You’ve probably heard the old adage, “Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day … Teach a man to fish, and you feed him for a lifetime.” And while this nugget of age-old wisdom seems like common-sense compassion to most folks, in reality most governmental welfare programs in America—though well-intentioned—are neither compassionate nor based in common sense. Instead of helping men and women become self-sufficient and take care of their families, these programs trap folks in cycles of generational dependency and poverty—and keep them reliant on the government for their daily catch. 

Despite this, there’s hope on the horizon. In a positive first step toward addressing the vast, unconnected, and dehumanizing welfare system that deprives people of the dignity that comes with steady and meaningful work, President Trump recently signed a sweeping Executive Order aimed at overhauling America’s broken welfare system. The ultimate goal is to scrap the existing collection of complex, wasteful, inefficient, and budget-breaking programs and agencies with a system that actually works.

And while it’s definitely encouraging to see comprehensive action taken at the federal level to tackle welfare reform, we believe that the best solutions to help our neighbors escape poverty occur at the locally. That’s why we here at Georgia Center for Opportunity are working hard to promote common-sense policy solutions in Georgia that restore dignity to welfare recipients. How? By consolidating confusing and overlapping welfare programs and designate a single agency to manage welfare cases—all while applying safeguards to weed out fraud and end benefit cliffs and marriage penalties that keep people from learning how to fish on their own.

Taken together, we believe these reforms will convert welfare into workfare and put Georgians squarely on a path that scholars call the “success sequence”’—a three-step approach that helps people turn their lives around by getting a good education, which leads to a stable job and in turn leads to a flourishing, successful home life. 

With more than 20 percent of Georgians on some form of public assistance, it’s more important than ever that we focus on overhauling welfare the right way—with compassion and common sense. It’s time to unravel decades of haphazardly cobbled together programs—each with conflicting interests, standards, and procedures—that cost taxpayers more than $23 billion annually and ultimately do not deliver the intended goal of teaching folks to fish for themselves for a lifetime.

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