At Thursday’s City Council welfare committee budget hearing, it wasn’t all gloomy news. The Administration for Children’s Services will be spared the 20 percent cut in preventive services that the mayor had planned earlier this year. Now more than ever, families need these services: a new federal law seriously shortens the amount of time kids spend in the foster care system before adoption proceedings begin. The agency is trying to prepare for the impact of that new law, too: Commissioner Nicholas Scoppetta announced that ACS will spend $3.1 million to hire 60 more attorneys and paralegals to handle an anticipated flood in the court cases.
But Human Resources Administration Commissioner Jason Turner, determined to provide the most sanguine numbers of the day, took council members on a statistical joyride. Breaking from his prepared text and chewing gum at the same time, Turner pointed to stats that show that 60 percent of unmarried mothers are now working, up from 42 percent in the 1980s. For the commissioner, this was proof positive. “This essentially means,” Turner crowed, “that for all the left’s preoccupation with ending poverty, we have the tools to bring it at hand” with welfare-to-work. Never mind that the figures were not specific to New York City but were for women nationwide, from ages 18 to 44, including everyone from welfare moms to Murphy Brown.
Other Turner turns: A minimum-wage job, he insisted, will keep a family of five at 180 percent of the poverty line. But his piece de resistance was aimed to back up his agency’s much-disputed claim that 56 percent of people who’ve left welfare are employed six months later. Turner emphasized that the figures were plausible because they were comparable to well-documented success rates in that other teeming cosmopolis: Iowa.