The Heritage Foundation has made Jason Turner, the city’s former welfare czar, a visiting fellow. His mission: to devise the conservative think tank’s policy proposals for the renewal of the federal welfare legislation this year.
The Washington-based think tank certainly holds sway with the Bush administration, advising the president on policy and sending several staffers to work in the White House–Elaine Chao as secretary of labor, Virginia Lamp Thomas as head of the transition team. When the welfare debate hits full swing this summer, the foundation plans to be ready and expects to be influential.
Enter Turner. Describing the former city Human Resources Administration commissioner as a “model” for welfare reform, the foundation’s staffers praise Turner’s work as head of Wisconsin’s Welfare Replacement Project, which cut that state’s welfare rolls astronomically. “He knows what will work and won’t work, what administrators will have to contend with,” said Patrick Fagan, a welfare policy analyst at Heritage.
Now, they want Turner to tell the feds how to change the 1996 law–mainly by requiring more people on public assistance to work for their benefits. The importance of work programs “needs to be driven home and applied more widely than they are at present,” said Fagan.
Simply requiring people on cash assistance to work, he said, is not enough; the feds should mandate participants in the nation’s other welfare programs–such as food stamps–to work, as well. And if the states don’t make sure enough people are moving to work, said Fagan, maybe they shouldn’t get the feds’ money.
“We say give the states flexibility,” said Fagan. But if they don’t live up to their end of the federal funding bargain, “states are always free to take it on themselves and tax their own people.”
That makes some advocates for New Yorkers on welfare fear that Turner’s work in Washington could hurt the Empire State. “What’s his new job?” Michael Kink of Housing Works wrote in a recent edition of his NYS AIDS Issues Update, which first reported Turner’s new job. “Lobbying against New York!”