WELFARE COUNTER-DEVOLUTION

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Forget home rule. A hearing last Friday found an all-star lineup of welfare advocates convincing four sympathetic state assemblymembers that the City of New York has not only botched welfare reform, welfare-to-work and child care, but is preventing poor people from getting access to federally funded programs like Food Stamps and Medicaid. The advocates’ plea: that Albany look into how the city handles welfare.

In the endless welfare battles between the advocates and the administration, the state government is usually just a bystander. But there are some ways state lawmakers are trying to have an impact on the city’s poor:

A bill sponsored by Queens Assemblywoman Vivian Cook would force the city to take advantage of a federal waiver that provides food stamps for the unemployed poor. Now, a jobless person is entitled to only three months of food stamps every three years, except in high-unemployment areas like New York City, where the government can waive that requirement. The city refused to apply for that waiver this year, forfeiting about $41 million in food stamps for some 15,000 unemployed poor, according to figures provided by Liz Krueger of the Community Food Resource Center. “This money goes directly into low-income communities,” she said. “If this were an economic development committee hearing, people would be screaming.”

Edie Mesnick of the Nutrition Consortium of New York State urged assemblymembers to get the State Department of Labor to “restart” the 36-month food stamp time limit next December, so poor people cut off food stamps because of the work requirement could sign up again next winter, rather than being ineligible for the next three years.

The assembly’s proposed budget includes a pot of money for welfare research and follow-up, funds that last year were spent to start a statewide program to track people leaving the welfare rolls.

Bronx Assemblyman Roberto Ramirez has also floated a bill, now in the Ways and Means Committee, that would fund 4,000 slots statewide for transitional jobs for people coming off welfare. Ramirez also said he’d been talking with city welfare commissioner Jason Turner about these problems. “We have a common goal: to get people off of welfare and into jobs,” he said. “My goal is not to beat the hell out of the Human Resources Administration, it’s just to make good policy.”