DMI Blog

Maureen Lane

Bravo State Assembly! You’ve Introduced Welfare Policy that Will Work

Good news! A new NY State Assembly bill could mean a small shift toward underscoring the role that government plays in mitigating poverty. For far too long, jobs that simply don't pay enough to boost someone over the poverty line have held people in place, grinding down their economic hope. Certainly, if nothing else, hope is the cornerstone for a thriving economy.

A partial solution - at least - may be on its way:

NY State Assembly bill 07990 ensures comprehensive assessments and development of career plans for participants; sets forth a definition of sustainable living wage; provides for review of specific employment-related skills and abilities; requires a preference for unsubsidized employment; requires social services officials to establish collaborative relationships with local employers in the private sector.

What does that mean? After a family has become stable, or rebounded, after the crisis that brought them to welfare, a trained professional affiliated with this government program will interview the head of the household to see what their skills are, what their needs are (literacy, language, education and training, childcare etc...). The professional will then develop a plan to help that person get and retain a living wage job.

The bill stems from evidence that welfare reform policy has not been successful in reducing poverty and facilitating the transition to economic security for many families. I applaud this bill's proposed assessments and career plans - these are truly needed for each person receiving public assistance. A good assessment will lead to a specifically tailored career plan for each individual’s unique needs and abilities, and this training will provide the much-needed groundwork to help people on public assistance land the living wage jobs that will allow them to work their way out of poverty.

In fact the state has developed such an assessment and it would be smart to use it statewide. Localities can be directed to make use of the best practices of the state and good assessments and plans for poor families are just the right way to go statewide, if not nationally.

In addition, the bill directly focuses on improving people's ability to obtain unsubsidized employment in a position that pays a sustainable living wage (defining this wage at 185% of the poverty line). The bill points out that "Currently, many recipients are placed in subsidized employment, WEP [work experience program - NYC workfare] activities or educational programs that do not necessarily improve their long-term ability to obtain unsubsidized employment that pays a sustainable living wage."

Education and training are key here. Welfare rights activists know they work and the general public knows they work. "Public opinion supports access to these services as a way to greater economic security. When asked what government benefit would most help poor families get ahead, a majority (89 percent) of moderate and high income New Yorkers and low income New Yorkers (68 percent) identified skills acquisition (training and higher education) as a first or second response. Basic education, including pursuit of a GED, and English for Speakers of Other Languages also received significant support from both moderate and high income New Yorkers and low-income New Yorkers. "

The bill is a modest one and moves clearly in the right direction. I urge the New York State Senate to get going on introducing it in their chambers and encourage other states to take a look and even share what their doing already on this score. Good substantive assessments and career plans can be hopeful tools for families often discouraged by the economies they cannot control.

Maureen Lane: Author Bio | Other Posts
Posted at 6:35 AM, May 31, 2007 in Economic Opportunity | Education | Welfare
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