Safety net urged for state’s poor

May 16, 2001. An article by Erika Rosenberg, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, related to a briefing prepared by the Campaign for the Empire State Jobs Program.

New York needs a $190 million program to help thousands of families approaching the five-year time limit for receiving welfare benefits, advocates for the poor said yesterday.

About 63,000 welfare cases — including 2,095 in Monroe County — are expected to hit a federal time limit in December, according to the latest state figures.

The federal government imposed a lifetime limit of five years on welfare as part of reforms enacted in 1996.

At that point, welfare recipients in New York will transfer to a safety-net program that eventually will replace cash benefits with an electronic debit card that covers basic needs, state officials said.

The anti-poverty groups holding an Albany news conference said welfare recipients with serious child-care, transportation and other difficulties need more time and help to make the transition work.

A bill proposed by Sen. Nicholas Spano, R-Yonkers, Westchester County, and Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, D-Queens, would create a new program providing those people with job training and subsidized jobs at nonprofit organizations or public agencies.

Welfare rolls have fallen dramatically as reforms have taken hold and the economy has improved. New York had 1.6 million welfare recipients in 1995 and 743,000 this year.

But those who remain tend to face serious problems, such as drug addiction or domestic violence, keeping them from working, state officials said. Advocates also worry a softening economy will make it more difficult to move them into the workplace.

The transitional jobs program proposed in the bill would serve about 8,000 people, two-thirds of whom would be welfare recipients approaching the time limit.

“What we want to do is make sure everybody has the support they need to become self-sufficient,” said Elizabeth Spross, a spokeswoman for the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance.

Jobs urged as welfare deadline looms

May 16, 2001. An article by Elizabeth Benjamin, Albany Times-Union, related to a briefing prepared by the Campaign for the Empire State Jobs Program: a state-subsidized program would aid thousands reaching end of 5-year benefits limit.

Labor unions and activists on Tuesday called on lawmakers to approve a $190 million program to provide 8,000 state-subsidized jobs for people who will hit a five-year time limit for federal welfare benefits in December.

The program proposed in a bill sponsored by Sen. Nicholas Spano, R-Yonkers, and Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan, D-Queens, is designed to help longtime welfare recipients who have few or no skills prepare for the job market by providing them with
experience and training.

It would offer an alternative to Workfare, which requires people to work to receive welfare benefits. Many recipients complain they were placed in menial jobs under Workfare that did not prepare them for the “real world.”

“Just to have people out there working for benefits, I don’t know how that’s ever going to move them to self-sufficiency,” said Sandra Killett-Williams, a 39-year-old Manhattan resident and mother of two, who worked answering phones and making copies at a state agency through Workfare. She is still on welfare, but no longer at the agency.

As of February 2001, approximately 63,000 New Yorkers were scheduled to reach the five-year lifetime limit for federal welfare benefits in December. The limit was imposed under federal welfare reform in 1996.

State officials say they are working to move as many welfare recipients as possible into work before the deadline. They have also pledged that anyone who remains unemployed by December will be automatically enrolled in New York’s “safety net” program and continue to receive support through an electronic debit card rather than cash.

New York currently has programs that offer subsidies to companies and agencies that hire welfare recipients. But those tend to help people who are most employable rather than those most in need, said Hunger Action Network organizer Mark Dunlea.

“Other programs cherry pick — they go after the people most likely to succeed,” Dunlea said. “We want to go after the people who aren’t likely to succeed.”

Supporters propose the state use $142.5 million in surplus federal welfare dollars and $27.5 million from the general fund to pay for the program. New York has used few of its welfare dollars — as of December, it had $1.5 billion left. State officials say they are holding back in part because they don’t know what the effect of the December deadline will be.

Briefing: The Empire State Jobs Program

May 15, 2001. The Fiscal Policy Institute joined the other members of the Campaign for the Empire State Jobs Program to organize a briefing on the program for state officials. The Empire State Jobs program is a transitional employment program that would provide work experience, training and other needed support services to public assistance recipients with serious barriers to employment and little or no paid work experience, particularly those who are close to reaching the five-year time limit on family assistance. Materials from the briefing include:

  • A new analysis of TANF spending in New York, by FPI economist Trudi Renwick
  • A press release from participating unions and community groups on the benefits of a Jobs Program for welfare participants, and the need for NYS to make more positive use of its TANF Surplus
  • A presentation on the key elements of the Empire State Jobs program prepared by Maurice Emsellem of the National Employment Law Project
  • A presentation by Steve Savner of the Center for Law and Social Policy on the success of similar programs in other states
  • A bill summary of the proposed Empire State Jobs Program legislation
  • A memo by FPI economist Trudi Renwick on the financing of the proposed Empire State Jobs Program and the savings that it would provide for local governments throughout New York State.

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