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Memorandum of Support

Empire Justice Memo of Support: Improve Access to Education and Training to Improve Employability for New Yorkers Receiving Public Assistance

S.621 (Parker)

Amends Social Services Law §336-a

Empire Justice Center strongly supports this bill, which provides that four year college can be counted as part of a public assistance recipient’s work activity, including time spent studying and preparing for class, as long as the student maintains a cumulative C or equivalent average.  The bill also specifies that individuals participating in approved educational activities, including vocational education, cannot be assigned to any other work activities until an assessment and employment plan have been conducted by the district and the additional work activities are determined to be warranted.  Finally, the bill makes it clear that additional work activities cannot interfere with the individual’s approved educational activities and that no additional activities can be assigned to individuals enrolled more than half time in a post-secondary program as long as they maintain the required grade point average.

This important legislation will support and encourage local districts to work with public assistance recipients to build their knowledge, expertise and employability through targeted education and skill building- which will in turn improve welfare recipient’s ability to get good, steady jobs that pay well so that they no longer need to rely on public assistance.

What S.621 Does:

  • Improves Access to Education.  Lack of sufficient education and skills poses a major obstacle to decent paying employment.  Public assistance recipients with increased education are the most likely to leave welfare and get and keep better paying jobs.  Virtually every additional educational milestone, from basic literacy to a college degree, enhances employability.
  • Allows Recipients Access to College.  A college degree provides perhaps the single best path off of welfare and out of poverty.  Close to 90% of recipients who attain a college degree leave welfare for the long term. [1]
  • Relies on District Discretion.  For its success, this law will depend on the districts conducting quality assessments of individuals’ capacities and needs and determining the most appropriate activities for that person. 

What S.621 Does Not Do:

  • Does Not impose new costs on the state or the districts.  This bill will have no fiscal impact.
  • Does Not limit local discretion.  With the addition of a four-year college option, districts have one more activity to which recipients can be assigned, and a district’s right to ensure that recipients are assigned only to appropriate activities remains intact.
  • Does Not impede a district’s or the state’s ability to meet its participation rates.  The federal government now permits states to count four year college as a work activity (a change made during the Bush administration). 

End Note:

 [1] Gittell, Schehl, and Fareri, “From Welfare to Independence: The College Option,” Howard Samuels State Management and Policy Center, New York, NY, 1990.  See also Kahn, Butler, Deprez and Polakow (editors), Shut Out: Low-Income Mothers and Higher Education in Post-Welfare America, SUNY Press, Albany, NY (2004).  The book reviews research demonstrating that women who complete two- or four-year college “…work more steadily, find jobs related to their fields of study, earn higher wages, receive more post-employment training, and report higher levels of family well-being.”

This memo was prepared by:

Don Friedman

Empire Justice Center
at the Public Advocacy Center
Touro Law School
225 Eastview Drive-Room 222
Central Islip, NY  11722

(631) 650-2316
(631) 348-3571