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Monday, December 02, 2019

New York’s Welfare Reform Shell Game

By Nicholas Stix
Middle American News
1998

Welfare reform was supposed to radically reduce the number of people living on the dole, and the amount of time any one family could expect government largess. However, a program being held up as a national model guarantees unending dependence on big government.

In the early 1990s, demands for welfare reform became so loud, that even established political elites, and their academic and media supporters were unable to forestall the movement that became law in 1996, through the “The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996” (P.L. 104-193). The welfare reform bill renamed the largest welfare program, Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC), “Temporary Aid to Needy Families” (TANF), and more importantly, changed welfare from an unlimited, eternal “entitlement” to a program with a five-year limit per family. The Welfare Reform Act also gave states freedom to experiment with ways to reduce welfare dependency. Perhaps the most famous experiment was carried out in Wisconsin, where Gov. Tommy Thompson’s welfare commissioner, Jason W. Turner, radically cut the number of welfare recipients.

In January 1998, Turner was hired by newly re-elected New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani as commissioner of the New York City Human Resources (welfare) Administration. Turner’s mandate, as in Wisconsin, was to cut the welfare rolls.

As Mayor Giuliani has presidential aspirations, and has been touting his successes in speeches around the country, the New York model is bound to become a national test case.

Today, Rudolph Giuliani takes credit for having reduced New York City's welfare caseload from 1.2 million (actually 1.1 million) upon his inauguration in 1994 to 763,000 in the present, a 36.4 percent decrease. [Actually, the decrease was 30.4%, based on the initial denominator of 1.1 million.]

Critics have asked where the former clients went. Turner and Giuliani insist clients were working off the books, and lost their benefits when they didn’t show up for their workfare assignments. There aren’t that many adequate off-the-books jobs in the world. Giuliani’s supporters, such as the husband-and-wife team of historian Fred Siegel and sociologist Jan Rosenberg argue, more credibly, that Turner made it much harder for new applicants to get approved for welfare. However, that explanation still does not account for old clients who are “missing in action.” I suspect that many clients have been statistically redefined, under what I call Newcount. [Postscript, 2019: Aka fakestats.]

Socialist critics want to see clients tracked, in order to determine how many of them leave the welfare rolls for jobs. However, it is essential to track clients to see how many of them leave the welfare rolls for some other, probably federal dole.

Borrowing from his socialist predecessor, Mayor David N. Dinkins' (1990-1993) bag of tricks, Giuliani had been taking clients off of TANF and signing them up for Federal disability (Supplemental Security Income – “SSI”). SSI clients are not counted as welfare recipients. And since they are primarily supported at Federal expense, as opposed to traditional welfare, which comes from the state house, then-Governor Mario M. Cuomo did not complain, when Mayor Dinkins began the client transfers.

Nick Buono of the New York State Press Office told me that from 1990-1996, the number of New York City SSI cases jumped 67 percent (from 222,710 to 371,535), a change that is demographically inexplicable. Under Mayor Edward Koch in 1988 and 1989, the numbers rose only 1.7 and two percent, respectively. Under Mayor Dinkins, the figure rose 5.5 percent in 1990, 6.8 percent in 1991, 9.2 percent in 1992, and 11.4 percent in 1993. Under Giuliani, SSI cases rose 7.7 percent in 1994; 5.5 percent in 1995, and 4.3 percent in 1996. Giuliani ended the practice in the election year of 1997, and as of early 1998, had not reinstituted it.

In a city that has not reindustrialized, and thus enjoyed little job creation, not even SSI can account for the missing TANF clients.

Last April, Giuliani and Turner began renaming “income maintenance” (welfare) centers “job centers” matching clients with jobs, and in July 1998 Giuliani promised to end welfare in New York by the year 2000. More ominously, Giuliani left the door open to creating public jobs to close the client-job gap. Giuliani has embraced the interventionist workfare model that NYU political scientist Lawrence Mead calls “the new paternalism.” This model provides day care, “parenting skills” classes, job training, and in Giuliani’s vision, mandatory (drug-free) drug treatment, motivational job coaches, counseling, housing assistance, and transitional Medicaid, child care and transportation money. This is good news for “non-profits” and training contractors.

When I was a foster care worker during the late 1980s and early 1990s, clients and foster parents alike would mock the parenting skills “teachers.” They spoke derisively of how these “professionals,” whose chief contribution was in handing out free cookies, virtually never had children of their own, and were the prisoners of trendy, silly theories. Ultimately, the parenting skills teachers were trying to teach the unteachable – the love of one’s one flesh and blood.

While showing little promise of strengthening the family, which is supposed to be the point to all this, the new paternalist state will micromanage people’s personal lives. The state will become even stronger, while dependency will become redefined, and made even more respectable. The difference between “work” and “welfare,” independence and dependence, which many socialist social scientists have long worked to undermine, may be destroyed by a Republican politician.

Such a development would represent a closing of the circle. New York’s welfare revolution was initiated by liberal Republican Mayor John V. Lindsay (1966 through 1973), who more than doubled the welfare rolls. A charming and handsome but deranged do-gooder, the patrician Lindsay bought black votes by encouraging the welfare rolls and “social programs” to explode. As historian Fred Siegel has chronicled, Lindsay hired as his welfare commissioner, Mitchell “Come and Get It” Ginsberg, a member of the revolutionary Marxist National Welfare Rights Organization (NWRO). The NWRO sought to inflate the welfare rolls through signing up those who were ineligible by the legal standards of the time, and eliminating those standards, in order to cause New York’s financial collapse, thereby hastening the “revolution.” At the same time, NWRO theorists sociologists Richard Cloward of Columbia University and Francis Fox Piven of the City University of New York, respectively, pursued the “politics of turmoil,” the title of a book they wrote at the time, which exacerbated racial conflict between blacks and whites; the NWRO planned to use black welfare recipients as their revolutionary foot soldiers. (Cloward and Piven have since dropped The Politics of Turmoil from their list of published works.)

Political scientist Lawrence Mead considers himself a conservative, but has realized presciently that the new paternalism cuts across long-standing political lines. This puts Mead on the same side of many issues as socialists such as sociologists William Julius Wilson and Christopher Jencks, and Jencks’ protegés sociologist Kathryn Edin and anthropologist Laura Lein, the authors of Making Ends Meet. Edin and Lein refuse to acknowledge the difference between independence and dependence. They see those who work as no more virtuous than those who refuse to work, and seek to make government take responsibility for both the working and non-working poor.

Sociologist Nathan Glazer, who oscillates between neoconservatism and welfare state liberalism, once accurately diagnosed the decline of cities like New York as having begun when they stopped doing the sorts of things that cities traditionally did well, like paving streets and picking up garbage, and invested their money and energies in solving citizens’ personal and moral problems, something cities had never done well.

The ever-expanding notion of government responsibility in metropolises such as New York occurred when, following the welfare revolution, clients and their children fell prey to the sort of pathologies that come of lives of dependence, but which transcend mere economic poverty, and excite “not-for-profit” social work entrepreneurs: drug and alcohol abuse, child abuse, violent crime, educational neglect. Each of these social problems was an invitation to demand specific additional, expensive programs. Those programs sucked away scarce resources, as their staffers and administrators re-socialized clients to become bottomless pits of needs. The period from the 1960s-1990s thus became the Golden Age of “not-for-profit” organizations, which while enjoying legal status as “private” (or the traditional term, “voluntary”), lived entirely off of taxpayer dollars. These are the same organizations that will be looking to cash in on new paternalist welfare reform.

Today, in participating in workfare, known as the Work Experience Program (WEP), most TANF clients’ labor is wasted on make-work, which is more grist for the socialists’ mill. Newspaper reports have quoted WEP participants stationed at the City Department of Parks and Recreation as complaining of sweeping up leaves, only to have their Parks supervisor dump the bags of leaves, and make them start all over again.

In New York the problem is, New York State Social Service (formerly “welfare”) Law §164 (“work relief”) prohibits using welfare clients to do any work, unless additional public works programs are created especially for them. Even then, those programs may not displace any civil servants or private workers. A prohibition by any other name...

And so, when Rudolph Giuliani and Jason Turner assigned untrained WEP participants to do real (certified nurse aide) work, in Manhattan’s already overstaffed Harlem Hospital last spring, the union workers screamed bloody murder. Giuliani responded by simultaneously claiming that no WEPers were doing city workers’ jobs, and pulling them out. Giuliani had to lie. (He then proceeded to fire 200 nurse aides, for good measure.)

It is no fluke that New York State Social Service Law §164 makes meaningful (meaning productive) workfare an impossibility; that is the subsection’s reason for existence. It was enacted during the 1970s to protect unions, particularly the municipal labor unions that have dominated the city since popular Democratic Mayor Robert Wagner Jr. handed them the city in 1961, in exchange for their support for a third term.

Municipal unions have a vested interest in malingering, and in expanding the work rolls through endless featherbedding. Nothing is a bigger threat to them than an army of cheap, non-union labor. It should be no surprise that the city’s municipal unions have steadfastly opposed workfare.

In contrast, productive workfare has a moral function for long-term welfare clients. They are discouraged from bearing children out of wedlock, with the State as their surrogate husband; they are encouraged to reconcile with, and marry the fathers of their children; they see the relationship between effort and results; they see themselves as active participants in their own lives, rather than as passive beneficiaries; they gain self-discipline; they learn to be more discriminating in choosing their associates; and their lives receive a structure they often previously lacked. If clients instead get sucked into the municipal union world, they will instead develop the clock puncher’s mentality, which differs little from the welfare mentality. In both cases, an unproductive person feels the world owes him a living.

Workfare will have little moral and no economic value, until N.Y.S. Social Service Law §164 is rescinded, and the municipal unions which it exists to protect, are weakened. Neither outcome appears imminent.

Mayor Rudolph Giuliani may be appearing soon in your city to entice you to play his shell game. Don’t play it.


1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Welfare like the horses outta the barn. Once the horse out no getting them back. Once the welfare begins no stopping it no matter what efforts you try.