Social Services
Internet resources for what you need to know on NYC Social Services
Sites For Beginners

The Topic
"Social Services" are all the ways the City, State and community-based groups provide support and assistance to those citizens who lack the means to obtain basic necessities - food, shelter, employment, medical care. This includes the poor, elderly, disabled, abused, homeless and mentally ill.
The Context
Rendering services to NYC citizens is a mammoth undertaking -- requiring time, money and considerable human resources. Huge caseload numbers and understaffed agencies leave the City overburdened and underprepared. Add the occasional scandal or tragedy to the mix, and the ensuing politics bring additional stress to the system. The result? The City is struggling to provide the most basic level of service, even to its neediest clients. And the debate about the best way to remedy these problems continues, perhaps indefinitely....
The Reporter
Lynda Crawford has written on NYC topics for City Limits, New York Woman, The New York Observer and The New York Daily News.

Linda Ostreicher, a former budget analyst for the New York City Council, is a freelance writer and consultant to nonprofits.

by Linda Ostreicher

Job Training

Back in 1998, when Congress passed the Workforce Investment Act, it looked like the one good thing that everybody could agree came out of the much-criticized movement called welfare reform. A large chunk of public money saved by cutting the welfare rolls, the law said, would have to be reinvested into helping welfare recipients get paying jobs.

Each local government had to recruit a Workforce Investment Board, with a majority of its members from the local business community, to provide expert advice on the qualifications that employers currently look for in new hires. The board was supposed to come up with a plan, develop a written agreement with the government welfare agency, and run the program.

New York City's Human Resources Administration apparently had some problems with this scenario, because the city was one of the last places in the nation to form a Workforce Investment Board, and the board has been allowed little input in the city's job training programs.

The city's top welfare official, Jason Turner, did not believe in job training. His statement, "It's work that sets you free," notorious for inadvertently echoing a Nazi slogan, reflected the conviction that a low-paying job today is better for a welfare recipient than a better job postponed for a period of training. Turner used his control of workforce development funds to delay and avoid providing services to people on welfare.

The city is left with $67 million from past years' unspent federal funding that, if not used by June 30, may be diverted to more ambitious employment programs elsewhere in the state. "It's ludicrous, when we have budget deficits and people are out of work, to lose any money because we didn't spend it," said David Fischer of the Center for an Urban Future. (See his article, "The $67 Million Question")

One place where the funds were needed was in setting up "One-Stop Centers," where job hunters--welfare recipients or not--can receive a full range of services under one roof, from government and nonprofit agencies. While Los Angeles has 18 one-stop centers, New York currently has just one. Until the city opens the six additional centers that were announced in November, all job hunters in the city must travel to Jamaica, Queens to get one-stop employment services.

For the Human Resources Administration, employment services under the Workforce Investment Act have been relatively simple to administer. They picked 14 major contractors, agreed to pay them massive amounts of money, and let the contractors deal with the dozens of community-based organizations delivering most of the specialized services.

If you're a welfare recipient, things are more complicated. You're already working three days a week to "earn" your benefits. For several weeks, during the other two days, you must go to a Skills Assessment and Placement program for an evaluation. If you look instantly employable, you will be given the use of newspapers, a computer and a phone, in order to find yourself a job.

If you don't succeed, you will be sent to an Employment Services and Placement program, which will probably have to evaluate you again because they won't get your paperwork from the assessment program. You'll be helped to write a resume, and taught how to dress and behave on a job interview. If this gets you hired for a minimum-wage job, the program will advise you on child care subsidies and providers, and how to keep Medicaid and food stamps for a period after you start to work.

If you have any major barriers to employment--you can't read, or you suffer from clinical depression--you'll be referred to a subcontractor of your Employment Services and Placement provider. This will be a smaller community-based organization, which would probably like to give you real job training, but would go out of business if it did. After another interview, you'll receive "intensive" services: more lessons in how to dress and behave at job interviews, create a resume, and complete a job application. You may get substance abuse treatment, mental health care, or case management services, as well.

The federal Workforce Investment Act provides for a third level of services: the genuine "training" component of the act, which can support education in such forms as literacy classes, English classes, vocational school, apprenticeship, on-the-job training, and community college.

However, the payment structure for welfare-to-work employment service providers, especially subcontractors, is not designed to reward providers who place clients in better jobs. The hardest clients to place are sent to subcontractors who are offered inadequate incentives for keeping clients in jobs.

New York City's employment services contracts are based on results, not on efforts made to achieve results. Such "performance-based" agreements are meant to improve contract management, but fail when they define success using the wrong measurement. In the case of employment services, the goal of self-sufficiency isn't reached the day that a former welfare recipient starts work at a paying job. Jobs must be permanent, pay a living wage, and provide health insurance and other essential benefits, to keep workers from needing to go back on the welfare rolls. Jobs like this usually require some training and academic skills. Indeed, much research that has been done into the most effective welfare-to-work strategies, such as that conducted over the past several decades by the Manpower Research and Demonstration Corporation, found that the best results come from mandatory employment programs that offer education and skills training in their mix of activities and services.

How the city's system performed even in good times was not encouraging. As of March 2001, only one in four clients had found a job. Now the local economy is going downhill, possibly longer and harder than the rest of the country. During 2001, the city lost 132,400 jobs, according to the New York State Department of Labor. The City Comptroller, William Thompson, reported that in the last quarter of 2001, the U.S. economy stopped shrinking and grew slightly, while the city's economy continued to shrink.

The first people to be laid off are usually those last hired, which would include recent placements by the city's employment services system. The number of people on welfare used to rise and fall pretty much in line with the local unemployment rate, until last July. According to the city's monthly bulletin "HRA Facts," between July 2001 and January 2002, the unemployment rate rose from 5.3 percent to 7.1 percent, while over 23,000 people left the welfare rolls.

Luckily, the city is stepping up its rate of spending workforce development funds. According to the executive director of the Workforce Investment Board, Dorothy Lehman, "The new administration is totally committed" to carrying out the mandate of the Workforce Investment Act. This summer the act comes back to Congress for reauthorization; some welfare advocates fear that New York City's past failure to support employment services will give the law's opponents ammunition against its renewal.

The Bloomberg administration is also now revising the city's five-year Workforce Investment Act plan. The public will have a chance to comment.

Read also:

Sites For Beginners:

  • Social Services Hotline for New York City Agencies and Services - Who to contact if you have no food, if your gas is about to be cut off or if you need information on HIV or AIDS; how to find an emergency shelter; what a battered woman can do--and more.
  • National Coalition Against Domestic Violence - Setting up a Safety Plan and Crisis Hotlines; Workplace Guidelines; Legal Guidelines; Public Policy which includes articles on Predictors of Domestic Violence and Barriers to Leaving a Violent Partner.
  • New York City Department for the Aging - Good resource for finding senior centers in your neighborhood. Where to turn for help with Legal Assistance, the Home Energy Assistance Program and Elderly Crime Victim Resources. Bilingual help in Spanish is available.
  • Center for Mental Health Services - Good resource for finding information on dual diagnosis problems of mental illness and substance abuse; Emergency Services; Children's Campaign; Mental Health Statistics. All information also available in Spanish.
  • Coalition of Voluntary Mental Health Agencies - Contains a neighborhood agency locator to find what services are available in your neighborhood; policy information and newsletters.

Other Recommendations:

  • Resources for Social Workers - NYU's social work library: key in any topic of interest and you are presented with a comprehensive listing of articles from government, not-for-profit groups and professional journals.
  • National Clearinghouse for Alcohol and Drug Information - Extraordinary site, filled with alcohol and drug treatment information. Data archives include international articles on educational, political and social research on this topic. Go here for a primer on including persons with disabilities in a prevention or intervention program.
  • National Association of Social Workers, NYC Chapter - Social workers reporting on every issue: welfare reform, HIV/AIDS, addiction, mental health, families & children and health care
  • New York city Lesbian & Gay Community Center - Youth Enrichment Services, Gender Identity Project, AIDS Bereavement, Mediation Service, in addition to being cultural, political, educational and recreational mecca.
  • Mt. Sinai Adolescent Health Center - 312 East 94th Street, NY, NY 10128 (212) 423-3000 Confidential services for teens (ages 12-21) that do not require parental consent, including medical services, condom distribution, AIDS prevention & treatment, and counseling.

Visit the Topic Archives!