Balancing Work and Education
Many low income students at the Welfare Rights Initiative at Hunter College perform a difficult balancing act each week: they work up to 35 hours and take college classes, but New York doesn't fully recognize the role that education plays in guiding their transition from welfare to economic security and gainful employment.
New York City isn't enrolling nearly enough people receiving welfare in higher education and employment training. A new report by the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies shows that only 3% of the city's welfare caseload is enrolled in education and training--an astonishingly small number.
Part of the problem is that city and state agencies in New York are sending mixed messages about the relationship between higher education and job opportunities. The city argues that people receiving welfare should focus on landing entry-level jobs, while the state argues that any job will now be more difficult to get without better skills and advanced education since all sectors of the economy are contracting in this deepening recession.
A bill introduced by Assemblyman Keith Wright offers a way out of this quandary. It would count higher education as work-related activity--something that federal law already does, but that New York state law has yet to do, as this City Limits article points out.
Dillonna Lewis, the co-director of the Welfare Rights Initiative, has called this bill "a win-win situation for students and local districts," since it would prevent students from having to juggle schoolwork and workfare, while enabling a higher percentage of the welfare caseload to combine education and employment activities.
It's time for city and state leaders to make it easier for people receiving welfare to pursue the higher education that will put them on the path to success and ensure that they compete for more than minimum wage jobs. Federal law counts education up to and including four-year college as a viable means for people to become self-determinant. NYC and NYS need to do the same.