The Best Administrative Structure for Welfare

The Best Administrative Structure for Welfare

The Best Administrative Structure for Welfare

By Erik Randolph

When someone needs financial help or workforce training from the government, where do they go?

If we just allowed people to navigate federal programs on their own, the average person would be completely overwhelmed.


mother and daughter in poverty
According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, there are more than 80 federal assistance programs for low-income persons and 43 federal employment and job-training programs at the federal level, with little overlap. Just listing the programs would exceed the word limit for a typical blog. 

Fortunately, states have some control over the process for some of the larger programs, like food stamps and Medicaid, that serve millions of Americans.

Georgia’s Gateway Strategy

Compared to many states, Georgia is ahead. The state government has spent years and $262 million to streamline its eligibility systems of means-tested programs into an integrated system known as the Georgia Gateway.

Here there is just one “door” to enter to qualify for some of the big federal means-tested programs entrusted to the states to administer.

The awarding-winning Gateway allows individuals to apply for ten programs across four state agencies, including  food stamps; food packages from the Women, Infants, and Children Program; Medicaid; subsidized childcare; and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

The Department of Human Services runs the eligibility system at an annual operating cost of about $62 million, but the department does not administer all the programs themselves. For example, the Department of Community Health administers the Medicaid program, and the Department of Early Care and Learning administers the subsidized childcare program. 

Integrated eligibility systems are far more convenient for the customers, requiring them to enter only one door, instead of up to five separate doors in the case of Georgia. It also streamlines the application process for the customer. 

On the administrative side, all the hard work is done behind the scenes. The automated systems can share information between programs. Moreover, the technology sets up the state to accomplish future streamlining, consolidation, and reform.

Despite all these advantages of the Gateway, there is still room for improvement. Take Utah’s system, for example. 

Utah’s Integrated System

Although Georgia is ahead of many states, Utah may be the furthest ahead. 

As explained in a recent American Enterprise Institute report, Utah streamlined 23 workforce programs across six state agencies into a Department of Workforce Services.

In addition to helping customers with employment, Utah treats basic welfare programs as support services. These include food stamps, subsidized childcare, financial assistance, and medical programs. Customers also can file claims for unemployment insurance and apply for disability services

The Utah system is clean and easy for the customer. Its “no wrong door” policy allows easy access to help in finding employment and receiving support services. It also sends a clear message that Utah prioritizes work as a solution.

Behind the scenes, Utah works with various federal agencies to make the system work. It is not an easy task. It requires creative solutions and continual effort on part of the state to take on the many hassles that come with dealing with the federal government, including the burdensome task of securing “waiver” approvals to federal law from the federal agencies.

However, the goal is worthwhile. It creates an easier experience for the customers,  at  overall less administrative cost.

Much More Work Needs to Be Done

Utah is showing the way, but much more work needs to be done. 

There are still welfare benefits that the federal government does not allow states to administer. These program benefits are additional doors that people must enter, requiring additional effort to apply for those benefits and hoops to jump through to get assistance. 

In other words, while Georgia has integrated eligibility systems, and Utah has gone even further with its integration, there are federal government programs outside the control of the states. These include the Earned Income Tax Credit, the Supplemental Security Income, and public housing.

Furthermore, as we have written about, the rules themselves still need fixing to eliminate welfare cliffs and marriage penalties. 

Nevertheless, progress is being made, and the work continues on. 

Do you have experience with the Georgia Gateway and other assistance programs?  Or perhaps experience in another state? Share your experiences in the comments below.

Erik Randolph is Director of Research at the Georgia Center for Opportunity. This blog reflects his opinion and not necessarily that of the Georgia Center for Opportunity.

List of Programs per the Government Accountability Office, Reports GAO-15-516 and GAO-19-200.

  • 21st Century Community Learning Centers
  • Additional Child Tax Credit
  • Adoption Assistance
  • Adult Education Grants to States (Adult Education and Family Literacy Act)
  • Affordable Care Act Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program
  • American Indian Vocational Rehabilitation Services
  • Career and Technical Education – Basic Grants to States
  • Chafee Foster Care Independence Program
  • Child and Adult Care Food Program (lower-income components)
  • Child Care and Development Fund
  • Child Support Enforcement
  • Choice Neighborhoods Implementation Grants
  • Commodity Supplemental Food Program
  • Community Based Job Training Grants
  • Community Development Block Grants
  • Community Service Employment for Older Americans
  • Community Services Block Grant
  • Compensated Work Therapy
  • Consolidated Health Centers
  • Disabled Veterans’ Outreach Program
  • Earned Income Tax Credit
  • Education for the Disadvantaged- Grants to Local Educational Agencies (Title I, Part A)
  • Emergency Food and Shelter Program
  • Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training Cooperative Agreements (Brownfield Job Training Cooperative Agreements in 2011report)
  • Exclusion of Cash Public Assistance Benefits
  • Family Planning
  • Federal Pell Grants
  • Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grants
  • Federal TRIO Programs
  • Federal Work-Study
  • Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations
  • Foster Care
  • Foster Grandparent Program
  • Fresh Fruits and Vegetables Program
  • Gaining Early Awareness and Readiness for Undergraduate Programs
  • Grants to States for Workplace and Community Transition Training for Incarcerated Individuals
  • H-1B Job Training Grants
  • Head Start
  • Higher Education: Aid for Institutional Development programs and Developing Hispanic-Serving Institutions programs
  • HOME Investment Partnerships Program
  • Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Program (Homeless Veterans’ Reintegration Project in 2011 report)
  • Homeless Assistance Grants
  • Housing Opportunities for Persons with AIDS
  • Improving Teacher Quality State Grants
  • Indian and Native American Program (Native American Employment and Training in 2011 report)
  • Indian Education – Bureau of Indian Education

  • Indian Education—Formula Grants to Local Educational Agencies
  • Indian Health Service
  • Indian Housing Block Grant
  • Indian Human Services (Division of Human Services)
  • Job Corps
  • Job Placement and Training Program (Indian Employment Assistance in 2011 report)
  • Job Training, Employment Skills Training, Apprenticeships, and Internships
  • Legal Services Corporation
  • Local Veterans’ Employment Representative Program
  • Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program
  • Low-Income Housing Tax Credit
  • Maternal and Child Health Block Grant
  • Mathematics and Science Partnerships
  • d settings.
  • Medicaid
  • Medical Care for Low- Income Veterans Without Service-Connected Disability
  • Migrant and Seasonal Farmworker Program
  • National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program
  • National Farmworker Jobs Program
  • National School Lunch Program (free and reduced- price components)
  • Native American Career and Technical Education Program (Career and Technical Education – Indian Set-Aside in 2011 report)
  • Native Employment Works (Tribal Work Grants in 2011)
  • Native Hawaiian Career and Technical Education Program
  • Nutrition Assistance Program for Puerto Rico
  • Nutrition Service for the Elderly
  • Older Americans Act Grants for Supportive Services and Senior Centers
  • Older Americans Act: National Family Caregiver Support Program
  • Projects with Industry
  • Public Housing
  • Reentry Employment Opportunities (Reintegration of Ex-Offenders in 2011 report)
  • Refugee and Entrant Assistance – Discretionary Grants (Refugee and Entrant Assistance – Targeted Assistance Discretionary Program from 2011 is now part of this program)
  • Refugee and Entrant Assistance – Targeted Assistance Grants
  • Refugee and Entrant Assistance – Voluntary Agencies Matching Grant Program
  • Refugee and Entrant Assistance State/Replacement Designee Administered Programs ((Refugee and Entrant Assistance – Social Services Program from 2011 is now part of this program)
  • Registered Apprenticeship
  • Rental Housing Bonds Interest Exclusion
  • Rural Education Achievement Program
  • Rural Rental Assistance Payments
  • Ryan White HIV/AIDS Program
  • School Breakfast Program (free and reduced-price components)
  •  Second Chance Act Technology-Based Career Training Program for Incarcerated Adults and Juveniles (Second Chance Act Reentry Initiative in 2011 report)
  • Section 8 Housing Choice Vouchers
  • Section 8 Project-Based Rental Assistance
  • Senior Community Service Employment Program
  • Social Services and Targeted Assistance for Refugees
  • Social Services Block Grants
  • Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC)
  • State Children’s Health Insurance Program
  • State Supported Employment Services Program
  • State Vocational Rehabilitation Services Program (Rehabilitation Services – Vocational Rehabilitation Grants to States in 2011 report)
  • Summer Food Service Program
  • Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
  • Supplemental Security Income
  • Supportive Housing for Persons with Disabilities
  • Supportive Housing for the Elderly
  • Tech Prep Education State Grants
  • Temporary Assistance for Needy Families
  • The Emergency Food Assistance Program
  • Title I Migrant Education Program
  • Trade Adjustment Assistance for Workers
  • Transition Assistance Program
  • Transitional Cash and Medical Services to Refugees
  • Tribal Technical Colleges (United Tribes Technical College in 2011 report)
  • Tribally Controlled Postsecondary Career and Technical Institutions
  • Veterans Pension and Survivors Pension
  • Veterans’ Workforce Investment Program
  • Vocational Rehabilitation and Employment (Vocational Rehabilitation for Disabled Veterans in 2011 report)
  • Voluntary Medicare Prescription Drug Benefit- Low-Income Subsidy
  • Wagner-Peyser Act Employment Service (Employment Service/Wagner-Peyser Funded Activities in 2011 report)
  • Water and Waste Disposal Systems for Rural Communities
  • Weatherization Assistance
  • Work Opportunity Tax Credit
  • Workforce Investment Act Adult Activitiesa
  • Workforce Investment Act Youth Activitiesb
  • WIOA National Dislocated Worker Grants (WIA National Emergency Grants in 2011)
  • WIOA Youth Program (WIA Youth Activities in 2011 report)
  • Women in Apprenticeship and Nontraditional Occupations
  • Youth Partnership Programs (Conservation Activities by Youth Service Organizations in 2011 report)
  • YouthBuild


Based on the most recent 2015 data, this report provides an in-depth look at the welfare cliffs across the state of Georgia. A computer model was created to demonstrate how welfare programs, alone or in combination with other programs, create multiple welfare cliffs for recipients that punish work. In addition to covering a dozen programs – more than any previous model – the tool used to produce the following report allows users to see how the welfare cliff affects individuals and families with very specific characteristics, including the age and sex of the parent, number of children, age of children, income, and other variables. Welfare reform conversations often lack a complete understanding of just how means-tested programs actually inflict harm on some of the neediest within our state’s communities.

Communities that Foster Upward Mobility


Today, poor children in America have a limited shot at moving up the economic ladder into the middle or upper class. A study in 2012 by the Pew Charitable Trust shows that “[t]hose born at the top and bottom of the income ladder are likely to stay there as adults.” Further, “More than 40 percent of Americans raised in the bottom quintile of the family income ladder remain stuck there as adults, and 70 percent remain below the middle.”

In terms of economic mobility, America is losing its identity as the “land of opportunity.”

In January 2014, Raj Chetty, Nathaniel Hendren, Patrick Kline, and Emmanuel Saez, economists from Harvard and Berkeley, released a study with interesting insights regarding this issue of upward mobility. Their study explores community characteristics that foster upward mobility for lower-income children. The study measures two outcomes: absolute mobility, or the way children progress up the income ladder into adulthood, and relative mobility, or the income disparity between children who grew up rich and poor in the same community as they reach adulthood.

The researchers in the study looked at households in “commuting zones,” or what are basically metropolitan areas, in order to compare the economic mobility of children in various communities. Interestingly, they found that kids who grow up in certain metropolitan areas are far more likely to climb into the top two-fifths of American household income distribution than kids from families with the same relative income from other metropolitan areas. This led them to look into what the specific community factors are that foster opportunity. Their research reveals some very telling patterns:

1. Family Structure

The single most important factor in communities that foster economic mobility is family structure. Chetty et al. found that children raised in communities with high percentages of single mothers are significantly less likely to achieve both absolute and relative mobility. As such, “[c]hildren of married parents…have higher rates of upward mobility if they live in communities with fewer single parents.”

What makes this finding particularly significant is that this is the first major study showing that rates of single parenthood at the community level are linked to children’s economic prospects over the course of their lives. Previous research has shown that children raised by two married parents are significantly more likely to climb the income ladder, but this is the first serious study to show that lower-income kids from both single and married-parent families are more likely to flourish if they are in a community with high shares of two-parent families.

2. Racial & Economic Segregation

Second, they found that children raised in communities that are racially and economically segregated – that is, communities that cluster lots of poor kids together – are less likely to achieve economic mobility. In fact, segregation and family structure are the only two community characteristics that had a consistent correlation with upward mobility in their study.

It is helpful to think of racial and economic segregation as isolation – that is marginalization from both the mainstream economy and the norms that allow middle-income people to flourish. These norms are often contagions that go unnoticed and unmentioned in middle-to-upper-class communities. What is missing for so many children stuck in cycles of poverty is social inclusion, which overlaps with the third factor.

3. Social Capital

Social Capital often goes unmentioned in conversations about economic mobility because it is so difficult to capture in social-scientific terms. Moreover, social capital highlights how complex and connected poverty is because it cannot be separated out from other community factors. The methodology of social scientists encourages that complex problems be broken down into distinct elements to make it easier to analyze and tweak through targeted programs. But to address the problem of social capital is to enter into the complexity of poverty and see how approaches that ignore social capital actually rob disadvantaged groups of the coherence of their experience.

Here is why social capital is so important: You could have two people with exactly the same income who actually live very different lives based on the different social networks they have. For some, achieving upward mobility is a perfectly compatible, even expected, progression within their networks and lifelong relationships. Being a part of their family and maintaining strong relationships with loved ones basically means moving up the economic and social ladder. When hard times hit, they have the support structure they need to get back on their feet. For others, achieving upward mobility means separating themselves from family and loved ones, which may cause them to lack the connections and support they need to withstand an economic crisis.

The breakdown of the social bonds in American communities actually hurts the poor the most. Many people talk about inequality, but this study shows that the problem is not inequality but a lack of economic and social inclusion. Social capital is intertwined with family structure since adults in two-parent families have a much easier time devoting themselves to the kinds of activities that build social capital in a neighborhood. Social capital is also closely correlated to access to quality schools, which leads to the fourth community factor that fosters upward mobility.

4. Access to Quality Schools

Though it is certainly not a new finding, Chetty and his colleagues found that poor kids are far more likely to succeed if they have access to high quality education. Though the study does not mention the need for school choice, it is clearly a necessity by the fact that too many schools are providing a poor education to children who have no other options available to them.

GCO believes that the best and most effective way to provide access to high quality education for children from low-income households is through a variety of school choice initiatives, particularly Education Savings Accounts (ESAs) and Tuition Tax Credit Programs. Throwing more money at failing schools that lack competition and the ability to innovate is not the solution.


The study by Chetty et al. has a lot of other interesting findings worthy of consideration, but the four community characteristics that have been mentioned – two-parent families, racial and economic integration, social capital, and access to quality schools – are the ones with the strongest and most consistent correlation with upward mobility. These factors help to set those cloistered and marginalized from mainstream norms on a pathway to opportunity.

At GCO, we are committed to addressing limited social mobility in Georgia. We seek to identify barriers to opportunity and promote legislative, policy, and community solutions that allow people to achieve middle class by middle age. Our hope is that Georgia and America at large will once again become a “land of opportunity” for all people.