Since the current economic crisis hit in 2007, the ranks of the unemployed and those in poverty has increased radically, and the number of individuals using emergency food programs has increased by more than 60 percent. While Bill de Blasio believes a job is the best help we can give to families struggling in poverty, he is also committed to providing income and food security to those who can’t work, who can’t find work, or those who are pursuing educational opportunities to escape poverty.
Programs meant to help low-income New Yorkers fail to reach too many eligible families, and many other programs need to be expanded to reach families that need help. For example, almost a quarter of those eligible for SNAP food stamp benefits — more than 250,000 families — do not receive them in New York City. That means that the city overall is forgoing $645 million each year in food support for those families. Since the USDA estimates that every $1 in new SNAP benefits generates up to $1.80 of local economic activity, this means that not only do individual families suffer needlessly, but low-income communities lose out on over a billion dollars each year in economic stimulus.
Throughout his career — from his years as chair of the General Welfare Committee in the City Council to his term as Public Advocate — Bill de Blasio has considered providing basic income and food security to all New Yorkers a key responsibility of government. He has worked consistently to expand eligibility for programs and reduce the bureaucratic impediments to access for poor and immigrant households.
No family should ever be hungry in our city, and Bill de Blasio will work relentlessly to expand enrollment for eligible households to income and food assistance programs, reduce bureaucratic barriers, and advocate for expanded support from the state and federal government.
Improve Access At Benefit Offices Around City
The first step is to ensure that people applying for benefits don’t face delays when they apply, an often confused and bureaucratic process highlighted by delays during the after- math of Sandy. Bill de Blasio will streamline applications by working with Albany to simplify the application process for food assistance programs, including a streamlined application for the elderly. We need to take full advantage of state and federal initiatives and waivers — including working for a 36-month recertification period, instead of one year — and we need to expand options that enable individuals to apply for programs simultaneously.
We need to ensure that all staff members have access to fax machines, Xerox machines, the Internet, computers that can accept online applications, and other appropriate technologies. The city’s welfare-to-work program needs to emphasize job creation, job training and education, while stopping efforts to divert individuals from accessing cash assistance.
Coordinate Outreach for All Benefit Programs
Too many families don’t even know they qualify for assistance programs. A USDA-sponsored, survey-based study found over half of eligible non-participant households believed they were ineligible. Bill de Blasio will create a coordinated outreach effort to ensure that every eligible New Yorker receives the food and income security help they qualify for.
The city needs to expand media and public outreach campaigns to increase participation in all income and food assistance programs. As the city undertakes major outreach to sign up individuals for Medicaid and other Afford- able Care Act programs, outreach staff hired for that effort should also be signing qualifying individuals for other assistance programs. Data sharing among all programs needs to be improved to speed approval and identify people who are eligible but not participating in other programs.
Expand Pilot Projects That Sign Up People Online at Community-Based Organizations
The Paperless Office System (POS) Project project, which has enrolled 16,000 in SNAP and more than 2,500 people in Medicaid as of April 2012, should expand to additional nonprofit sites, so trusted community-based organizations in every neighborhood and community can help sign up eligible people and households for income, health and nutrition programs.
Stop Credit Discrimination in Employment
Bill de Blasio supports legislation that would prevent employers from using credit ratings in hiring decisions, a practice that only makes it harder for the unemployed to find work. After the recession, one of every four Americans had a poor credit rating, with African-Americans and Hispanics more likely to have low scores. Individuals can have a low score through no fault of their own, including crises caused by medical emergencies, identity theft, large student loans, and scams. Using credit scores in job decisions only makes it harder for people facing economic hardship to get a job and get their personal finances back on track—and Bill de Blasio knows it’s a needless roadblock to economic opportunity.
Support Universal School Meals in Schools
Bill de Blasio will make free school lunch available to all public school children at most city schools by taking advantage of the new Community Eligibility Option (CEO) for low-income school districts. This program would take advantage of the federal Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which the DOE has failed to do. This allows schools to replace the current inefficient, application-based system for school lunches with a paperless data-driven system that allows students to eat free of charge and free of stigma.
Train Staff to Maximize Benefits in Mixed Documentation Families
Undocumented parents with citizen children do not seek or are denied benefits at a disproportionate rate. For example, SNAP participation rate for eligible children living with noncitizen adults was estimated at 54 percent, far below the 86 percent participation rate for all eligible children. Along with better outreach to immigrant communities, including through trusted community organizations, the city needs to provide clear and consistent guidance and ongoing training to caseworkers and other benefit office staff regarding federal and state program policy with respect to immigrant applicants. We need to ensure that a percentage of caseworkers in HRA offices speak the languages of communities they serve and can assist non-literate parents on ways to apply for benefits for their citizen children.
Work With Albany to Allow Students at Four-Year Colleges to Receive Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
Bill de Blasio will advocate in Albany to change the senseless rule that a student at a 2-year college can receive TANF, but pursuing a four-year college education is not part of the list of countable educational activities.
Expand Child Care Slots in the City
In New York City, the single greatest expense for low-income households with children is child care, surpassing even the cost of housing and food. Bill de Blasio’s commitment to providing universal pre-K for every 4-year-old means we will have more child care slots available for younger children. He will work with ACS to articulate a long-term plan for subsidized child care and will hold all parties accountable for fulfilling their roles.