Monday, February 1, 2010
Full-throttle tweeding efforts underway
From City Journal:
Several dependency-promoting bills are gathering steam in Albany. In theory, current state law requires putatively homeless single mothers with an income to contribute a small portion of that income to the costs of their taxpayer-funded apartments. For instance, a single mother with two children and a monthly income of $1,000 could be asked to contribute around $160 a month for her private apartment. But when the city tried to enforce the contribution rule last spring, homeless advocates went ballistic, and the administration backed off. The city wants to start enforcing the rule again, but a bill sponsored by state senator Daniel Squadron of Brooklyn would forbid it.
The requirement is both fair—other low-income New Yorkers put far more of their income toward rent—and good policy. The absence of any rent requirement creates a powerful incentive to enter and stay in the system. It also undermines the reciprocity contract between taxpayers and welfare recipients that lies at the heart of welfare reform. The result: a nearly half-billion-dollar annual bill to house single mothers claiming homelessness.
Other pending legislation would forbid the city from medically evaluating a recipient’s claim that she was incapable of working; it would also allow enrollment in a four-year college to fulfill welfare’s work requirements. The first bill opens up a wide arena for fraud; the second ignores decades of pre- and post-welfare-reform experience showing that the best way for an unskilled worker to enter the workforce is actually to start working, rather than spend years in often fruitless “education and training” programs.
If the Albany dependency brigades weren’t dangerous enough, the Obama administration has been conducting its own campaign for expanded welfare eligibility—not surprisingly, perhaps, given that some of the nation’s most influential welfare advocates now occupy key positions in the federal bureaucracy.
This double-sided attack on New York’s 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. Rather than increasing, as opponents of welfare reform warned, the child poverty rate in New York City dropped 34 percent during the same period, compared with 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. When tax credits and medical and housing benefits are included, an average single mother of two with an $8.25-an-hour job in New York City receives a $63,000 annual income. On welfare alone, that same mother would pull in $43,000 a year—a whopping amount for non-work, to be sure, but still less than work provides.