrolled in the food stamps program, while more than 2.4 million were on the Medicaid/CHIP program—two of the largest safety-net programs. That compares to a statewide population of 10.9 million people. 

These groups of millions are made up of real individual people who have their own futures and potential. When a safety-net system discourages work and family stability—two of the most important building blocks of a better future—people lose hope. As individual states and as a country, we can better address the suffering of poverty, unemployment, and fragmented families and relationships by creating a simpler, more humane system that rewards work and supports family and community stability. 

For individuals on welfare, every hour spent navigating the system is an hour they can’t pursue a path out. The One Door policy would change that. 

For individuals on welfare, every hour spent navigating the system is an hour they can’t pursue a path out. The One Door policy would change that. 

Proposed legislation (House Bill 738) takes the first step to bring the One Door policy to Georgia

In this environment, the Georgia Center for Opportunity team is on the vanguard of educating about safety-net reform. A key way we are doing so in Georgia is by pushing forward this legislation to create a One Door task force in the state, House Bill 738—Task Force on Workforce and Safety Net Integration.

The task force would create a plan to integrate the safety net with workforce development, in line with the successful One Door approach in Utah. Other states, including West Virginia and Louisiana, are weighing similar proposals. So why not here in Georgia?

People across the political spectrum agree that work is key to lifting people out of poverty. Toward this end, the goal of the task force authorized by the bill is to “study the intersection of workforce development programs and safety net programs.” The Task Force on Workforce and Safety Net Integration, housed within the Technical College System of Georgia, would be composed of nine members appointed from various corners of the government.

Georgia has already taken important steps forward to improve our safety-net and workforce development systems. The Georgia Gateway is a unified enrollment system for food stamps, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, the Childcare and Parent Services program, and the Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children, but is limited to only those programs. Georgia has also taken steps to consolidate workforce programs under the Technical College System of Georgia.

But to remain a great place to live, work, and raise a family, Georgia must make sure all its citizens are participating in the economic growth we are experiencing. That’s why we need HB 738. 

How would Georgia’s One Door policy task force work?

The duties of the task force would include:

  • Developing best practices for the state agencies and departments involved with administering workforce and safety-net programs.
  • Exploring ways to merge state agencies or departments to better serve Georgia citizens.
  • Exploring how to best integrate the delivery of Georgia’s various workforce development programs and safety-net programs.
  • Creating implementation strategy for an integrated delivery system, including a customer-driven platform, simplified program governance and operations, and safeguards to ensure program integrity.

A final report is due to the governor and the General Assembly no later than December 31, 2025.

What problems does the task force solve?

By forming a task force, Georgia can explore further consolidating service delivery via Georgia Gateway and the Technical College System of Georgia—and how those entities and others can better coordinate service delivery. 

The task force will also prepare Georgia in the event that Congress reauthorizes the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, which could include the process allowing individual states to pursue a Utah-style One Door consolidation of welfare and work support services. 

The great news is that Georgia doesn’t have to wait on Congress to act. Through the task force and other means, the state can explore additional means of consolidation, up to and including consolidating entire departments. Georgia can also provide job training to more of its citizens, fueling additional economic growth.

The exciting part is the end result of these changes—more Georgians who will have the opportunity to escape systemic poverty, achieve self-sufficiency, and climb the economic ladder to create a better, more prosperous future for themselves and their children.

Amanda Kieffer: WV has too many laws preventing former criminals from working

Amanda Kieffer: WV has too many laws preventing former criminals from working

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Amanda Kieffer: WV has too many laws preventing former criminals from working

How long should the consequences of your mistakes follow you in life? This is a question that the West Virginia State Senate is considering with SB 493: Relating to the use of criminal records as disqualification from authorization to practice a particular profession. SB 493 raises the standard of disqualification for prior criminal offense from a “rational nexus” to “directly related.” In cases where the offense is related, the bill requires the board to consider evidence of rehabilitation or treatment undertaken by the individual.

Criminal justice reform researchers and experts agree that helping formerly incarcerated individuals find meaningful employment is not only important for a state’s economy but also an important part of reducing recidivism and improving public safety.

Joshua Crawford is the Director of Criminal Justice Initiatives at the Georgia Center for Opportunity. He says, “The criminal justice system is at its best when it has two simultaneous north stars: accountability and redemption. You want a system that holds offenders accountable, punishes wrongdoing, and removes from civil society those who would do others harm. At the same time, you want people to exit that system better off and to re-enter in a more meaningful way. A major hurdle to this is obtaining a job. We’ve known for a long time that having a job reduces recidivism upon release.”

SB 233: Georgia Promise Scholarships Would Help Thousands of Students. Why Are These Districts Voting Against It?

SB 233: Georgia Promise Scholarships Would Help Thousands of Students. Why Are These Districts Voting Against It?

Promise Scholarships would give Georgia students stuck in failing schools the opportunity to access schooling options better suited to their needs.

SB 233: Georgia Promise Scholarships Would Help Thousands of Students. Why Are These Districts Voting Against It?

Key Points

  • On March 29, 2023, Georgia Promise Scholarships (Senate Bill 233) failed by only a few votes in the House of Representatives. These leaders will have another chance to vote on the bill this year. 
  • SB 233 would create a much-needed education option for students zoned for a school ranked in the bottom 25% of Georgia’s College and Career Readiness Performance Index for two consecutive years. Of the 16 Republicans who voted against Promise Scholarships in 2023, 13 have schools in the bottom 25%. 
  • More research is showing that more education choice helps public schools and translates to better academic achievement, especially for low-income students. 

On March 29, 2023, the Georgia Promise Scholarship Act (Senate Bill 233) failed by a vote of 85-89 in the House of Representatives. 

On the one hand, this is the furthest that an education savings account bill has advanced in the Georgia Legislature. The Georgia Senate passed SB 233 on March 6, 2023, by a vote of 33-23. 

On the other hand, despite having support from Governor Brian Kemp, Lt. Governor Burt Jones, and Speaker Jon Burns, the bill still came up six votes short of passage in the House.

Georgia needs Promise Scholarships to build its future workforce and prosperity

Late last year, Governor Brian Kemp announced a new program called Georgia Match. Georgia Match seeks to connect every high school senior with a post-secondary education path that meets each student’s needs. The program brings unprecedented cooperation between the Georgia Department of Education, The Technical College System of Georgia, and the University System of Georgia. It’s not an exaggeration to say this program can potentially transform Georgia’s educational system and workforce.

SB 233 would allow students zoned for a school ranked in the bottom 25% for two consecutive years, according to Georgia’s College and Career Readiness Performance Index (CCRPI), to use a Promise Scholarship. 

  • Promise Scholarships would allow these families to access education options that they might not otherwise be able to afford or use. The scholarship could be applied to private school tuition, homeschooling materials, or other educational expenses defined in the bill.

  • The state would put the scholarship amount ($6,500) in a parent-directed account controlled by the state of Georgia for these purposes.

Based on CCRPI scores, which were last calculated in 2018-2019, 298 schools currently fall into the bottom 25% criteria. These schools are located all across Georgia, but mostly in areas of high poverty. It’s important to note that limiting the Promise Scholarship to only the bottom 25% of schools doesn’t cover all the schools in Georgia that receive D or F grades in CCRPI.

To see Georgia Match fulfill its potential, K-12 students must be prepared to succeed in the post-secondary education path they choose—especially those students eligible for a Promise Scholarship and those who deserve better economic and social opportunities to escape poverty. 

“Our job is not decide for every family but to support them in making the best choice for their child.” — Gov. Brian Kemp, 2024 State of the State Address

“Our job is not decide for every family but to support them in making the best choice for their child.”
— Gov. Brian Kemp, 2024 State of the State Address

16 Republican legislators opposed Promise Scholarships in 2023. Here’s why they should change their vote.

Over the past 10 years, Republican governors and legislators have passed and tried to implement reforms meant to improve Georgia’s lowest-performing public schools. From the failed Opportunity School District constitutional amendment to the all-but-gutted Chief Turnaround Officer legislation, efforts for transformational reform within the traditional public school system have been stifled.

Many of the schools in question also receive intensive assistance from the Department of Education (DOE) via the Comprehensive Support and Improvement (CSI) and Targeted Support and Improvement (TSI) programs. These programs require schools to develop improvement plans in close collaboration with DOE officials. 

While these programs have helped, there’s an important detail that voters and parents should know about. Several of these schools in the bottom 25% of CCRPI performance today were schools that qualified for the Opportunity School District program back in 2015. 

In other words, these schools are still among our state’s lowest-performing schools after eight years of intensive assistance. Should we continue to tell parents to wait for another program? If your children or grandchildren were zoned for these schools, would you tell them to wait?

For several legislators, including 16 Republican Representatives, the answer has been “yes.”

Of the 16 Republican legislators who voted against SB 233 2023, 13 have schools in the bottom 25%. Yet all 16 of these districts have private schools ready to accept more students. In addition, Georgia has a robust homeschooling community in all corners of the state, as well as a burgeoning microschool movement. Promise Scholarship recipients can access these options no matter where they live.

A view of the Georgia State Capitol Building, a symbol of political and historical significance in Atlanta, Georgia

Curious how your representative voted on SB 233?
Georgia’s General Assembly puts the voting records online. Go to the legislature’s website and select the vote for March 29, 2023, to see the breakdown of support among state representatives. 

To meet Georgia’s diverse student needs, the answer is to expand parental options.

If we truly want Governor Kemp’s Georgia Match program to succeed, parents need more options. If we truly want all of Georgia’s students to obtain a quality education and pursue post-secondary education that prepares them for a meaningful career and a stable life, parents need more options. If we want Georgia’s economy to continue to thrive and attract new industries to our state, parents need more options.

Expanding parental options will lift our entire educational system. To see this in action, all we need to do is look south. A November 2023 study of Florida’s educational landscape found that as school choice programs matured, the positive effects were felt across the board, including within the public schools:

“We find that as public schools are more exposed to private school choice, their students experience increasing benefits as the program matures. In particular, higher levels of private school choice exposure are associated with lower rates of suspensions and absences, and with higher standardized test scores in reading and math.”

The students showing the most gains? Students with low–socioeconomic status (SES). 

Far from harming public schools, school choice actually improves public schools. Georgia’s students deserve to have this opportunity as well.

Legislators in Georgia have an incredible chance to do something that will set Georgia students on a path toward academic success and a bright future. It’s time to pass SB 233.

The Marriage Penalty: A Barrier to Relational Support and Better Opportunities for the Poor

The Marriage Penalty: A Barrier to Relational Support and Better Opportunities for the Poor

The marriage penalty is a government tax policy that increases the tax burden on low-income households trying to pursue better lives and economic mobility through marriage.

The Marriage Penalty: A Barrier to Relational Support and Better Opportunities for the Poor

Key Points

  • A lack of connection and supportive relationships, especially at home, is a driving factor of long-term poverty. Marriage is one type of relationship that research has shown to be a building block of stable lives and communities.

  • Communities in Georgia and beyond are struggling with a barrier called the marriage penalty—a government tax policy that forces couples to pay more in taxes as a result of increasing household income through marriage. 

  • The marriage penalty tax discourages those in poverty from improving their financial situation and forming strong support systems at home.

Strong relationships are a cornerstone of vibrant communities. Of the many types of relationships in day-to-day life, research shows that marriage is one of the most important for empowering individuals, regardless of race or circumstance, to avoid long-term poverty and find stability and opportunity. 

But communities in Georgia and beyond are struggling to reap the benefits of marriage—and a big reason is a government tax policy called the marriage penalty.  

Why does marriage matter for those in poverty?

We celebrate marriage because it provides people with relational connection and support. When we think about helping someone escape or avoid long-term poverty, we might assume that a person’s economic needs are most important to address. But that would be missing a critical piece of the puzzle. 

A lack of connection and supportive relationships, especially at home, is a driving factor of long-term poverty. 

Those in poverty often need this relationship and support system to a greater level, which is why we at GCO emphasize the benefits marriage offers for individuals, children, and communities. Higher marriage rates tend to go hand-in-hand less crime, better education outcomes, less child poverty, and more upward mobility

Of course, not every person will get married, but the impact that close, healthy relationships have on the stability of lives and communities cannot be understated.

The impact that close, healthy relationships have on the stability of lives and communities cannot be understated. In fact, it’s one of the biggest factors in helping people overcome long-term poverty.

The impact that close, healthy relationships have on the stability of lives and communities cannot be understated. In fact, it’s one of the biggest factors in helping people overcome long-term poverty.

Understanding the marriage penalty tax

A marriage penalty occurs when a couple faces higher taxes as a result of marrying and filing jointly. Higher taxes are linked to higher income, so it might seem like the marriage penalty is simply an inconvenience for households with high enough earnings to afford it. 

But the marriage penalty poses a significant problem for low-income households, as well. It creates a financial risk if one or both spouses are receiving government benefits and getting married would increase household income. That increase can trigger a sudden loss in benefits—even if households aren’t fully earning enough to offset the loss. This scenario holds particularly true for couples who earn a modest income—those in the working class or lower middle class earning around $28,000 to $55,000 a year.

Marriage penalties apply at the federal tax level, but there are 15 states that also have marriage penalties built into their state income tax brackets. Georgia is one of them.

Georgia is one of 15 states that have a marriage penalty built into the state income tax structure.

Marriage penalties stifle financial independence

The gap between the “haves” and the “have nots” has increased when it comes to marriage. While the wealthy and upper middle class continue to marry at high rates, marriage is far less common among the poor, working class, and lower middle class.

According to data from the 2015 American Community Survey, 56% of adults between the ages of 18 and 55 are married who fall into the upper middle class. That contrasts with 39% of those in the working class and just 26% of those who are poor.

There are many reasons why marriage rates have declined for these groups, but in the realm of government policy, the marriage penalty is one of the most discouraging factors. 

For example, a single mom with a few kids would need to find a spouse who earns a significantly higher salary than her in order to overcome the loss of benefits if they chose to get married. In some cases, the penalty is so extreme that she would need to marry someone earning more than $40 per hour—or more than $80,000 annually if full time—to recover from the loss in safety-net benefits like food stamps, refundable tax credits, and medical assistance.

Through a focus group organized by GCO and the Institute for Family Studies, we met Tiana, who experienced this situation firsthand. “I chose not to marry,” she told us. “For one, I get a lot of assistance. I have a disabled child. So being if I did marry or put any other type of income in, I would not qualify for anything.”

More than one-in-10 unmarried Americans whose income falls below the median reported they were not married for fear of losing “access to government benefits,” according to a recent IFS/Wheatley Institution survey. The research indicates that penalties can amount to between 10% and 30% of household income for many families in the poor and working-class income brackets.

Marriage penalties discourage strong support systems at home

The bottom line is that the marriage penalty harms many of the poor who are working and attempting to make a better life for themselves and their families. It does so by discouraging the very thing we know impacts poverty the most—family and relationship formation. 

Fewer marriages is bad news for children: Social science research shows, time and again, that children do best in a stable, married two-parent household.

Married households have the lowest poverty rate of any household configuration at just 6.3% in 2020. Meanwhile, one-in-three children live in a single-parent household today, 80% of those households being headed by a single mom. And the unfortunate reality is that single-mom households are the most likely to be in poverty of any family structure in the U.S.—a staggering 34% in 2020, accounting for over 5.1 million children in poverty.

Solutions to eliminate the marriage penalty tax

The ultimate solution to eliminate marriage penalties is federal action to reform how government benefits are structured. However, states can take the lead as they streamline eligibility standards and form individual action plans.

That’s why GCO is hard at work at in Georgia and across the country to educate lawmakers on the perils of benefits cliffs and possible fixes. 

At the end of the day, however, government reforms are only part of the solution. The institutions of marriage and family are suffering not only from government obstacles, but also societal challenges. Civil society organizations—such as churches, nonprofits, and schools—are critical avenues for local support and examples of how to cultivate healthy family relationships. While this is not something that government programs can accomplish, classes and curriculum may be incorporated into case management.

Americans deserve a strong safety net that serves as a bridge out of poverty. But no government program or policy should be a barrier to the relationships needed in the places where lives are formed and transformed— in homes and communities.