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.