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.