City welfare commissioner Verna Eggleston treated the public to a rare public appearance last week at a forum sponsored by the Center for NYC Affairs. She outlined the city’s biggest welfare innovation since workfare: WeCARE, a massive health and social assessment program being rolled out this month. The program relies on “biopsychosocial” assessment, intended to identify any medical or mental problems, or structural needs like child care, that prevent someone from working—and help those who can’t work sign up for federal disability benefits. Holding the mic like a motivational speaker, Eggleston poignantly broke with the last administration’s welfare philosophy of shape up or ship out. “There are really some people out there who are sick,” said the commissioner. “Why run them around and make them come back again? If I got up enough gusto to come to you, let’s just agree I need help.” Even longtime critics of the agency found the approach appealing. “It’s unusual and very welcome to have me and the city administration on the same page,” said Ricky Blum, a Legal Aid lawyer who has frequently tangled with the city over its welfare policies. Nonetheless, Blum, part of the panel, cautioned against optimism: “I hope to see the experience of my clients match the vision.”
(T. McMillan) [02/28/05]