ATLANTA -- Buffeted by complaints from advocates for the poor, a
state board yesterday agreed to consider softening the blow of
new get-tough welfare rules by setting up a "fairness council"
to review problem cases.
The Department of Human Resources board yesterday approved
rules to determine how newly enacted state laws limiting welfare
benefits will be enforced.
The rules will dictate, for instance, what types of behavior --
such as refusing a job offer or letting a child drop out of
school -- constitute violations that can lead to suspended or
Lobbyists for welfare recipients, however, say the regulations
are vague and leave too much room for punitive interpretations.
Board members agreed to consider a "fairness council," similar
to one operating in Savannah, that would oversee the new welfare
law, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, and suggest changes
to the rules when necessary.
"No one expects these [rules] to be carved in stone," said
board Chairwoman Lasa Joiner.
The proposed council, first suggested by Savannah child
advocate Otis Johnson, "makes it a little more accountable,
since most of the details will be in policy, not the rules,"
The council will help the board and caseworkers sidestep
ambiguities that might lead to unnecessary punishment of welfare
mothers and children, said Johnson, executive director of the
Chatham-Savannah Youth Futures Authority.
"We see it as a two-edged sword. The vagueness gives the
flexibility that's needed to have a humane handling, but at the
same time it leaves the interpretation to people who may not be
customer-friendly," he said. "These are things we need to watch
and monitor from an independent base.
"If you care about these children, you want the rules and
regulations to help them, not hurt them."
The welfare reform law was passed by the General Assembly this
year and affects more than 300,000 people. It will cost the
state $518 million and includes funding for job training and
Welfare recipients have a lifetime limit of four years on
welfare, unless they receive department approval for hardship
cases such as medical disability or domestic abuse.
While the clock started ticking on Georgia's four-year deadline
in January, the policy manual for caseworkers won't be completed
until July 1. There will be no period for the public to comment
on the manual. …