Archive for the ‘welfare’ Category

Developer Mark Croce will be receiving a $1.35 million hand-out from New York State tax payers to turn a vacant downtown building into an “upscale boutique hotel at Franklin and West Huron streets.” Croce is “convinced there’s a market for an upscale boutique hotel that offers larger rooms with some unique amenities.”

This handout is coming in the form of a Restore NY grant which is intended to “stabilize neighborhoods and revitalize urban areas.”

Which neighborhood is being stabilized here?

Who will benefit from this kind of urban revitalization? The “upscale” market Croce is convinced is out there–we’ll say those households making more than $150,000/year–accounts for about 3% of households in Buffalo.

In other words, $1.35 million of public money will be used to provide a tiny part of the community with presidential suites, pent-houses, and “unique amenities.”

This is money that could be used to stabilize or revitalize the neighborhoods of the 30.3% of people living in poverty in Buffalo, still the third poorest city in the country. This money could even be used to provide basic housing to the hundreds of individuals and families that are homeless on any given day in Buffalo.

Instead this public money will be used to help a wealthy developer provide upscale hotel suites for wealthy travelers and community members.

The County is also looking to tear down buildings in downtown Buffalo. In an effort to avoid being held responsible to Constitutional standards for jails and prisons, the county wants to build a new multimillion dollar county lockup downtown.

Hotels for the wealthy, expensive jails for the rest of us.

Is this how the people of Buffalo and Erie County want their money spent?

Does this benefit the whole or even very much of the community?

Or does it continue to subsidize wealthy developers and their clients while a third of the city lives in poverty?

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Here’s an article that counters some of the attacks on Henrietta Hughes, a homeless woman who spoke at a town hall meeting that President Obama attended about a week ago.  The author “Cara” highlights the way that many people critical of social welfare focus solely on individual responsibility (even when virtually nothing is known about the person’s history) and neglect to examine the larger, systematic inequalities in our economy that impoverishes many people, like Hughes.  In addition, Hughes’ statement highlights the primary need of homeless individuals: housing first.

Posted by Cara, Feministe at 8:58 AM on February 16, 2009.

For those who have not heard of Henrietta Hughes, she is a homeless woman who stood up at a town hall meeting and told Barack Obama that she is unemployed and has been forced her to live in her car.  She further pleaded with the president to do something to ensure that people like her had housing:

“I have an urgent need, unemployment and homelessness, a very small vehicle for my family and I to live in,” she said. “The housing authority has two years’ waiting lists, and we need something more than the vehicle and the parks to go to. We need our own kitchen and our own bathroom. Please help.”

Now, Michelle Malkin has decided to publicly mock her with taunts like “If she had more time, she probably would have remembered to ask Obama to fill up her gas tank, too.”  She then went on to say:

Hughes didn’t explain the cause of her financial turmoil. Obama didn’t ask. And if we conservatives dare to question the circumstances — and the underlying assumption that it is government’s (that is, taxpayers’) role to bail her out — we’ll be lambasted as cruel haters of the downtrodden.

[. . .]

Well, pardon my unbending belief in fairness and personal responsibility, but why should my tax dollars go to feed the housing entitlement beast?

Indeed, why should housing be considered a right?  After all, what does my housing say about my personal class status and how much better I am than other people, if there aren’t those other people out there who don’t have a place to live at all?

The worst part is that Malkin isn’t alone.  From Limbaugh falsely saying that Hughes “ask[ed] for a car” to others claiming that Hughes is “milking the system,” there’s no shortage of people who want to bring down the woman who had the potential to a far more sympathetic Joe the Plumber — an everyday American who is actually negatively affected by the economic policies of our government.

And they can get away with it!  I just, honestly, do not understand.  Are people like Malkin really so privileged and entitled themselves that they just do not comprehend the very concept of housing not owned by the person living in it — and that therefore “I need a place to live” does not equal “buy me a new house, please” — or do they just really think that no, if you’re not as fortunate as the rest of us, you really do deserve to live on the street, and as a neighbor I have absolutely no responsibility for what happens to you?

On second thought, I don’t know that I want the answer to that.

Via Womanist Musings


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With the looming 40% increase in fuel costs reported by National Grid, this article from Business First of Louisville is a reminder of the significant increase in the basic cost of living for many Americans. There can be no doubt that energy bills per month are much higher in Buffalo.

Moreover, these figures are taken during the month of August and therefore reflect gas costs outside of winter.

What is desperately needed if low-income families are expected to keep up with the high cost of heat would be:

1) Raise the welfare grant to reflect true cost of living. Currently, TANF allots $54/month for heating costs. This does not reflect the true cost of heat.
2) Support the development of green building policies and weatherization programs. These policies would not only increase the energy efficiency of homes throughout New York State but would also support construction jobs, thereby strengthening our economy from the ground up. Low-income families living in more energy efficient homes would be able to save the money currently being thrown away on gas, or spend it on other basic needs such as transportation or health care.

More on this behind the jump.


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It was totally predictable it would collapse. You know, I didn’t know when, didn’t know exactly who, but it was totally predictable. And now they’re running to us and asking us for handouts. Think of what we do to welfare people, when they—you know, everything they have to go through to get, you know, a $500-a-month check, and these people want billions, no questions asked. Unbelievable.
Dean Baker, co-Director of the Center for Economic Policy and Research

If the Paulson Plan passes and American taxpayers are responsible for at least $700 of Wall Street debt – whether for good or for bad for our economy – never again should the charge be leveled against recipeints of public assistance that they shouldn’t get “handouts”, that they are “milking the system”, or that they are “hurting the economy”.

We are willing to throw $700 billion of unchecked funds at some of the richest Americans and we quibble about the $300-$400 that Social Services gives to those who have the least? The hypocrisy is thick.

Perhaps the recepients of the $700 billion should be subjected to invasive interviewing processes. Perhaps they should be finger-printed to receive a bailout. Perhaps they should wait in line for 4-5 hours and have their bailout “pending” for 45 days.

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Special thanks to the Cleveland Plain Dealer for the following summary of the remaining Presidential Candidates poverty platforms. More information can be found on the PD blog at the following link

Plain Dealer Blog.

Poverty platform:

• The author of “It Takes A Village: And Other Lessons Children Teach Us” targets the nearly 13 million children living in poverty, calling it a “blight on our nation’s conscience and our economic future.”
• The senator’s nine-page position paper focuses on specific actions she would take on issues ranging from enforcing child support payments to nurse home visitation for new at-risk mothers.
On a larger scale, the Senator touts universal health care, a moratorium on foreclosures, and the creation of at least 5 million “green collar” jobs for low-wage workers.

• The former Chicago activist describes his anti-poverty policies as “the single most important focus of my economic agenda as president.”
• Details are sketchy, but include access to safe, affordable housing, job programs, and financial and medical assistance to single parents.

• America’s most famous POW takes aim at urban poverty by taking back the streets, improving urban school systems and updating job training programs.
• Again, specifics are vague.

New ideas:

•The former first lady would work to end child hunger by strengthening the food stamp program, improving the food safety net and providing more access to healthy, fresh food.
•She would provide economic opportunity to low-income families by raising the minimum wage, and expanding new job training opportunities.
•She would also establish a pilot program to reduce homelessness among veterans, and develop a community based re-entry plan to help ex-offenders receive job training and placement as well as drug and mental health counseling.

• The son of a single mother, his most ambitious anti-poverty policy would be to replicate the success of the Harlem Children’s Zone in 20 cities nationwide.
• He also wants to spend $1 billion for a jobs program that would place the unemployed into temporary jobs and train them for permanent ones.
• He would also offer incentives for businesses to relocate, or start-up, in distressed inner cities.

• The former naval aviator equates economic prosperity to the war on terrorism. “For the same reason you have to fight the war against the Islamic extremists on the international level, you have to ensure the streets are safe so people can go to work and businesses can operate,’ said the senator’s senior policy advisor.
• The burgeoning crime rate is compounded by an inhospitable economic climate that McCain would fight by lowering taxes and improving business investment incentives.

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Speaking of raises …
First published: Sunday, January 13, 2008

It’ll be easy enough to be confused, if not overwhelmed, with the state Legislature back in session and the special interests descending upon lawmakers peddling causes both noble and ignoble.

There ought to be perhaps more pressure than ever to raise the pay of the state’s judges for the first time in a decade. The judges themselves are making the very persuasive case one would expect of them. Then, again, it’s a safe bet that the very legislators whose votes are needed to give those judges a raise will demand one for themselves as well — lame as that argument is, at least until they can reform the Legislature first.

But what about the poor, the people living on government subsides?

State welfare benefits haven’t been increased since 1990. What’s known as the basic welfare grant for a family of three has been stuck all those years at $291 a month. A family of three on welfare also can get up to $426 a month in food stamps and a shelter allowance of a little more than $300 a month. The specific amount of the housing subsidy varies from county to county.

It’s unconscionable that the Legislature has gone this long without adjusting basic welfare benefits.

Everyone is affected by inflation, of course, from judges and legislators to the poorest of the poor. That latter group, in fact, may well be hit all the harder since so much of the little money it has goes to the most basic of necessities.

The price of milk, for instance, has gone up by 94 percent since 1990. The price of fuel oil and natural gas are about twice as high now than they were when the subsidy for home heating costs last was adjusted in 1987. In each case, that’s much higher than the overall 55 percent increase in the rate of inflation since 1990.

New York’s courts, including the Court of Appeals, have ruled five times since 1987 that the welfare shelter allowance is illegally low. That requires welfare families to use part of their basic grant, scant as it is, to subsidize housing costs.

Even now, more than a decade after rewritten welfare laws reduced the number of New Yorkers on public assistance by 61 percent, more than 535,000 people — including more than 300,000 children — live this way. They need the Legislature’s attention as much as anyone. A cost of living adjustment in the basic welfare grant, to $475 a month for a family of three, is urgent.

The Assembly, but not the Senate, voted for a 10 percent increase in the basic welfare grant last year. This year the Democrats in the Senate are pushing for a 25 percent increase.

That money is readily available, too, despite the state’s $4.3 billion budget deficit. Federal block grants pay for the state’s welfare costs. Other states have used the block grant since 1996 to raise welfare benefits. New York, though, has invested it in so-called rainy day funds.

And now it’s raining, and raining hard, on the people who most need state government’s help.

THE ISSUE: The state’s welfare grant hasn’t be raised in years.

THE STAKES: Without an increase, inflation will erode subsistence funds even more.

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Our friends at the Western New York Coalition for the Homeless have put together another great workshop for the community regarding the Department of Social Services.

The workshop will take place on Wednesday, January 30th from 8:30am to 4pm. It will be at the Hyatt Regency in downtown Buffalo. 

More a conference than a workshop, the all-day event gathers together human services advocates and Department of Social Services representatives to announce changes in mainstream benefit programs, update on eligibility requirements and application processes, and troubleshoot barriers to service.

This year’s workshop will be more interactive with opportunities for advocates to speak with DSS representatives about frequent concerns.

The Homeless Alliance is excited to see how motivated the advocates are in our community to put together an event like this and encouraged by the willingness of the Department of Social Services to participate in this event.

If you would like to register for the workshop, it is $15/person if you register before Jan. 18th; after that date registration is $20 (this includes lunch, beverages, and snacks). Either way, this is a very affordable fee for an all-day workshop with this much information. Make your checks out to “WNY Coalition for the Homeless” and mail them to:

Adrian Slocum
c/o Catholic Charities
525 Washington Street
Buffalo, NY 14203

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Terri Scofield is a board member for the Hunger Action Network of New York State and was a founding member of the Suffolk County Welfare Warriors. She responded to some negative comments in the Albany Times Union blog regarding the Welfare Challenge being undertaken by Mark Dunlea an Albany based anti-hunger activist.

Her comments based upon her experience on welfare are compelling and worth reading.

Sometimes the staff at the Alliance will be asked why we do what we do or what motivates us… Read on and you will understand.

Details about Mr. Dunlea’s Welfare Challenge can be found in the previous post. Here…

“I can speak with some authority here, as I was on and off welfare 6 times over 5 year period when my son was small: At the time a welfare grant was worth much more than it is today – my son & I subsisted on a grant a bit less than 60% of the federal poverty level. The first thing that struck me when I went to apply was how similar to me most of the 60 people sitting in hard plastic chairs in the waiting room were: we were mostly white, mostly women, all with a child or 2 in tow, and an overwhelming number of us domestic violence survivors. How do I know? When you’re stuck in a noisy waiting room for 4 to 7 hours, there’s nothing to do but talk with the folks around you.

After filling out forms and waiting for hours, you go in for an interview – they want to make sure your life sucks so much that doing their job by providing the welfare grant that amounts to less than 1/2 the federal poverty level would actually be an improvement. It’s a humiliating and invasive exercise that is absolutely soul-deadening.

Back then, the shelter allowance portion of the grant was $358. per month, about $40. short of what you’d need to rent a room in a crack house with a shared bathroom down the hall. I’ll never forget how scary it was to live in neighborhoods like that, and how heartbreaking to have my son learn his colors by picking up crack vials – “Mommy, red! “Look, mommy, blue, a blue one”! And don’t let yourself get distracted chatting up another poor mom – the kids get even a tiny residue of crack in their mouths, consider them dead. The cops have better things to do in these neighborhoods than transport some “welfare slut’s” kids to the Emergency Room.

I think what was most horrific during those years was losing my full citizenship status and being treated like a second class citizen deserving of scorn and derision from everyone from landlords to supermarket clerks to welfare workers, even strangers on the street. I’ll never forget the 3rd time I was on welfare. My son was turning 5, and I’d spent the previous couple of months scrimping carefully, planning meticulous menus built around whether we could stop at a food pantry or soup kitchen, whether the guy who knew I was poor would give us bruised fruit and wilted vegetables from the farmstand, etc.I went to Finast on a double-coupon day, armed with both store and manufactures coupons, and calculated carefully: a pack of hot dogs, a pack of buns, 4 ears of corn, ’cause the kids are small and I can cut them in two, cake mix and frosting, a big bag of potato chips, and a much-coveted bottle of soda! My son was so excited standing on line at the checkout: “Billy’s coming, right mom? And DJ, and Kevin, I hope I get a water pistol and Ninja Turtle pajamas…”

Finally, our turn, and I line up the items on the belt, the coupons on top; if my calculations are right, I’ll be due $1.28 change, but in the days before swipe cards, you didn’t get money, they gave you change in Food Stamps, and it didn’t include change.I count out my Food Stamps while the gum-popping cashier sighs and grabs the microphone: “I need FOOD STAMP change”!And half the people in line behind me search for another line.

Suddenly, a voice from behind me sneers nastily “Well, I WORK for a living, and I can’t afford to throw a party”. I’m so embarrassed, right in front of my son… I’m afraid I’m going to cry, but instead I get mad and turn to the lady. I grit my teeth and quietly say “Lady, you don’t know a thing about me.

My son is 5 today, and you’re damn right I’m making sure he has a party”. I point out the window to my 11 year old van. “see that Dodge van out there? It’s got 160, 000 miles on it, and it’s noisy as hell, cause only 5 cylinders are firing, but I can’t afford a mechanic”. I hold out my keys “Why don’t we trade lives for a week? Which car is yours”? And now I’m crying, even though I was pissed off, giving her the satisfaction of knowing she’d humiliated me in front of my son. “Would you like to trade lives for a week, see what it’s like? I’ll drive you car and work at your job and live in your house, and you can have my van and live in my apartment. Then your kid can learn his colors picking up[ crack vials”. People shuffled uncomfortably, then some guy said “Leave the lady alone, who do you think you are to judge her”? and another one said something like “its bad enough to be poor, she doesn’t need you rubbing it in her face” and before you knew it, a handful of folks were castigating that awful woman.

My Food Stamp change arrived, I thanked the first guy that said something, put my bag in the cart and left, still crying a little, but feeling a bit less awful.

Now multiply that experience, a few times a month, and try to imagine what that does to ones state of mind. You people who think everybody on welfare is cheating and living a great lifestyle? TRY IT for a month or two and see how you feel!”

Terri Scofield

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Jay Jochnowitz, the State Editor for the Albany Times Union blogged about Mark Dunlea the Executive Director of the Hunger Action Network of New York State and his efforts to draw attention to the fact that the welfare grant in NYS has not been raised since 1990. Mr. Dunlea is attempting to live on the basic welfare grant for one week and has been documenting his experience. Below please find the original blog entry for Mr. Jochnowitz and links to Mr. Dunlea’s diary entries.

Scrimping By

January 3, 2008 at 2:13 pm by Jay Jochnowitz, State Editor

Hunger activist Mark Dunlea is marking the days before the Legislature returns to town by trying to live on the state’s basic welfare grant of $25.85 a week to call attention to the fact that lawmakers haven’t changed the allowance since 1990. That’s longer, he notes, than judges in the state have gone without a pay raise, even though more attention is being given to the plight of judges who are living with stagnant six-figure salaries.

The weekly figure doesn’t include other aid he’d hypothetically be getting from the government to cover rent, food, and energy, although, he notes, it’s a big leap of faith to assume public assistance fully covers those needs.

Dunlea is maintaining a daily account of how difficult it is to pull this off as he calculates the impact on his budget of even little things like a broken light switch or traveling locally, not to mention paying for a phone or his son’s tuition (his son and wife, Judith Enck, who is Gov. Eliot Spitzer’s deputy secretary for the environment, aren’t participating).

Technically, Dunlea has blown a good chunk of his grant just by maintaining an e-mail account to send out the daily diary he’s keeping. As he points out, “Now I am understanding why so many people who looked at this exercise said it was impossible. One has to cheat to pretend to live on welfare.”

Dunlea is one of a number of activists who are taking this “welfare challenge,” and who plan to talk about the experience Jan. 8 when they hold the annual “People’s State of the State Rally” outside the Capitol at noon.

Welfare Challenge Day 1

Welfare Challenge Day 2

Welfare Challenge Day 3

Welfare Challenge Day 4

Welfare Challenge Day 5

Welfare Challenge Day 6

Welfare Challenge Day 7

Visit the Hunger Action Network Website by clicking their logo below.

Hunger Action Network Logo

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HANNYS Postcard

Its hard to believe it has been since 1990 that the basic welfare grant has been raised. This basic safety net for children and families needs to be raised .

Homeless Alliance research has shown that there is a preventative effect that accompanies the receipt of mainstream benefits like TANF, Food Stamps, and other income enhancing programs.

The basic TANF grant, which has not been increased by lawmakers since 1990, has fallen to less than 50% of the federal poverty level and is a significant factor in the high rate of poverty in Erie County. An entire generation of children has grown up since the last increase in the basic grant was approved as part of the state budget 18 years ago.

The basic welfare grant is now $291 a month for a family of three. Advocates are asking for the grant to be increased to $475 to reflect inflation of more than 60% since 1990 and then to have a commission examine how to raise the grant to a reasonable level in the future. The federal poverty level for a family of 3 is $17,170; for a family of 4, it is 20,650.

As representatives of homeless service providers from across Erie County, we are deeply concerned about the devastating impact that inadequate State funding for the basic Public Assistance (welfare) grant is having on families in Buffalo and Erie County. Today, after set-asides for landlords and utilities, many families have little or no money left to meet expenses for clothing, food, school supplies and other necessities.

The flip side of the holiday card is below.

hannys postcard flip

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