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Maureen Lane

WRI’s Testimony Before New York City Council

The organization I co-direct, Welfare Rights Initiative, was invited to testify at athe General Welfare Committee at the City Council today October 12, 2006. The hearing will be an oversight hearing to learn about how Human Resources Administartion (NYC's welfare agency)-HRA plans to implement the new Temporary Assistance to Needy Families work participation requirements, and what changes they might make to their current menu of programs. I'm happy with our testimony so I thought I'd share it with you all (in case you can't be there in person).

Public Hearing Testimony Before New York City Council Committee on General Welfare
Submitted October 12, 2006 by: Dillonna C. Lewis, Co-director, Welfare Rights Intiative.

This hearing and the chance to bring testimony to this committee on such an important government concern encourage me and all the staff and students of Welfare Rights Initiative (WRI). We believe that all of us must understand how new federal rules can impact NYC's poor and low-income families.

First, let me introduce Welfare Rights Initiative (WRI). WR is a grassroots, student activist, community leadership training organization located at Hunter College. WRI trains and supports students who have firsthand experience of poverty to effectively promote access to higher education. WRI has grown out of three troubling aspects in policymaking: the absent voice of people receiving welfare; the negative stereotypes that dominate decision-making, and the failure to envision reforms that are humane, realistic and constructive.

Numerous studies have documented the impact of higher education on labor force participation, earnings and long term economic independence. We know, for example:

88% of people on welfare who attain Bachelor's degrees are able to move permanently off welfare.
75% of welfare claimants move from welfare within 2 yrs of entering college In the past ten years over 20,000 students at CUNY have been forced to abandon their studies to participate in workfare.

There remain about 6,000, extremely hard-working students at CUNY who receive public assistance and who attend college full time in spite of poverty and in spite of obstacles put in the our way by the welfare system.

57% of all NYC people receiving welfare have not attained a high school diploma or its equivalent.

We know that historically, those with the least education have always been the hardest hit during economic downturns. Given the diversity of the public assistance population, we advocate for welfare reform that not only promotes the opportunity to use education as a route out of poverty, but for people who are poor to have the same opportunity as everyone else to acquire and develop a variety of skills, including literacy, Adult Basic Education, English as a Second Language, vocational & job oriented programs, a high school diploma or GED equivalent, two and four year college degrees.

We at WRI are not alone in our belief that there are things that government can do to improve economic outcomes for families. As recently reported in the New York Times and other media, the Mayor's task force on Poverty "agreed that government must use more of its resources to foster conditions that allow people to enter the workforce and stay in it."

New York City's welfare plan must permit and encourage public assistance participants to advance. In the absence of jobs with living wages for all, we know of no better way than education to reduce the welfare rolls and reduce poverty at the same time.

The New York State Legislature has passed laws (e.g. The Work Study and Internship Law and the Basic Education Law) and advocated policy that codifies the public's growing commitment to Education and Training as a route out of poverty. Even with the new federal regulations' significant paring of what counts as educational activities for TANF funds, the city has real choices that can provide access to education and training for welfare participants. WRI therefore urges this committee and the City Council to:

1. Direct HRA to adopt a city policy that allows families to satisfy their work obligation with the number of hours required by current state and federal laws (20 hours/wk for single parents with children under six (this affects almost 60% of families, 30 hours/wk for all others). Directing HRA not to impose additional hours is critical to allow parents time to complete education and training while attending to their families.
2. Continue to count work-study and internship hours - in combination with other education and training programs - as core activity under the new regulations. (See FR37458)
3. Through flex-funds, the city can create new work-study slots for welfare "eligible" students.
4. Verify that an assessment and employability plan for each applicant and welfare claimant before assignment to a work activity; and give copies of assessments and employability plans; and provide copies of the HRA master list of approved education and training providers to applicants and participants.
5. Expand internship opportunities in both the public and private sectors for all claimants. (See FR37458)
6. Join WRI student leaders, other grassroots, advocates, public and private stakeholders in the Education Task Force, which is working now to convene a cross-jurisdictional New York State Forum to develop protocols that enhance welfare and low-income families’ access to education and training statewide.

WRI is mobilizing a powerful constituency of students who receive public assistance. We hope you will call on us to assist in the implementation of our recommendations. WRI offers to provide 'Know Your Rights Training' to this committee and their staff to bring a clear picture of accessing education in this city. We thank you for your work and for the opportunity to help shape realistic, humane and constructive welfare policies.

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Posted at 9:05 AM, Oct 12, 2006 in Economic Opportunity | New York | Welfare
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