DMI Blog

Maureen Lane

What’s the Spokesman Talking About?

Looking at the facts, it's a bit difficult to understand why New York Welfare Department Spokesman Michael Hayes said what he said in Albany this week.

Hayes spoke on Tuesday in Albany, where my organization,Welfare Rights Initiative (WRI), and our students joined over 200 hundred other Anti-Poverty Groups in bringing clear experienced voices to the democratic process. As Mark Johnson from the The Associated Press reported, the meetings and rally in Albany was sponsored by the Hunger Action Network of New York State (HANNYS) and the Empire State Economic Security Campaign (ES2).
Mr. Hayes notes that the state "has focused its efforts on getting people into jobs and off of public assistance." Community Voices Heard (CVH) has documented that the employment services program of New York City HRA (Human Resources Administration) which works with the majority of people receiving welfare in the state, has placed less than 8% of participants in long term employment. In addition, HANNYS reports that not one county in New York is providing people leaving welfare with extended training and skills building as the state said they would. Also, we know, and I mean all of us by now, that education is a route out of poverty. People receiving welfare are not given access to education and training they need and want. Federal law allows 30% of the population receiving welfare to be in vocational education programs. Yet, New York is not even close to meeting that percentage. Moreover, NY requires 35 hours of work participation for people receiving welfare when the federal law requires 20 hours for most households and maximum 30 for all others. The fifteen hours difference can make or break a mother staying in school, the state meeting participation rates and families thriving. Clearly, NY's focus can broaden to see the reality of people's lives and what government can do better.

After families are stabilized from the crisis that brought them to welfare, the most effective and expedient step for families, the city and the state is for people to be assessed and given access to the services and education they need or require for long term employment.

Mr Hayes continues, "Given the resources we have, our policy is to utilize those funds toward work supports. To get out of poverty, the first step is working." ES2 agrees that work supports need to help families out of poverty. That is why we ask the Governor and legislature to strengthen work incentives by increasing the Earned Income Disregard (EID) up to the federal poverty level and 50% of income should be disregarded until families reach 135% of the federal poverty guidelines. In short, families should not lose Medicaid, cash, food stamps or other assistance because they are making an income that doesn't even equal the poverty line. There are too many people making over 135% of poverty that still can't make ends meet. Welfare and low-income families are not fighting each other. All need Child care, health care, quality education and housing. When bills need to be paid, families should not have to choose between food or rent. ES2 recommends establishing a wage supplement program for low-income workers and/or a state funded food stamp supplement for working families. The EID and a wage supplement program will be effective ways for the state to 'utilize' funds.

So often, even after meeting with legislators and state officials, I feel disheartened. At the end of legislative sessions or at the beginning of Governor's budget processes, it feels like government planning, policy making and decisions are made outside the reach of people directly affected by policy. And then I go to Albany, as I did this week, with students and others who have never been before. I see people engaged in the democratic process, meeting well-meaning legislators and their staff and sharing the policies that are working and discussing what can work better. At the end of a day in Albany, I am renewed by the sincere commitment of so many people to a better New York.

Even when I don't understand why spokesmen say what they say.

Maureen Lane: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 7:26 AM, Mar 15, 2007 in Welfare
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