WELFARE-TO-WRASSLE

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What’s the most useful job skill that welfare clients are now learning?

How to struggle with bureaucracy.

Despite Mayor Rudolph Giuliani’s triumphant proclamation last December that the city’s 267,000 welfare recipients had reached a state of “full engagement” with work activities, stats recently released by the Independent Budget Office show a different story. Only 29 percent of the people on welfare in the city were working, doing workfare or assigned to community service jobs as of December 1999.

Nearly as many of them–a full 22 percent of the city’s welfare client caseload–were in the midst of fighting with the welfare administration to get their benefits restored.

More than 23,000 welfare clients had been sanctioned, meaning that their benefits had been cut for not following welfare rules. On top of that, almost 34,000 cases were waiting for administrative judges to decide whether or not their benefits should be restored. (Other city data shows that only 18 percent of these hearings are decided in favor of the welfare department.)

Welfare recipients usually get sanctioned when they fail to show up for a job or workfare assignment. Clients, however, often complain that the welfare agency cuts people off arbitrarily, or assigns them to jobs they can’t do because of schedule conflicts or disabilities.