Wednesday, June 27, 2007

City Report Exposes Serious Flaws in Welfare Reform

A powerful new report released last week by the Comptroller's office provided further evidence of serious flaws in welfare reform and job training in NYC. The report details many inadequacies in the more than $44 million spent each year on contracts for employment services and placement efforts for New Yorkers leaving welfare.

1) As explained on page 19 of the report, City contracts provide bonuses to contractors for placing people in "high wage" jobs, defined as jobs that pay a weekly wage of $344.25. Equaling only $17,091 per year, such "high wage" jobs would relegate most New Yorkers to an insecure financial existence, and actually place families of four or more below the federal poverty line.

2) To make matters even worse, the City gives these "high wage" bonuses to contractors even when wages are far below this level. Out of three such bonus payments found from of a random sample, one job paid a weekly wage of $150 (equaling $7,000 for a year) and one paid a weekly wage of $193 (equaling $10,036 for a year). Imagine that - New York tax dollars being used to reward contractors for providing jobs that pay less than half the poverty line for a family of three!

Note that even in times of high unemployment following the 2001 recession and 9/11, the City's welfare rolls were not allowed to grow to meet the extra, urgent need. And in recent years, the City's job placement rates fell sharply even as welfare rolls continued to decline. Even though the official unemployment rate is lower today, the City has again lowered its job placement targets to only 80,000 people for 2007 in an effort to "move the goalposts" based on prior failures. As of May 20, 2007, the City had only placed 24,216 people in jobs - 30% of its target for the year.

The City has explained that these reduced job placement rates are a function of the fact that the people remaining on the welfare rolls tend to have more barriers to employment. That is certainly true. But it doesn't explain why the welfare rolls are continuing to decrease at a time when job placements are also decreasing.

It is more than fair to ask whether such continued reductions in the public assistance rolls are responsible, at least in part, for the growing poverty, hunger, homelessness, and inequality of wealth in New York City.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Details of Poverty Payments Announced

Yesterday, City officials announced details of a new program aimed at paying low-income families for performance on metrics like school exams, keeping a full-time job and having health insurance.

The Mexican model for the program, called Oportunidades, is intended to ease the economic difficulties associated with meeting such goals, which often require low-income earners to take time off work in order to apply for benefits or assist their children. The long-term goal of the program is to enhance the next generation of workers.

When it was initially announced, the Coalition Against Hunger expressed its support for such innovative thinking, but warned that a program focused only on bettering personal behavior would not be enough to help the 20% of New Yorkers living under the poverty line.

(Covered by CNN, the New York Times, New York Post and Daily News)

Monday, June 18, 2007

The Rich Get Richer While...

Newly revealed federal data shows how $9.8 billion in farm and land subsidies was handed out to billionaires and investors - some of whom don't live anywhere near a farm. Farm and land subsidies are designated by the USDA, as is the federal Food Stamp Program, through the Farm Bill. While philanthropist David Rockefeller, Microsoft billionaire Paul Allen, and former NBA star Scottie Pippen each received thousands of tax dollars in the form of farm subsidies, participants in the federal Food Stamp Program now receive an average of $1 per meal per person. While people applying for Food Stamps have to go through a complicated, often drawn-out process to prove they deserve at least $1 for a meal, billionaires and investors receive farm and land subsidies - few questions asked.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Nutritional Labeling Rule Challenged

Today the New York State Restaurant Association (NYSRA) filed suit against the NYC Board of Health in an attempt to stop the implementation of a new citywide rule designed to give fast food consumers more nutritional information with which to make buying decisions.

While the NYSRA raised the spectre of Big Brother and government bureaucracy in their heavy-handed press release, the Center for Science in the Public Interest dismissed the suit, calling it "desperate" and "malevolent."

The Coalition Against Hunger has previously marked its support for the rule provided that it is fairly administered, citing the over-abundance of fast food restaurants in low-income neighborhoods and the positive effect that better information could have on unhealthy consumption habits.

(Update: The NYSRA's suit has succeeded in delaying implementation of the rule, which has also been formally snubbed by McDonald's, from July 1 to October 1 of this year )

Monday, June 11, 2007

NY Post to Hungry People: You're Mentally Ill

Following the Spitzer Administration's announcement last week of enhancements to the Food Stamps Program in New York State to help more working families, the New York Post published an ill-informed editorial that slammed the move as welfare "trolling" and went so far as to claim that "nobody of sound mind goes hungry in New York."

The Coalition Against Hunger's Joel Berg fired back in a letter to the editor that (surprise!) went unpublished, pointing out that the Post is trying to have its welfare policy two ways: "On the one hand, you want more people to move from welfare to work, but, on the other hand, you ignore the reality that food stamps benefits are one of the most important tools to help families successfully make that transition," stated Berg. "Governor Spitzer should be hailed for rewarding work."

Colbert Highlights Food Stamp Challenge

Last week, faux conservative comedian Stephen Colbert highlighted the efforts of Illinois Congress Member Jan[e] Schakowsky as she took part in the national Food Stamp Challenge.

The segment focused on the pervasive myth that rising rates of obesity and diet-related disease among low-income families are somehow proof of overnutrition - a notion Colbert proceeded to mock through a mouthful of cheap pork rinds and marshmallow fluff.

Friday, June 08, 2007

What Does Hunger Cost?

On Tuesday, the New York City Coalition Against Hunger released its local analysis of a national report calculating the economic costs of hunger. In a WBAI radio interview with Hugh Hamilton, NYCCAH's Director of Programs and National Service JC Dwyer explained the significance of these findings for New Yorkers.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Spitzer Eases Food Stamps Access for Working Families

Anti-hunger advocates today hailed the National Hunger Awareness Day announcement by the Spitzer Administration that the State would take a number of significant steps to make it easier for all eligible New Yorkers, and particularly low-income working families, to access federal food stamp benefits.

For all food stamps applicants, the State will eliminate the assets cap (currently $2,000 for most families). For working families, the State will enable people to apply for and maintain eligibility for benefits on-line and over the phone rather than be forced to physically visit a government office. The State will also waive finger-printing requirements and reduce reporting requirements for such families.

Said Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger: "We are particularly excited that, by eliminating the limit on resources that families can own and still receive food stamp benefits, the State is making it easier for parents to feed their families and at the same time be able to save money to send their kids to college, buy a first home, start a small business, and/or open a retirement account."

(Note: This story was covered by the Albany Times-Union, Associated Press (1, 2), New York Press and WNYC, and in advance by the New York Daily News)

Study: Hunger Costs New York City $2.65 Billion Yearly

New York City pays an estimated $2.65 billion per year due to health care spending, reduced productivity, and other spending caused by the fact that 1.3 million city residents are forced to live in households that cannot afford enough food, according to new data released today by advocates to mark National Hunger Awareness Day. The cost to each city resident is $335 per year.

According to a national study released today by Dr. Larry Brown of the Harvard University School of Public Health, it costs the nation $90 billion a year to let 35 million people live in households that are unable to afford enough to eat. This is the first-ever study to calculate the cost of hunger and food insecurity not only for the victims but for the entire nation. The New York State portion of this bill comes to $5.37 billion a year, equaling a yearly cost of $278 per state resident. Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton noted the study on her website, stating, "These are staggering statistics that must not be ignored."

"We’ve known for quite some time the heart-breaking reality that, when families can’t afford enough food, their quality of life suffers in many ways." said Joel Berg, executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger. "As a result of this groundbreaking study, we also know much more about how much the persistence of hunger costs all of us."

Friday, June 01, 2007

Upstate Advocates Applaud State Assembly for Passing Healthy Schools Act

Yesterday, upstate advocates applauded the passing of the Healthy Schools Act (A8698), a bill that if it were to become law would increase the quality of free school meals statewide, including New York City.

"We especially applaud the effort to expand the school breakfast program, increase state funding for school meals, and eliminate junk food from our schools," said Mark Dunlea, Associate Director of the Hunger Action Network of New York State.

The bill now faces passage in the State Senate. If you want to let your State Senator know how you feel about this bill, you can find his or her contact information using NYPIRG's Who Represents Me? database.