Organizations fighting to reform city welfare policy are furious that City Council Speaker Peter Vallone has yet to push two key bills up for a floor vote, despite his promises. The two bills, one that would set up a grievance procedure for workfare workers and another that would establish 10,000 new public-works jobs, were supposed to go to the floor on October 10. But they have yet to even make it out of committee.
More than a year ago, Vallone pledged to support a bill to establish a new grievance procedure for participants in the city’s Work Experience Program, which puts people on welfare into workfare jobs. WEP rules allow the city to dock or eliminate welfare benefits to a worker who skips a day or shows up late. Since many WEP workers complain that their benefits get cut unfairly, the bill was designed to protect their cash flow while disputes are being sorted out.
That proposal still has the Speaker’s support, but it’s been yoked to another, more controversial bill that may sink them both. The “transitional jobs” bill, subject of nasty editorials in the Daily News and the New York Post, calls for the creation of 7,000 city and 3,000 nonprofit jobs, all unionized, paying full salary and benefits for 18 months.
So while the WEP grievance bill is now ready for a vote, Vallone’s staff is busy tinkering with the jobs bill, crunching the numbers. Advocates suspect that the bad press spooked the Speaker, and they fear that the bill will emerge from the rewrite much smaller and less effective. Council staff respond that the hold-up is due to the proposal’s complexity; they also want to make sure the bill is strong enough to withstand a Giuliani administration lawsuit.
“Our disappointment is pretty keen,” said Working Families Party director Dan Cantor, who adds that Vallone’s pledge to support the bill was key to the party’s decision to back him during his 1998 governor’s race. Staff for the Speaker assert he still supports both bills, but Cantor pointed out that the Speaker originally promised to pass the grievance bill before the election last year, then vowed to pass it by the beginning of 1999. “Community groups have reached a boiling point,” Cantor said.
“It is time for the leadership of the council to demonstrate that it wants to support this,” said Brad Lander of the Fifth Avenue Committee, which convened the Ad Hoc Coalition for Real Jobs that helped Councilman Stephen DiBrienza draft the jobs bill. “There’s worry that [council staff is] not, in fact, doing any tinkering–that they are stalling and have no intention of moving forward.”
The WEP Worker Organizing Committee, sponsored by the activist group ACORN, will tour worksites in Williamsburg and Harlem on Tuesday, and lay a wreath at City Hall to honor one worker who died. “Our primary focal point will be trying to move Peter Vallone,” explained WWOC organizer Nathan Smith. He wants the bill passed by January, when the council begins the city budget process and has little time to consider other legislation.