Gov. Eliot Spitzer on Monday detailed a plan to better help the working poor rise from welfare to the middle class, including lowering the costs and increasing the availability of housing and day care.
Spitzer ordered 17 state agencies to team up to try to end what he has called a “perfect storm of unaffordability.” The Economic Security Cabinet will also provide ways to improve job opportunities, training and education for families to move from welfare to the work force. The aim, Spitzer said, is a sustainable job that pays expenses and help a family become financially secure.
Advocates for the poor have long complained that government has done too little to bolster the working poor who, through extra training, education, services or by law left social services during the welfare reform efforts of the late 1990s.
Spitzer’s attention on Monday was welcomed even by some advocates for the poor who criticized the Democrat less than two weeks ago for vetoing a welfare-to-work bill. That bill would have required government to train recipients for higher-paying, “sustainable wage” jobs. Under the bill, local and state governments would have had to train recipients for jobs that pay $17 an hour or more and to find training and openings for nontraditional employment, such as women in construction. Spitzer said then that the Legislature’s bill was “neither targeted effectively nor administratively realistic.”
The Hunger Action Network of New York State had been disappointed by the veto, but applauded Spitzer’s action on Monday.
“The state needs to be making better policy choices to truly build ‘one New York’ for all of our residents, including the working poor and working people on welfare,” said Bich Ha Pham, executive director of Hunger Action of New York State. “Almost a half a million people receiving welfare in our state have dreams of joining the middle class and becoming economically secure.” But she said too many aren’t able to benefit from education and job training.
State data shows there are about 530,000 New Yorkers receiving social services now, down from 1.6 million before welfare reform began more than a decade ago.
“I’m rather encouraged by (Spitzer’s announcement),” said Jillynn Stevens of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies. She said, however, it should be expanded. “He’s talking about working New Yorkers who are not on welfare, but there also needs to be a meaningful intervention to help those who did fall into the safety net and (back) on welfare.”
Spitzer said the special cabinet will “make certain that no New Yorker falls through the cracks.”
“New York leads the nation in the gap between rich and poor,” Spitzer said Monday from a Harlem job training site. “My economic security agenda is focused on low income, working New Yorkers who are one step away from economic peril, and who are neither firmly established in the middle class nor firmly supported by the full array of programs that make up our social safety net.
“These families work hard and play by the rules,” he said. “They have done their part. Now we must do ours. “
The cabinet will work to enact and carry out several measures including a new child care tax credit, a working families food stamp program that is projected to enroll another 100,000 working poor families, health care for all children in New York, and more job training and education programs. Charged with task will be representatives from departments including banking, budget, education, and agriculture and markets.
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