Today’s Read: ‘Welfare-to-Work’ Has Failed, So New York City Is Trying Something New

For nearly two decades, the Human Resources Administration (HRA) enforced punitive rules that coerced New Yorkers in need into dead-end training programs and mandatory work requirements in exchange for limited welfare aid, denying them the opportunity to make something better of their lives. But things are about to change.

The new HRA Commissioner  and former Legal Aid Society Attorney-in-Chief – Steve Banks has presented a plan to revamp employment programs and put an end to the practice of penalizing recipients by cutting or suspending their benefits for arbitrary reasons. The plan will also encourage recipients to further their education.

Michelle Chen reports for The Nation:

The reforms, covering about 56,000 New Yorkers, will reorient programs aimed at moving people into permanent, sustainable jobs: This target population includes “youth aged 18 to 24, domestic violence survivors, homeless shelter residents,” people with disabilities, and those with limited English proficiency.

The city says it will offer more opportunities for training and adult education, moving away from rigid federal requirements to push people into the workforce as fast as possible. Young recipients will be supported by the city as they make progress toward completing a high school-level education program, or college coursework, provided they fulfill a twenty-hour weekly work requirement.

HRA plans to overhaul its “sanction” system, which metes out penalties for “non-compliance” with welfare-to-work program rules, potentially leading to the termination of benefits. Clients will get more leeway to challenge what they see as unfair sanctions. And the agency vows generally to become more responsive to social barriers that often impede people from following bureaucratic rules. Clients have long complained that the sanctions are both arbitrary and excessively punitive—for example, sanctioning people for missing case-management appointments, though they had been burdened by challenges, such as a lack of childcare or a family medical emergency. Many clients are involved with multiple institutions, ranging from the shelter system to child welfare services, so dealing with overlapping government agencies ends up exacerbating social hardships. [Source]

HRA’s Biennial Employment Plan is now posted for public comment through November 7th.