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New York Post

 

Welfare Warriors Attack New York

January 27, 2010

By Heather Mac Donald

Poverty promoters still out to roll back reform

New York’s poverty industry is launching a renewed attack on welfare reform -- and the Obama administration is taking the wrong side.

Mayor Bloomberg has always resisted the advocates’ pressure to alter the city’s work and responsibility requirements. But the recession has given the advocates a new pretext for making it easier to climb on the dole.

Should the poverty promoters succeed, New York would quickly reclaim its status as America’s dependency capital, hurting taxpayers and the poor alike.

Several reform-rollback bills are gathering steam in Albany:

* A measure sponsored by state Sen. Daniel Squadron (D-Brooklyn) would forbid the city from asking that shelter mothers with income help defray their housing costs.

State law now requires putatively homeless single mothers with an income to contribute a small sum toward the costs of their taxpayer-funded apartments. When the city tried to enforce the rule last spring, the homeless advocates went ballistic and the administration backed off. The city would like to start enforcing the rule again.

Such a co-payment requirement is both fair and good policy. A single mother with two children and a monthly income of $1,000 could be asked to pay around $160 a month for her private apartment. Other low-income New Yorkers outside the shelter system pay far more of their income towards rent -- and the absence of any rent requirement creates a powerful incentive to enter and stay in the shelter system.

It also undermines the contract between taxpayers and welfare recipients that was at the heart of welfare reform: Taxpayers will assist the poor, so long as the poor try to help themselves. Making monthly rent payments, even if de minimis, develops the discipline necessary to become financially self-supporting.

The result of this free pass to a private apartment is a nearly half-a-billion dollar annual bill to house single mothers claiming homelessness.

* Another bill would forbid the city from conducting an independent medical evaluation of a recipient’s claim that she’s incapable of working. This is absurd: Forcing the city to accept a recipient’s claim of disability is an open invitation to fraud. Many doctors who provide welfare applicants with a “can’t-work” diagnosis simply rubber-stamp the recipient’s request; they have no incentive to push a client toward work.

* A third proposal would allow enrollment in a four-year college to count for welfare’s work requirements. This change in the law ignores decades of pre- and post-welfare-reform experience, which shows that the best way for an unskilled worker to enter the workforce is to actually start working -- not to spend years in often fruitless “education and training” programs.

Meanwhile, the Obama administration has been conducting its own campaign for expanded eligibility. (Not a complete surprise, since some of the nation’s top advocates of old-style welfare now hold key federal positions.)

* For now, the city has fended off Washington’s push to eliminate its requirement that food-stamp recipients establish their identity through finger-imaging -- but the pressure to discard that key anti-fraud measure continues.

* An early draft of the stimulus bill tried to forbid the city from asking able-bodied, childless food-stamp recipients to spend a few hours a week working or looking for work.

* When states across the country were slow to increase their welfare caseloads and spending with federal stimulus dollars, the administration loosened the rules in the final bill for doling out added welfare money.

This double-sided attack on welfare reform lacks all empirical basis. Since 1995, the city’s welfare rolls have dropped nearly 70 percent, from 1.1 million to 350,000. Yet the child-poverty rate here has fallen 34 percent over that same period (vs. a 5 percent drop nationwide). In 2008, New York City had the lowest child-poverty rate -- 26.5 percent -- and the lowest total poverty rate -- 18.2 percent -- of the country’s eight largest cities.

Work, even at minimum wage, remains the best route out of poverty. In New York City, a single mother of two with an $8.25 an hour job winds up with a $63,000 income, when cash supports for work and medical and housing benefits are included. On welfare alone, that same mother pulls in $43,000 a year -- a whopping amount for non-work, to be sure, but still less than work provides.

The recession is no excuse for changing the “responsibility philosophy” that has lowered poverty in New York City. The middle-class employment situation has worsened, but entry-level work remains available. The city placed 75,000 welfare recipients in jobs last year; on average, about 70 percent of people who left welfare for work are still off the rolls 12 months later.

And even if the entry-level job market significantly tightens, the city’s workfare program acts as a backstop for people who can’t find a private-sector job.

Powerful political forces are trying to make dependency acceptable again. Mayor Bloomberg is right to resist them.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/welfare_warriors_attack_new_york_ENFCGpea6Kz14E18uGdQZI

 

 
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