Georgia agency circumvented state law for pandemic cash assistance program

A recent audit found that the Georgia Department of Human Services failed to follow state law when it launched a digital cash assistance program in 2022.
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A recent audit found that the Georgia Department of Human Services failed to follow state law when it launched a digital cash assistance debit card program in 2022.

In the fall of 2022, Georgia’s human services agency awarded a contract to the software company Rellevate for assistance disbursing $1 billion in benefits to more than 3 million Georgians. The program provided $350 in cash assistance to those who were also enrolled in benefits programs such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

The program disbursed about one million physical debit cards with the funds. Rellevate also offered a digital wallet option for eligible Georgians to receive and spend their funds, allowing beneficiaries to use their funds more quickly.

According to a fact sheet from Rellevate about the program, out of the 3 million recipients for the program, 1.8 million of them elected to receive their benefits through the digital disbursement, and 1.1 million digital wallets were activated.


However, the state’s audit — which was a special examination on the state’s purchasing and competitive bidding processes released in January by the Georgia Department of Audits and Accounts — found that the agency’s solicitation of Rellevate’s services did not follow the law. Instead of issuing a request for proposals, Georgia DHS and the Governor’s Office of Planning and Budget instead directly reached out to four potential vendors and obtained proposals from three of them, the audit said.

While the proposal review and scoring process of each proposal was typical, the audit said, deviation from the standard procurement process sped up purchasing considerably. The audit said that following the state’s competitive bidding requirements typically takes four to six months, with more complex processes sometimes taking a full year.

In this case, one week elapsed between the time the agency opened its soliciting process for the 2022 benefit program to when it selected a vendor, the audit continued.

While the speedy timeline allowed quicker delivery of funds to beneficiaries, auditors said, not posting an RFP to the Georgia Procurement Registry prevented the state from receiving the benefits of an open, competitive solicitation. Such procurement shortcuts were also seen in other states during the pandemic as agencies rushed to issue financial relief or augment overloaded IT systems.

Despite not being compliant with the state procurement procedures, it appears the Georgia state agency was in compliance with federal regulations imposed on state and local use of pandemic assistance funds issued through the American Rescue Plan Act, which funded the cash assistance program. The regulations lay out unique procurement requirements for programs supporting “disproportionately impacted Communities,” such as those receiving SNAP or TANF benefits, and exempts agencies from certain proposal publication requirements.


In the report, Georgia Department of Human Services concurred with the audit’s findings that it had circumvented state law. DHS officials declined to comment for this story.

Keely Quinlan

Written by Keely Quinlan

Keely Quinlan reports on privacy and digital government for StateScoop. She was an investigative news reporter with Clarksville Now in Tennessee, where she resides, and her coverage included local crimes, courts, public education and public health. Her work has appeared in Teen Vogue, Stereogum and other outlets. She earned her bachelor’s in journalism and master’s in social and cultural analysis from New York University.

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