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New York Post

 

Quinn's Welfare War

November 17, 2011

By Heather Mac Donald

Driving to undo vital reforms

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the leading contender to take over City Hall in 2013, is attacking the core principles of welfare reform. Would a Quinn mayoralty return New York City to its former status as the nation’s dependency capital?

Quinn and her welfare-advocate allies claim that needy New Yorkers forgo food stamps because the city finger-images applicants, a procedure the activists deem “stigmatizing.” Hunger activist Joel Berg has even played the race card, claiming that the requirement raises civil-rights issues because most food-stamp recipients are black or Hispanic.

Thought experiment: Victims of a Central American earthquake have no hope of eating without international food assistance. The agency at the scene fingerprints aid recipients for tracking purposes. How many victims would turn down life-sustaining food because they don’t want to be “stigmatized” by fingerprinting? None.

The chances that New Yorkers in straitened circumstances would forgo a stream of free food because of a finger-imaging requirement are equally low. New York’s food-stamp rolls have jumped 50 percent in the last three years; 1.8 million New Yorkers now use food stamps, at a cost to federal taxpayers of $3.3 billion.

The only potential recipients who might be deterred from applying are criminals with outstanding warrants against them, who worry that the police will track them down if they give the welfare agency their prints. But even that fear would be misguided. The Human Resources Administration, which runs the program, doesn’t share the prints with any other government agencies — neither the police nor federal immigration authorities. If fugitives are inhibited from eating for free at taxpayer expense, that’s a cost we can live with.

Perhaps Berg should sue the city for subjecting its employees to what he refers to as “electronic stop-and-frisk.” All city hires, from agency commissioners to janitors, have their fingerprints taken as a condition of employment. The welfare workers who administer this allegedly “punitive” food-stamp requirement have all been finger-imaged. The deterrent effect appears to be minimal. At 275,000 full-time employees, city government dwarfs all other local employers.

Quinn, The New York Times and other welfare activists imply that no one would ever try to game the welfare system. In fact, food-stamp fraud was a major problem in the Dinkins era, before the finger-imaging reform. Even with the requirement, the city discovers 1,200 to 1,500 applicants a year who are already collecting food stamps, for a total in benefits of about $5 million a year. Thousands more potential fraudsters are undoubtedly not reapplying because of the integrity measures.

Quinn’s war against a proposed homelessness rule is equally misguided. The city wants to investigate whether childless adults coming into the shelter system have other safe housing available, such as with family or friends, before committing to thousands of dollars a month in housing aid. A similar requirement for families (most headed by unwed mothers) seeking to enter the family-shelter system diverts from 15 to 20 percent of free-housing seekers. Under the proposed rule for single adults, mentally ill applicants would be given either immediate shelter or medical treatment, while agency staffers probe their alternative-housing options for them.

The city’s huge shelter system should be a last resort, not a first choice, when an individual tires of a crowded apartment or contentious roommates. The proposed diversion rule merely strives to ensure that scarce tax resources are spent on the truly homeless.

Finally, the council’s General Welfare Committee, with Quinn’s backing, wants to create a million-dollar-plus bureaucracy in welfare offices to advise individuals under 25 on their welfare rights and to craft education and training programs for them. The proposal defines a “successful young-adult applicant” as someone who has gotten on the dole.

Besides adding fat to the city’s bloated payroll, this unnecessary bureaucracy promises to move the city’s welfare program away from its successful emphasis on work toward failed education and training programs — and ultimately, dependency.

In a fiscal crisis, the government must ensure that it spends taxpayer money wisely. Mayor Bloomberg deserves enormous credit for preserving New York’s generous social-safety net and for ensuring that personal responsibility remains a core value of welfare assistance — despite the criticism of the entitlement lobby. Unfortunately, his legacy may not last beyond 2013.

Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/p/news/opinion/opedcolumnists/quinn_welfare_war_HbaJAIy9N2xBIwgxXvBQDM

 

 
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