Mayor Bloomberg’s New Poverty Policy Should Include Charity AND Empowerment
WNYC’s Beth Fertig reported on a new pilot program to fight poverty in NYC that is being launched. Mayor Bloomberg raised $53 million from private funds to be able to distribute conditional cash to 2500 poor families. Community organizations and charities are submitting names of eligible people and those chosen to participate would for example get $25 for their kid’s good school attendance, $100 for going to doctor’s appointments and a few other categories.
In the radio interview Linda Gibbs, NYC Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services notes how difficult living in poverty is for families and suggests the money is helpful to poor parents and their children. She says, “It can be really tough to do the right thing when you’re living in a poor household in a poor community and every day a choice of one right thing compromises another right thing. And the family members that I talk to, I think, actually felt more respected and acknowledged for the difficulty of their situation rather than insulted.”
Gibbs point hits home to low-income and poor women and families and yet her words seem at odds with policy.
Here at Hunter College it is back to school for everyone. Parents who are raising young children and going to school at the same time started the crushing schedule of getting their children to school and themselves to class and work prepared and on time. Most of the women I work with are receiving welfare and going to college. They talk about getting up at 5 am to get themselves dressed before waking their children and supervising their dressing, breakfast and trip to school. It is extraordinary effort that allows them to accomplish their tasks and without any cash to spare. The welfare cash benefit for a family of 3 is $291 a month. All transportation, clothes and school supplies come from that cash allotment. It is shamefully inadequate.
Today, Roxanna Henry Welfare Rights Initiative’s (WRI) Legal Advocacy Organizer is testifying at a public hearing on the adequacy of the public assistance grant in New York State conducted by the Assembly Committee on Social Services.
WRI and other organizations of the Empire State Economic Security Campaign are calling for the state to raise the welfare grant. Mayor Bloomberg’s private funds can be helpful to a small group of families but policy changes on the state and city level can have a whopping positive affect on all poor families.
What Bloomberg is doing is charity that has the ability to help empower by making choices easier but lasting empowerment comes from policies that aid people receiving welfare to get family sustaining jobs. However, just increasing the grants alone is not adequate and the Bloomberg administration needs to stop harassing people in welfare out of going to class. Mayor Bloomberg’s current welfare policy insists that people need to take dead-end workfare jobs instead of getting training and education. Preventing access to the skills that get good jobs is disempowering and bad policy.
Charity vs. Empowerment is a false choice. We need and have both and government needs to pick up its end.
NYC would do well to get out in front of the welfare grant increase and speak to the Governor and get it done.
In addition, Gibbs' acknowledgment about poor families with children being strained to accomplish everything they need to accomplish speaks right to the heart of government lagging in policy. As Deputy Mayor, Gibbs can work to direct HRA to adhere to the federal welfare guidelines which require 20 hours of workfare for families with children under the age of six whereas in NYC families with young children must perform 35 . 20 is the federal law and in NYC it should be our law.
The poverty discussion and projects coming from Mayor Bloomberg’s office are encouraging and we look forward to his team hitting the solution mark closer and closer to the problem.