Georgia Senate passes bill to give cash to pregnant women

Gov. Brian Kemp with several Georgia Supreme Court justices at his 2023 State of the State address on Jan. 25 at the Georgia state Capitol. (Matthew Pearson/WABE)

The Georgia Senate gave final approval Tuesday to a measure that could provide cash to extremely low-income pregnant women in the state, sending the measure to Gov. Brian Kemp for his signature.

Senators voted 50-1 to pass House Bill 129, which was sought by the Republican governor. It would allow poor pregnant women to seek cash assistance under the state’s Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program before a child is born. But because of Georgia’s work requirements and long-frozen income guidelines, its unlikely to aid many people.

Kemp and others say it’s another way Georgia can support women before and after birth, aiming to reduce the rate at which new mothers and babies die. It’s also driven in part by Georgia’s ban on abortion except in the earliest weeks of pregnancy. The state in November extended Medicaid coverage for new mothers for a year after birth.

“Georgia’s current standards are more restrictive than the federal government’s denying this assistance to pregnant women who are among the state’s neediest,” said Sen. Mike Hodges, a Brunswick Republican and floor leader for Kemp. “Expanding eligibility to pregnant women would continue to build on the steps Georgia has taken to improve maternal health for low income populations.”

But the measure is unlikely to lead to a boom in payments. Currently, fewer than 500 adults get aid under the program statewide, officials said in a hearing earlier this month. The Georgia Budget and Policy Institute estimates about 300 women might benefit. A woman with one child who becomes pregnant again would get up to $280 a month.

Few benefit because of state and federal work requirements imposed in the 1990s. The program requires 30 hours of work or training per week, but a family of three must make less than $784 a month to be eligible for TANF. So anyone making more than minimum wage, at $7.25 an hour, would make too much income to be eligible.

The maximum income threshold for a family of three works out to about $9,400, while someone who worked 30 hours of minimum wage per week would earn $11,310 in a year. The federal poverty level of a family of three is about $23,000.

The bill would change Georgia’s rules to allow women who are already on welfare to be eligible for an increase in benefits if they become pregnant again. Sen. Colton Moore, a Trenton Republican, failed in his attempt to amend the bill to keep benefits frozen if a woman becomes pregnant again.

“I feel that by removing that, we’re only going to incentivize more people to take advantage of the system.” Moore said. “And I just don’t feel comfortable with state dollars going to incentivize more children in that type of situation.”

Senators voted down Moore’s amendment, 50-2, with Sen. Mike Dugan, a Carrollton Republican, saying Moore’s reasoning was insulting to women.

“You’re assuming they’ve made themselves into a baby factory to earn a minimum amount of money per month,” Dugan said.

Some Democrats said earlier that the bill sounded nice but will do little to help mothers if the income thresholds aren’t updated from where they have been frozen since 1991.

About 4,800 children who aren’t being raised by their parents also get child-only TANF benefits in Georgia.

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