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The Honorable Sheldon Silver
Dear Speaker Silver:
On behalf of the Assembly Committee on Social Services, I respectfully submit to you the Committee's 2007 Annual Report.
2007 ANNUAL REPORT
Keith L.T. Wright
Jeanine Johnson - Legislative Director
Program and Counsel Staff
Donald Robbins - Legislative Coordinator
TABLE OF CONTENTS
The Assembly Social Services Committee has jurisdiction over legislation affecting programs providing financial, medical, and support services to indigent households in New York State. The work of the Committee also affects the aged, blind, and disabled residing in the community and those in residential care facilities. The statutory basis for these programs is contained in the state Social Services Law.
The Committee works closely with the Committees on Health, Children & Families, Labor and Housing, and with the Task Forces on the Homeless and Food, Farm, and Nutrition Policy. The Committee also has legislative oversight responsibilities for programs administered by the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA).
This year, the Committee reviewed 165 bills and investigated numerous issues affecting the lives of those in poverty throughout the state. One of the Committee's greatest accomplishments in 2007 was the initiation of a statewide low-income listening tour to examine the growth of poverty in New York State. A report entitled, "The New York State Assembly's 2007 Statewide Listening Tour," will be published and available on the NYS Assembly website in the spring of 2008: http://www.assembly.state.ny.us. The report summarizes evidence that was collected from testimony submitted by witnesses at the June 5, 2007 Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) hearing, a thorough review of literature written by key researchers and advocates in the field of social welfare policy, and interviews with nearly 100 public and private human services providers, low-income workers and Public Assistance (PA) recipients. Topics covered in the report include:
The evidence in the report demonstrates a severe lack of basic resources among many low-income families and recipients of PA, making self-sufficiency difficult, and in some cases near impossible, to achieve. Individuals and families still struggle to obtain sustainable wage employment, to overcome barriers such as low levels of education and mental health issues, to afford the cost of housing, food, and clothing, to have reliable transportation, and to access affordable childcare and health care. These problems, which have been expressed in numerous reports and at public hearings, have been exacerbated in recent years by New York's excessively high cost of living, rising energy and housing prices, and a national economic downturn since 2000.
The SFY 2007-08 budget negotiation process provided a vital opportunity for the Committee to initiate some positive changes to the state's social welfare system. With the enactment of the federal Deficit Reduction Act (DRA) on February 8, 2006, the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program that provides the primary funding stream for PA benefits to eligible low-income families was reauthorized through 2010. The reauthorizing language contained some changes to the program rules. The most significant change recalibrated the caseload reduction credit from 1995 to 2005, thus making the required 50% participation rate for all families and 90% participation rate for all two-parent families effective on October 1, 2006. The threat of federal penalties amounting to more than $300 million in SFY 2008-09 and higher in future years created a unique window of opportunity for the consideration of new policies. One reform proposed by the Assembly and passed as part of the final SFY 2006-07 budget was the ability for OTDA to shift the two-parent families into a separate state program that is not counted in the federal work participation rates.
The Committee also proposed a PA grant increase, which would have increased the cash portion of the grant (i.e., the basic grant) by 10% over three years. The proposal would have helped thousands of PA recipients by offering a modest increase in their cash benefit to mitigate New York's high cost of living. The cost of housing, transportation, food, and energy, among other basic necessities, has increased dramatically. These increases have further reduced the real value of the welfare grant, making it nearly impossible for families to meet even their most basic needs. Unfortunately, this proposal was rejected by the Senate and the Executive.
Outside the budget process, the Committee convened several hearings in 2007 to examine the adequacy of the PA grant in New York State. With the rapidly increasing cost of living and the erosion in real benefit value, these hearings were critical to provide a forum for advocates, experts in the field of social welfare policy, social services clients, low-income individuals and families, and representatives from OTDA to assess the effectiveness of the current grant structure in New York State.
The Committee also co-sponsored a hearing to address the legal, policy and social barriers to the successful reentry of people returning to the community after incarceration. This hearing provided a forum to evaluate the adequacy of existing resources and programs designed to prepare incarcerated individuals to return home, and the availability of such programs for people released from incarceration. Many of the witnesses emphasized the importance of exploring legislative initiatives that can help to promote successful reentry and reduce recidivism through educational opportunities, among other things.
Furthermore, the Committee participated in six hearings to examine access to affordable, quality child care for working families. The hearing offered an opportunity for the state to learn more about the challenges that limit opportunities for working families to obtain childcare. Safe, affordable childcare has become increasingly scarce, which is a major concern for working families. It also poses a threat to the security of PA recipients transitioning to work and in need of childcare to maintain employment. A range of topics were addressed at the hearing, including access to adequate funding, services during non-traditional hours, subsidized childcare and the co-pay fee structure, and cost-prohibitive regulations.
Finally, the Committee convened a hearing to obtain input regarding the Department of State's 2008-09 Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) Management Plan. CSBG is a federal program that provides funding to states for advocacy, programs, outreach, and services for economically disadvantaged persons in their local communities. Much of the testimony presented warned of growing poverty throughout the state, and it was recommended that the Legislature assemble a Statewide Commission on Poverty and Economic Security to study this growth and its impact on New York's growing population of vulnerable citizens.
This year the Committee introduced and reported several new pieces of legislation aimed at improving the lives of senior citizens, children, the disabled, individuals with HIV or AIDS, the working poor, and those in receipt of PA or other forms of government funded assistance such as Medicaid and subsidized housing. Some of these bills would:
The Committee also reported existing legislation designed to assist victims of domestic violence, low-income workers, PA recipients, and the aged, blind, and disabled. Some of these bills would allow recipients of PA to select the local social services office most accessible to his or her home providing the office is in his or her social services district; prohibit the state or other public authorities from compelling domestic violence victims to contact their abusers directly; extend the period given to SSI applicants to request a fair hearing from 10 to 60 days; and ensure that persons discharged from psychiatric care have continuous access to medication.
The nation's welfare system was dramatically reformed with the enactment of the federal Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA). The federal law adopted a "work first" approach, eliminated the entitlement to cash assistance, and imposed time limits, work requirements, and sanctions. The cornerstone of the law was the creation of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) block grant, which provides $16.5 billion to states to fund their cash assistance and welfare-to-work programs.
New York received $2.443 billion for the Family Assistance program through the federal TANF block grant. SFY 2007-08 marked the eleventh year of the TANF block grant. The amount of New York's allocation is based on the state's PA caseload and expenditures in SFY 1995. New York's caseload and resultant expenditures were significantly higher in 1995 than the projected caseload for SFY 2007-08. The 2007-08 state budget included approximately $1.8 billion to support benefit payments to low-income New Yorkers. Thus, the state has approximately $1.8 billion in current federal TANF funding above what is needed to support the federal share of the Family Assistance program. These funds are referred to as the "TANF Surplus."
New York's TANF program has developed into the state's most critical system of support and assistance for children and families who struggle to make ends meet. In New York, programs including wage supplements, tax credits, job training and skill development, case management and counseling, child care, and transportation were developed to assist families in need during the transition to self-sufficiency through work. For several years, New York has been authorized to utilize TANF funds not only for families eligible for federal assistance through the Family Assistance (FA) program, but also for families whose income does not exceed 200% of the Federal Poverty Level.
As in SFY 2006-07, the SFY 2007-08 budget included a Flexible Fund for Family Services (FFFS) to provide local districts with a block grant that can be used to fund any program that fulfills one of the TANF purposes.
The Executive proposed to spend part of the TANF surplus on a variety of programs essential to enabling low-income family's transition to self-sufficiency:
Jointly with Assembly Committee on Ways & Means
Tuesday, June 5, 2007 at 10:30 AM
The Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) is a federal program created by the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act to ameliorate the causes of poverty in communities. CSBG provides federal anti-poverty funding to a statewide network consisting of Community Action Agencies (CAAs), Community Action Programs (CAPs), and migrant and seasonal farmworker organizations, as designated by federal laws.
The New York State network is comprised of 52 CSBG grantees serving all 62 counties, which provide a range of services to meet the needs of low-income New Yorkers. Funding is also provided to four Indian Tribes/Tribal organizations, for a total of 56 entities.
The CSBG program purposes are to provide assistance to states and local communities working through a network of CAAs and other neighborhood organizations for reduction of poverty, revitalization of low-income communities, and empowerment of low-income families and individuals in rural and urban areas to become fully self-sufficient.
Local services are directed toward goals of achieving self-sufficiency, family stability, and community revitalization, based on local assessments to determine need and resources available.
Witnesses at the hearing talked about the hopelessness, disparity, and violence that stem from poverty, and stressed the importance of federal, state, and local governments working collaboratively to address the root causes of poverty. Witnesses also talked about the link between poverty and child welfare, citing poverty as the most common factor in child protective cases. Many low-income families and PA recipients testified to the challenges they have in overcoming poverty, particularly in New York, where the cost of living is much higher than their wages can afford. Most of the families that testified work either full or part time, and nearly all of them talked about the frustration of not being able to make ends meet no matter how much or how hard they work.
Jointly with Committee on Correction
Thursday, July 19, 2007 at 2:00 PM
There are currently more than 63,000 people in state prison in New York and an additional 30,000 in local correctional facilities. Each year, more than 26,000 people are released from New York State prisons and an additional 100,000 are released from local facilities throughout the course of the year.
Persons returning from incarceration face many obstacles, including insufficient work opportunities, employment discrimination, and the inability to find suitable housing. Unfortunately, many inmates do not receive adequate programming while incarcerated to properly prepare for a return to the community. Additionally, there is a lack of continuity between prison and community programs that causes a gap in services for many people returning to the community from incarceration.
This hearing provided witnesses with the opportunity to address the adequacy of existing programs, services, and resources, and to propose strategies to improve the current system. In addition, the hearing was convened to elicit testimony from agencies, non-profit social service and housing providers, employment and tranining program operators, and individuals and families affected by current barriers that impair the successful reentry of formerly incarcerated individuals.
Many of the witnesses presented testimony that underscored the importance of discharge planning prior to release. In addition, several witnesses emphasized the need to better prepare individuals for release through a comprehensive, multi-agency reentry program beginning upon a person's entry into prison. Elimination of legal and administrative barriers to successful re-entry and restoration of in-prison programming, including TAP availability and restoration of college programs, were among the list of vital policy components necessary for successful reentry.
Thursday, September 6, 2007 at 10:30 AM
Friday, September 7, 2007 at 11:00 AM
A generation of children has grown up since New York's welfare grant was last increased in 1990. In 1975, PA for a three-person family was equal to 110% of the federal poverty level. Today, it has fallen to less than 51% of the poverty level. Within the past few years, there has been a modest increase in the shelter portion of the PA grant, but the basic allowance for all other expenses has been unchanged for 17 years. Meanwhile, the cost of housing, transportation, food and energy, among other basic necessities, has increased dramatically. These increases have further reduced the real value of the welfare grant, making it nearly impossible for families to meet even their most basic needs.
In New York City, the maximum benefit for a family of three is $691 a month. That figure includes a $400 shelter allowance and the remaining $291 is the cash allowance portion of the grant. However, Fair Market Rent for a two-bedroom apartment in New York City is $1,189 per month. In Westchester it's even higher, at $1,395 per month. Yet Westchester's shelter allowance for a family of three is $426 per month. Because of excessive housing costs, PA recipients have no choice but to use part of their diminutive cash allowance towards rent. It also should be noted that many landlords often complain that Fair Market Rents, established by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), are lower than actual market rents.
Witnesses at the hearing emphasized the need to consider factors such as annual inflation, the changing economy, and the high cost of living in determining the adequacy of the grant. Several witnesses described how different things are now compared to 1990, when the basic grant was last increased. The purchasing power of the grant has greatly diminished since then, forcing recipients to use the small amount of cash they receive to pay for housing and heat, among other things. Many advocates explained that recipients often find themselves homeless or without heat or hot water because the grant does not cover even the most basic of necessities. Many of these recipients are families with young children. Consequently, thousands of children struggle with failing grades and have disproportionately high health and mental health problems. Finally, many witnesses testified to the near impossibility of holding a job when families are frequently without food, shelter, and other resources necessary for basic survival.
Friday, September 28, 2007 at 10:30 AM
A third hearing to address the adequacy of the PA grant provided an opportunity for witnesses to talk about the sufficiency of the grant upstate. The upstate economy is vastly different from the downstate economy, and the shelter allowance portion of the grant varies by county. Therefore, the impact of the grant is different depending on where a PA recipient lives. Testimony from this hearing highlighted the challenges many upstate New Yorkers face in attaining basic subsistence, from an expansive geography with limited transportation options to poorly insulated, old housing stock that drives up energy costs.
Fuel for heating allowances has not been increased since 1987. Since that time, average prices for electricity have increased by 84%, the cost of natural gas has increased 160%, and the cost of fuel oil has increased 239%. In Albany, for example, PA families who use fuel oil to heat their homes are given only $828 per year to pay for their heating costs. Families heating with natural gas are given only about $700. As many witnesses throughout the series of hearings testified, those small amounts barely cover one month in today's economy.
2007 SUMMARY OF ACTION ON BILLS REFERRED TO
FINAL ACTION ON BILLS REPORTED BY THE
LAWS ENACTED DURING THE 2007 SESSION
LEGISLATION VETOED IN 2007
Cash and Counseling Program for Individuals Receiving Home-Based Care
The federal DRA, enacted on February 8, 2006, established the Optional Choice of Self-Directed Personal Assistance Services (Cash and Counseling Program) as an option to states to provide Medicaid payments for part or all of the cost of self-directed personal assistance services (other than room and board) for individuals receiving personal care services or home and community-based services.
This bill would create the Cash and Counseling Demonstration Program in New York for those who are entitled to Medicaid for personal care services or home and community-based services, and who possess the ability to plan, purchase, manage and coordinate self-directed personal assistance services. The purpose of the program is to enhance the independence of those who are receiving Medicaid-funded personal care services at home. Program participants receive an individualized assessment and service plan performed by a licensed health care practitioner, and a service budget that provides for self-directed personal care services.
Although the Governor vetoed this bill, he indicated that certain features were worthy of further exploration, and said he would direct DOH to develop a demonstration initiative that would implement certain features of a cash and counseling program.
Sustainable Wage Employment
In the rush to reduce welfare rolls under federal welfare reform, many PA recipients have been placed in low-paying jobs. A large percentage of the welfare caseload consists of women. In New York, female headed households comprise 73% of the overall Temporary Assistance caseload. In "family" cases, 94% of caretakers are female. A 2001 study of job training for low-income people, particularly women leaving welfare, found a clear pattern of gender segregation in job training referral and placements. Programs training for jobs as bank teller and nail technician had 100% female enrollment, while programs training for higher paying jobs such as appliance technician and automotive technician had overwhelming male enrollments. Overall, women comprise 25% or less of total workers in many fields, such as skilled trade occupations - carpenter, electrician, millwright, plumber, sheetmetal worker; technical jobs - drafter, rigger, computer technician; service jobs - taxi driver, furniture mover and truck driver; public service jobs - firefighter, police officer and ambulance driver, and professions - chemist, aerospace engineer, and city manager.
This bill would ensure that local social services districts increase their emphasis on counseling, education, and training for nontraditional employment and sustainable wage jobs. Nontraditional jobs pay 20% to 30% more on average than traditionally female occupations, and they typically offer good benefits and opportunities for advancement. As welfare reform moves into its eleventh year, increased emphasis needs to be placed on services that will move participants into sustainable wage jobs to permanently lift families out of poverty, and prevent them from cycling in and out of dependence on PA. This becomes especially critical as the 60 month lifetime limit for federally-funded PA is reached. For women in particular, a crucial but underutilized route to a sustainable wage job is through nontraditional employment.
Despite its passage by both the Assembly and the Senate, this bill was vetoed by the Governor. The Governor cited a technical flaw (the definition of "sustainable wage"), lack of education among recipients, and compliance with federal work requirements as his reasons for vetoing the bill. Moreover, he said that legislation was not necessary to meet the goals of the bill. However, he called the goal of placing welfare recipients in non-traditional employment "laudable," and instructed OTDA to work with local social services districts to develop other opportunities for increasing job skills training, including plans for increasing the number of PA recipients placed in federally-allowable education and vocational training programs.
2008 COMMITTEE GOALS
Increase the public assistance grant
The basic grant for PA has not been increased since 1990. Since that time, the value of the public assistance grant has declined dramatically while the gap between the rich and the poor in New York State has reached record highs. Given that the population of public assistance recipients is comprised of many individuals and families with significant disabilities, the state should raise the basic grant to provide the neediest in our state a more humane level of aid to meet their basic needs.
Repeal finger imaging for food stamp recipients
Finger imaging is neither a state nor federal law. Under state law, PA recipients must be finger-imaged, but it is currently up to the Governor whether to require social services districts to do so for people who receive food stamps only. Finger imaging serves as a deterrent for eligible individuals to access food stamps, which are paid for by the federal government. New York is one of the four remaining states in the country where finger-imaging for food stamps still occurs. Recently, the Governor waived the finger imaging requirement for certain working families. Food is a basic necessity of life. Finger imaging should not be required for any low-income families and individuals to receive assistance with their food costs.
Increase the earned income disregard and repeal the 185% rule
Increase the Earned Income Disregard (EID) to 67%. Current law requires the EID to be adjusted annually, and it was last adjusted on June 1, 2007 to 48%. This bill would also eliminate the income eligibility standard that makes recipients ineligible for public assistance once their income equals 185% of the standard of need - an income level that is currently below the federal poverty level in all New York counties. Repealing the 185% rule and increasing the EID would provide a work incentive while allowing public assistance recipients to at least work their way up to federal poverty levels before losing benefits.
Increase the value of the automobile resource limit
To be eligible for PA, persons may have resources in excess of specific amounts set forth in Social Services Law § #131-n. This law permits applicants to own a vehicle with a value of $4650, unless the individual needs the vehicle to work or to look for work. In that case, the person is allowed to have a vehicle with a value up to $9300. Welfare reform imposed very strict work requirements, such that recipients must work in order to receive benefits. Most recipients do not have enough - if any - disposable income to afford a vehicle, regular maintenance, or needed repairs. Therefore, the Assembly will introduce legislation that would eliminate two amounts for allowable resource limits and create a uniform ceiling at $9300.
Eliminate the 45 day waiting period for safety net assistance
Social Services Law § #153 (8) provides that applicants for Safety Net Assistance (SNA) wait 45 days after completing an application before they can receive benefits, except in emergency cases. This is a big deterrent to taking short term employment and a big barrier to a smooth transition for those leaving prison.
The 45 day waiting period also creates difficulty in stabilizing the lives of prisoners who are re-entering society after incarceration. Those released from jails or prisons are far less likely to re-offend if they have an immediate source of income to meet their basic needs. Understanding this, some social services districts have creatively addressed this problem by taking applications from prisoners prior to their release. While a creative and cost-effective solution, it is indefensible as policy that those be released from jails or prisons are, in effect, exempted from the rule, but workers who take seasonal or temporary employment which ends through no fault of their own are harmed by the rule.
Annual accounting for public assistance recipients with mortgage liens
New York is only one of two states in the nation that take deeds and mortgages against the homes of welfare recipients. In this day of welfare reform, where the goal is to get low-income families back on their feet, New York's policy is counter-productive and a hindrance to recipients trying to get on their feet. Furthermore, Social Services Law §106 provides no guidance as to what assistance can be recovered by a social services district, and the statute does not provide adequate safeguards to homeowners to protect against erroneous lien calculations. To address these issues, the Assembly will advance legislation requiring counties to provide OTDA with an annual accounting of all property liens.
Amend the circuit breaker law
Amending the Circuit Breaker Law will provide relief to cash-strapped New Yorkers who pay way too much for rent and property taxes by changing the income eligibility calculation, credit amount, and the value of a primary residence and rental unit. Right now, the ceilings are set too low at a time when rent and housing costs are out of control, and this initiative will give taxpayers a credit towards their rental and property costs at the end of each year.
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