The New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA) today issued a plan for improving how the agency helps its clients develop job skills, obtain employment and build sustainable careers that provide a path out of poverty, Commissioner Steven Banks announced. After a period of public comment, the Employment Plan will be submitted to the New York State Office of Temporary Assistance and Disability Assistance (OTDA) as required by the biennial employment plan process. Commissioner Banks is testifying about the Plan at an Oct. 1 hearing of the New York City Council.
“The Employment Plan is a blueprint for meeting the goals of the de Blasio Administration to address poverty and inequality. With this Plan, we can do a better job of helping clients develop skills and find work that pays enough to support their families and leave public assistance for good. The Plan sets out the details for implementing the reforms presented in HRA’s May 19 testimony to the City Council,” said HRA Commissioner Banks. “By replacing the one-size-fits-all approach, better assessing clients’ strengths, challenges and goals, and emphasizing education and training tied to areas of the economy creating jobs, we will be able to help more people move into stable jobs with a career ladder, and, perhaps most importantly, to not return to the caseload or churn on and off it.”
Every two years, HRA is legally required to submit to the New York State OTDA an Employment Plan that outlines HRA’s employment services for applicants and recipients of Cash Assistance and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps) benefits and that defines how it is spending $200 million annually on those services.
The Plan affects about 56,000 Public Assistance clients who have work requirements based on federal and state law. It includes separate employment programs designed specifically to help youth aged 18 to 24, domestic violence survivors, homeless shelter residents, Limited English Proficient (LEP) New Yorkers, and those with disabilities. It is based on three principles:
1. One-size-fits-all programs don’t work. One out of every four clients who were reported as receiving job assistance has been returning to the caseload within 12 months. Accurately assessing the actual needs of applicants and recipients can result in matching them with the programs most likely to help them.
2. Education is essential to career success, but for education and training programs to work they must be tied to industries that are growing and creating jobs, and they must include supports to help low-income New Yorkers successfully complete them.
3. In the long run, there will be more positive outcomes from providing clients with access to work and work-related activities that can lead to sustainable careers. The alternative has been a system where even minor rule infractions can lead to sanctions that have excluded people from the very services that were supposed to help them
The Employment Plan includes the following:
· Education and Training. Many clients lack the high school or college degree required by even most entry level jobs. In New York City, workers with a high school diploma or equivalent earn 1.5 times as much as workers without these credentials and workers with an Associate’s degree earn 2 times as much. Thus, the Plan focuses on education and training.
· Youth aged 18 to 24 will be offered an opportunity to complete high school or its equivalent as long as they are participating in full-time education and making progress toward completion.
· Clients, especially youth, will be offered an opportunity to pursue post-secondary education, including four-year college degrees, as provided by the new state law, as long as they also meet the 20-hour work requirement and make progress toward completion. To increase graduation rates, HRA will build on a CUNY program that provides job and educational supports, and will create work and internship programs that are on or near a student’s campus.
· Clients with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) will also be offered the opportunity to participate in English as a Second Language programs.
· Continue phasing out the Work Experience Program (WEP) model and replace it with internship opportunities and community service options that can lead to employment as well as part-time subsidized jobs and other employment programs that meet the individual needs of each Cash Assistance client. WEP placements fell by half in the last year of the prior administration.
· Continue to require 35 hours per week of work, with limited exceptions: reducing it to 30 hours, as provided by federal and state law, for families who are, for example, caring for a child with disabilities with no after school care, or who are in a shelter and need time to search for housing; and reducing it to 25 hours for families with children under age 4, as allowed by federal law, since childcare for very young children is difficult to find and more expensive. Those who are able to work longer hours will be supported in doing so.
· Increase program participation by reducing unnecessary sanctions and case closings. HRA’s prior policy was to keep people in sanction from participating in work, training and other work-related activities. This kept them from moving out of poverty and off the caseload. Instead, HRA will now:
o Develop a data system that prevents HRA from scheduling appointments that conflict
with other known work activities and appointments, causing clients to miss appointments or work and risk sanctions.
o Conduct a pilot project to allow up to five days of excused absences for illness without documentation, in line with the City’s new five paid sick days law.
o Assess a variety of means to determine why clients are missing appointments or work and then work to resolve problems before clients are sanctioned so they can continue participating in work activities. This includes testing methods such as reaching out to resolve problems before the formal conciliation process; extending the grace period for failure to report from 24 hours to 72 hours; and instituting a standard lateness policy modeled on those used by employers.
o Improve HRA’s conciliation, good cause, and dispute resolution procedures to avert $10 million in potential state penalties due to unnecessary fair hearings and to address the link between adverse case actions and homelessness (nearly one quarter of applicants for shelter from the Department of Homelessness were found to have had an HRA case closing or sanction within 12 months of seeking shelter).
o Enhance efforts either to assist clients with disabilities who can work to obtain the help that they need to find jobs, or to enable clients with disabilities who cannot work to obtain federal disability assistance in place of Cash Assistance.
In this year’s Plan, HRA is providing details for reforms originally announced in testimony to the City Council on May 19 that are aimed at improving employment and training outcomes so that more clients have an opportunity to achieve increased economic security by obtaining employment, moving off the caseload and out of poverty. HRA’s efforts to fight poverty and income inequality through its employment services will be enhanced by comprehensive employment initiatives that are being developed by the Mayor’s “Jobs for New Yorkers” task force.
In developing this Employment Plan, HRA obtained feedback from a wide variety of key stakeholders. More than 40 focus groups and meetings were held with HRA staff, current and former clients, service providers, community-based organizations, advocates, the legal services community and other City agency partners. The 30-day public comment period allows for further feedback, which will be incorporated into the final plan to be submitted to the State.