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CM de Blasio and NYCCAH Question Shrinking Welfare Rolls as Joblessness and Pantry and Kitchen Use Increase Throughout the City

City Hall – Today Councilmember Bill de Blasio, Chair of the Council's General Welfare Committee, and Joel Berg, Executive Director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, released the following statements regarding a continued shrinking in the city’s welfare caseload. The number of New Yorkers receiving federal welfare aid dropped by over 16,000 from November 2007 to November 2008, while New Yorkers' usage of other emergency assistance programs increased dramatically.

The Human Resources Administration, which administers public assistance programs in New York City, has historically described falling welfare rolls as a sign of success, as they purportedly indicate that more people are no longer in need of welfare benefits. However, elected officials and advocates are voicing deep concern that the city may be closing cases prematurely and, as a result, delivering these families to a cycle of hunger and joblessness.

According to the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, emergency food providers reported serving 28 percent more people over last year, and the city's own data shows an additional 212,530 people receiving food stamps in November 2008 compared to one year earlier. The number of unemployed New Yorkers has also soared over the past year, growing from 422,046 in November 2007 to 567,303 in November 2008. The number of homeless families reached a 25-year high of 9,720 in November, with 1,343 homeless families entering the city’s shelter system during that month alone.

Although thousands of additional people are losing their jobs and turning to emergency food for survival, the city continues to close welfare cases. As of November 2008, there were 336,765 public assistance recipients, which is over 3,000 fewer than October 2008, and over 16,000 fewer than during the same month last year.

Councilmember de Blasio said: "We absolutely want to see families transitioning off of public assistance and into employment, but I fear that is not actually happening right now. Are we supposed to believe that each closed public assistance case is really a success story? Are people truly leaving welfare because they found a living wage job? I am deeply concerned that the city is moving to close cases too quickly, and essentially trading one form of government assistance for another."

New York City Coalition Against Hunger Executive Director Joel Berg said: “I strongly support the goal of enabling families to move from public assistance to living wage jobs. Yet over the past few years – and especially during the current economic downturn –families removed from the welfare rolls are unable to find substantial work opportunities and are instead being pushed deeper into poverty and increasingly forced to use food pantries and soup kitchens. That’s not real welfare reform – that’s a counterproductive policy of punishing poor people for being poor.”