Time for School?

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After months of pounding the pavement, city advocates for welfare recipients have reached an unfortunate conclusion: Many public assistance clients still don’t know they can pursue education and training as part of their work requirements. Ninety percent of 110 welfare recipients recently surveyed by the nonprofits Urban Justice Center and Families United for Racial and Economic Equality said their caseworker had never told them about approved education programs like GED, ESL, college or certificate training courses; 87 percent said they might like to pursue such options. The groups are now conducting a second round, aiming to compile 500 surveys in all. Though city policy has long restricted public assistance recipients’ ability to count education toward their work requirement, advocates have sought to change that, arguing that better education leads to more stable employment and higher income. Education proponents scored a victory last April when the city council overrode a mayoral veto of Local Law 23–the City Council’s Access to Training and Education bill–allowing public assistance recipients to count most education and training, including college, toward their welfare-to-work requirements. They underscored that win last summer with the settlement of the long-standing Davila lawsuit, which opened up basic education and training options to single parents on welfare. The mayor, however, has had different ideas. Arguing that education options would violate federal requirements and force the city to incur financial penalties, he sued the council over the training bill as soon as it passed. The lawsuit hasn’t moved forward, and neither has the law–riling those who pushed for it, and those who need it now. “How do you expect a person to further themself in a job if they don’t have the right skills?” asks Equatta Bloomer, a 23-year-old welfare recipient who left high school after tenth grade. “I would like to go back to school. That would help me.”