Hunger Action: State Jobs Program, Safety Net failing in great recession
- Hunger Action Network of NYSMedia Release
For Immediate Release: October 1, 2010
Contact: Mark Dunlea, 518-434-7371, xt 1#
Andreas Kriefall, 518-331-3190
Many Low-Income New Yorkers are Falling Through the State Safety Net
State Fails to Use Federal Funding to Provide Jobs to Low-Income New Yorkers
Albany - The Hunger Action Network released two reports today showing that New York is not adequately helping low-income residents deal with growing problems from the great recession.
The first report, a survey of local advocates and community groups that assist low-income New Yorkers, found that many barriers exist to accessing benefits. While the state has been aggressive in promoting increased use of food stamps, it still has a negative attitude towards providing households with cash assistance through the federal TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) and state-local Safety Net programs. Thus enrollment in these welfare programs has remained relatively flat even as poverty, unemployment and the use of emergency food programs has soared over the last two years.
The report also found that many local Social Services districts do a poor job in assisting individuals with disabilities or responding to emergency situations.
The second report examined how well the state is using new federal funds for various job related programs for welfare participants funded out of a special $1.2 billion fund as part of the economic stimulus. New York has allocated less than 10% of these funds for job initiatives, lagging far behind many other states, even though more than 800,000 New Yorkers are out of work. Nationally, unemployment is much higher among poor Americans. The unemployment rate for the poorest 10% of Americans is in excess of 30% (Center for Labor Market Studies, Northeastern University).
The reports were funded by the Robert Sterling Clark Foundation.
"Apart from the food stamp program, which needs to pay higher benefits, we have a broken safety net system in New York. Even as poverty and unemployment have soared, too many welfare districts discourage local residents from obtaining assistance. Navigating the welfare system is an incredibly challenging task, often requiring dozens of visits before assistance is provided, at a time when families are desperately seeking ways to feed themselves and keep a roof over their head. The state's “work first” approach has never been particularly effective in helping needy families find work; but to continue to divert people away from help when unemployment for the poor is in excess of 30% shows a real lack of compassion and understanding," stated Mark Dunlea, Executive Director of Hunger Action Network.Other speakers at the press conference included Amy Laforte, a former wage subsidy participant who is presently the Vocational Employment Coordinator at the Altamont Program; and, Schelra Smoot and Sabrina Kershaw, two Career Pathways stakeholders.The report did find that after a slow start, local districts are getting up to speed in placing individuals into a variety of new subsidized jobs programs for households below 200% of poverty. Hunger Action did make several recommendations for improvement, including better informing participants about the jobs program, reducing restrictions on who can apply for the jobs programs, making it easier for nonprofit and government employers to provide job openings under the program, and strengthening support programs such as mentoring.
The major problem however remains the lack of funding. In the most recent state budget cycle, the state sharply cut funding for these initiatives despite receiving $638 million in federal dollars for these programs available in this budget cycle. Even with those major funds on hand, state allocations dropped from $70 million to $14 million. Hunger Action also wants the local districts to devote much more of the nearly $1 billion in extra federal welfare dollars sent to them by the state as a block grant for jobs initiatives rather than for county fiscal relief.
"The sad reality is during this time of record unemployment, the state has been diverting more and more federal dollars intended to provide jobs and cash to welfare participants into fiscal relief. Unfortunately, they have failed to take advantage of the tremendous opportunities provided to them in the last 18 months to make welfare more jobs-focused. Hunger Action Network and our allies call on all the candidates for state office and the legislature to make bold and much needed corrections in this disastrous course by investing more, not less in jobs—subsidized jobs are one of the best ways to create economic recovery," said Andreas Kriefall.Hunger Action urged the state to focus more on providing jobs to the poorest New Yorkers, including more aggressively implementing the new Green Jobs, Green NY program by energy retrofitting up to one million homes, as well as setting targets for hiring low-income New Yorkers through federally funded projects, for instance in the Department of Transportation’s road-building work.