NEW WELFARE SYSTEM: DAY 1
OCTOBER 1, 1996
Reforms, signed into law in August ending federal welfare guarantees, are now in effect. The NewsHour looks at how states, who must now devise their own plans, will cope. Elizabeth Brackett in Wisconsin, Paul Solman in New York, and Jeffrey Kaye in California report.
PAUL SOLMAN: New York City. Itís probably fair to say that if the so-called welfare reform law can make it here, it can make it anywhere. And New York, like Wisconsin, considers itself a step ahead of the law. Started 18 months ago, its Workfare program already employs nearly 35,000 of the cityís 1/4 million eligible recipients in, says mayoral adviser Richard Schwartz, a variety of jobs.
A RealAudio version of of this NewsHour segment is available.
October 1, 1996:
How states must now devise their own plans: Elizabeth Brackett in Wisconsin, Paul Solman in New York, and Jeffrey Kaye in California, report.
Read a special Online NewsHour backgrounder on the wide range of issues -- and tight deadlines -- states face when crafting new welfare programs.
July 31, 1996:
Three members of Congress discuss the politics between the new welfare reform bill passed this year.
May 21, 1996:
Two state legislators and two national Welfare experts debate the merits of the Wisconsin Works, or W-2, welfare reform program, often held up as a model for national welfare reform.
Browse the Online NewsHour's welfare coverage.
RICHARD SCHWARTZ, Senior Adviser to the Mayor: Cleaning city streets, uh, working in public schools in the cafeterias, serving meals to the elderly at senior centers, and working in parks.
PAUL SOLMAN: Illness forced Mike Pirone onto welfare. He says heís happy to work for the benefits.
MIKE PIRONE, Workfare Recipient: Outdoor work, Iím by myself here, I have no problem with it.
PAUL SOLMAN: Pironeís supervisor, Mike Mirra, says that not only are many of his work experience program or WEB crew members as diligent as Mike Pirone, they improve New Yorkís quality of life.
MIKE MIRRA, Parks Department Supervisor: What you see in this whole area is all done by WEB workers. This building, for instance, was terribly graffitied.
PAUL SOLMAN: The park, he says, overrun with prostitutes and drug dealers, but thanks to Workfare, not anymore. Okay. So far, so good. But, of course, there are problems with the new law. For one thing, important details have yet to be spelled out. More important, says the cityís Richard Schwartz, the federal government isnít willing to pay for what itís demanding as of October 1st.
RICHARD SCHWARTZ: Theyíre not providing enough money to create the day care slots, for instance, which are very significant and critical to having a successful Workfare or Welfare to Work program of any sort.
PAUL SOLMAN: Within just one year, the federal government says New York must have 60,000 recipients at work. That means a lot more jobs of the sort that used to be done by New Yorkís unionized, now downsized municipal work force. And that raises another problem: the Work Experience Program threatens New Yorkís municipal employees. Arthur Cheliotes is president of the New York local of the Communications Workers of America, which represents city administrative employees.
ARTHUR CHELIOTES, Communications Workers of America: Itís not just a work experience program, itís a worker replacement program. Itís taking away jobs that used to be held by city workers and filling them with people at really sub-minimum wage.
PAUL SOLMAN: Shawn Whorton says Workfare is also unfair to welfare recipients like her, who get less than a third of what unionized public workers do.
SHAWN WHORTON, Welfare Recipient: Itís exploitive. Weíre doing their jobs but not getting their wages.
PAUL SOLMAN: Sentiments like this may help explain why many Workfare participants apparently drop out, though thereís no accurate data as yet. But says the architect of the program, Richard Schwartz, the cityís already saved more than $100 million, while the benefits to recipients are obvious.
RICHARD SCHWARTZ: Workfare provides people the opportunity to reciprocate, to discharge a responsibility in exchange for the benefits they receive. Uh, thereís also dignity in work. It gives people something to do every day and brings them back into the mainstream so that they have a daily responsibility like everybody else. And finally, and perhaps most importantly, Workfare gives people the basic job skills that employers are really looking for, for entry-level employees.
PAUL SOLMAN: In general, most of the people we spoke to agreed with Schwartz. And even the cityís main unions are cooperating with Workfare. But whatís new in New York, as the new welfare law goes into effect, is that some union leaders claim theyíre going to organize Workfare recipients, despite legal restrictions against doing so.
ARTHUR CHELIOTES: With the realization by the American labor movement that this is a threat to every personís job, I think we can do it.
MR. SOLMAN: Meanwhile, as some union leaders plot their strategy, New York will be trying to put several thousand additional welfare recipients to work every month in public sector jobs throughout the city.