Short-term and Long-term/ Cash and Policy
On August 11, 2009, New York State and The Open Society Institute announced a program giving $200 to families who receive social services or food stamps in NYS. Economists tend to agree that stimulus funds work best when they are targeted and temporary. The $200 meets a real need for many families. There are students at the Welfare Rights Initiative (WRI) where I work who have already seen the money added to their accounts. Short-term cash helps a little, but struggling New Yorkers need much more. Access to education and training is the cornerstone of a long-term economic policy strategy that will have a deeper, more meaningful impact on their lives.
WRI students have found that lasting empowerment comes from policies that aid people receiving welfare to get decent jobs.
WRI started working a couple of years ago in New York City public high schools, most of which receive Title 1 federal funding. Most of these students qualify for free or reduced fee school lunch. Most families receive some form of public assistance (cash, food stamps, Medicaid) and would benefit from money for school clothes and supplies.
Unfortunately, in NYC, we have welfare policy that insists education is not for people receiving welfare. It says the only way to move from welfare is through work programs that offer low-wage short-term jobs. WRI students know this is wrong. Our students are proof positive that when people get the education they need, they can move through self determination out of poverty and pursue a path to a better life.
The main reason some families on welfare now need a quick infusion of cash is because we have only allowed them to work low-wage jobs and remain poor. But expanding access to education will help many families realize their economic potential and lead to higher graduation rates and brighter futures for the next generation. This is the smarter choice our political leaders must make.