A Giuliani-era program requiring many public assistance recipients to perform menial labor in exchange for benefits will end in the New Year, the de Blasio administration’s social services commissioner said Friday.
Sweeping floors, cleaning subway stations, taking out park trash and low-level office work — some of the duties under the Work Experience Program to be phased out by Dec. 31 — will be replaced with options such as job training, high-school equivalency classes and college studies.
“We want people to get the skills and training they need to move off the case load and be able to remain off the case load,” Steve Banks, social services commissioner, said Friday at New York Law School in Manhattan.
Banks, a former Legal Aid lawyer, had spent years suing New York City mayors on behalf of poor people, before Mayor Bill de Blasio hired him to oversee the Human Resources Administration, the city’s welfare agency.
Federal and state law mandate work-related activity by abled-bodied people on public assistance, and Banks said that the city would continue to adhere to the law.
Banks’ spokesman, David Neustadt, said the jobs required under the policy being phased out were “makework.”
“It’s based on the philosophy that poor people are poor because of personal flaws, and you need to teach them a culture of work, and it’s sort of cynical,” said Neustadt. “They’re not really learning anything that’s going to lead them anywhere.”
In remarks to an audience of law students, professors, homeless people and public assistance recipients, Banks said he wanted to “move on a career pathway” to get people off the rolls and out of poverty.
About 68,000 people are expected to participate in the new work program, out of the 360,000 in New York City who receive public benefits at any given time, Banks’ agency said. That number includes elderly people and children who aren’t required to work.
The current work program, started during the administration of former Mayor Rudy Giulian, had more than 30,000 participants at its peak, Neustadt said.
“There’s hardly any left,” he said. “We’re ending the program this month.”