For the first time since he stormed out of a City Council meeting on April 7, red-faced city welfare commissioner Jason Turner returned to the hot-seat last Friday, flanked by agency officials to help him answer a new round of council questions.
For much of the hearing, Turner, head of the Human Resources Administration (HRA), sparred politely with an unusually soft-spoken General Welfare Committee Chairman Stephen DiBrienza, with whom he has clashed.
At DiBrienza’s request, Turner indicated his agency’s willingness to help some welfare recipients obtain services necessary to find work. If HRA beats out the city Department of Employment for $5 million in federal welfare-to-work funding, Turner promised the money will go toward services like English-as-a-second-language classes or drug treatment programs–instead of pouring more money into the controversial Work Experience Program. “We plan to use those funds to develop programs to address applicants’ needs, so we’ll be able to move people up the income level,” said Turner. “So the money won’t be used to expand workfare per se.”
Some advocates are not convinced. “Either way Giuliani controls it,” said Don Friedman, a senior policy analyst at the Community Food Resource Center. “At least the Department of Employment has a mission to get people permanently employed.”
Turner and staff announced that HRA is “finalizing an arrangement” with Chase-Manhattan Bank to offer workfare participants part-time jobs at $12 an hour with fringe benefits. After six months, the employees would be able to move into higher paying jobs or into full-time work. HRA officials are hoping to take this idea to other financial companies and home healthcare agencies.
Turner did not say how many welfare recipients would get the Chase jobs. But one HRA higher-up did tell the council how many of the 900 soon-to-be-sacked Harlem Hospital employees had obtained new jobs thanks to HRA’s intercession. “You will be happy to know we’ve found places for 44 of them,” said Turner aide Seth Diamond.
Earlier this spring Turner stormed out of a council hearing after a heated exchange with DiBrienza. The two briefly locked horns again Friday when the former Wisconsin welfare boss told the committee that the city now has 6,800 WEP workers who are simultaneously involved in training or educational programs, up from 5,700 since December.
“You may believe in education and training, but that’s not what has happened up to now,” said DiBrienza loudly, punctuating his phrases with a pounding fist that roused drowsy journalists. “They fought CUNY! They used sanctions to get people off the rolls!” Soon after, however, tempers cooled and Turner remained sedately seated for nearly two-and-a-half hours.