Combine an all-Republican state government out to make a name for itself as tough on freeloaders; a state welfare commissioner so zealous about slashing the rolls that workers say she handed out Zero candy bars to emphasize her goal of zero welfare; and federal rules that, regardless of who's in the White House, give states the leeway to use the 1996 law's requirement for "work activities"—the same provision that Republicans have charged President Obama wants to unfairly water down—to slam the door in the face of the state's neediest.
What this has created is a land that welfare forgot, where a collection of private charities struggle to fill the resulting holes. For the Atlanta Community Food Bank, that means sending out more than 3 million pounds of canned goods, bread, and other groceries each month to churches in and around Atlanta to help feed the state's growing number of poor and near-poor. The food bank’s staff also helps arrange for free tax prep services, and helps the city’s poor apply for food stamps and Medicaid. One thing they don't discuss, though, is welfare. "We don't talk about TANF anymore," says food bank advocacy and education director Laura Lester. "We don't even send anybody in to apply, because there's just no point."
It's a state of affairs that's left an increasing number of Georgians with nowhere to turn. Teresa, a single mom of a 2-year-old living in a domestic violence shelter, tells of how she broke down and applied for cash benefits after fleeing an abusive relationship—only to be chastised by state welfare officers who asked, "Wouldn't you rather work?" Eventually, Teresa says, "I was sitting there crying—I just didn't know what else to do. I said, you've gone from letting people sit on their butt and collect money to the very opposite of that."
Ultimately, it didn’t matter. In the end, she was rejected for failing to fill out her paperwork correctly.