Workfare and the Non-Profits:
by Mimi Abramovitz, with Task Force on Welfare Reform, NYC Chapter, National Association of
An estimated one million welfare recipients nationwide will be expected to be at work or involved in some kind of work from home activity by October 1997. During the next five years, another million recipients of Temporary Aid To Needy Families (TANF) ( formerly Aid To Families With Dependent Children or AFDC) will fall into this category. Although the new welfare law allows but does not require states to have a workfare program, workfare is expected to expand nationwide, placing new pressures on nonprofit agencies to increase their workfare participation This fact sheet highlights some of the dilemmas that non-profit agencies can be expected to face.
Workfare is not a new concept! Ever since towns in colonial America auctioned-off the poor to work for the lowest bidder or placed them in a workhouse, welfare officials have periodically resurrected the controversial practice of
requiring public assistance recipients to exchange their benefits for "work."
New York and other cities will continue to place most workfare recipients in city agencies where thousands already sweep streets, clean parks, and perform clerical tasks in exchange for their welfare grant. However, the mounting pressure to expand workfare --along with the political fire that workfare attracts--has sent city officials scrambling for more workfare slots elsewhere. Of the 65.000 workfare placements planned for 1997-1998, 10,000 are targeted for non-profit institutions.4
The growth of workfare within non-profits has already sparked an intense debate in New York City which currently operates the largest workfare program in the nation, called the Work Experience Program (WEP). Some non-profit agencies are eager to take on workfare "workers" believing they can do well by them. Others are ambivalent. Still others--more than 70 churches, synagogues and non-profit institutions--have refused to cooperate with the city's workfare program because they find it morally unjust.5
Here are some of the issues.
MYTH: Any Welfare Recipient Who Wants A Job Can Find One
FACT: Job Seekers Exceed Available Jobs In Many Areas. The NYS Department of Labor predicts that New
York City's will have 91,170 new job openings a year until 2002--less than one job for every eight job seekers.
Similarly, California has projected some 269,000 new jobs per year through 2005, but expects job seekers to
outnumber available jobs in all but one county.6
DILEMMA: Nonprofits that accept workfare placements participate in a punitive system that raises the employment expectations of welfare recipients,10 but does not address the need for job creation. Despite their best efforts, it will be very difficult for non-profits to offer real jobs to the vast majority of workfare participants.
MYTH: Non-Profits Provide Workfare Participants With A "Better" Experience
FACT: Not On All Fronts! The belief that non-profit workfare slots are "better" than public agency assignments rests
on two faulty assumptions: (1) that non-profits give recipients white and pink collar rather than blue collar placements;
and (2) that filing paper and answering phones is uplifting, while de-littering the parks is demeaning and degrading.
DILEMMA: While non-profits may genuinely seek to treat workfare participants with dignity they are limited both by laws and policies which create strong incentives to take advantage of welfare recipients and by staff who may treat workfare recipients disrespectfully because they lack the status of regular workers. The harsh realities of workfare cannot be smoothed over by the belief that white collar workfare assignments in non-profits are "nicer" than blue-collar city work. There is no such thing as demeaning work, only demeaning pay and working conditions.
MYTH: Non-Profits Can Provide Workfare Participants With Effective Training
FACT: Workfare Interferes with Better Education and Training Opportunities. New York City regularly sends
recipients to workfare placements without assessing their literacy levels, English proficiency, educational attainment,
recent work history or job interests.14 Presuming that everyone on welfare needs a "work experience" to become "job
ready," skilled recipients are made to answer the phone, serve food or sweep the floor.
DILEMMA: Some non-profit agencies provide useful training experiences for one or more workfare participants, but cooperating with workfare program may bring harm to the large marjority of recipients. Can the non-profits train all the 10, 000 workfare participants in the non-profit pipeline? What about those among the thousands of recipients who are in less protected settings in non-profit or city agencies? Do the benefits for a few outweigh the human costs of a program that keeps the poor from large scale education and training programs that might actually lift them out of poverty and off welfare.
MYTH: Having Workfare "Workers" Helps Non-Profits Make Up For Budget Cuts.
FACT: Workfare Participants Are Not Cost Free. Non-profits participate in workfare to help recipients. They also
hope workfare will stretch already tight budgets and allow them to restore important services that have been guttted
by government cutbacks. Nonetheless, the directors of 1380 well-established non-profit agencies in 13 US cities with
large welfare caseloads, and good experience with workfare participants, report that the cost of staff time and the
training and supervision of workfare participants has made them cautious about accepting workfare placement.16
DILEMMA: Although many non-profits take workfare recipients to help them become more employable and/or to
make up for staff shortages, dwindling funds, reams of welfare department red tape, and new costs leave many
agencies wondering if the demands of workfare will compromise their ability to treat workfare participants fairly and
to provide proper service to clients.17
MYTH: Non-Profit Workfare Assignments Yield Permanent Jobs
FACT: The Prospect of Moving From Workfare to a "Real" Job is Slim. The available data indicate that a mere
1.6% of NYC workfare participants working for a non-profit found a job through that site: 6% found employment
on their own.18 Other reports show that from July 1995 to August 1996, only 5% of 80,000 work eligible home relief
recipients found a public or private sector job, including job secured independently.19
DILEMMA: Workfare not only fails to produce much permanent employment for most recipients but it can cost "regular" employees their jobs. Workfare may help financially strapped agencies lower their labor costs. But accepting 10, 000 more workfare participants into the non-profit sector will mean fewer paying and permanent jobs for all workers. It may also lower agency morale, as waged workers begin to fear for their own jobs.
MYTH: Non-Profits Can Become Workfare Sites Without Compromising Humanitarian Values.
FACT: Workfare Is Not A Win-Win Situation. Many non-profits accept workfare participants hoping to provide
them with a good experience or at least to help recipients hold onto their welfare grant. However, non-profits may
end up policing the very people they want to help.21
DILEMMA: Instead of being seen as an ally or advocate, clients and communities may conclude that the non-profit agency is an extension of an already intrusive bureaucracy or just one more social control agent.
MYTH: Everyone on Welfare Can Work.
FACT: Not All Welfare Recipients Are In The Same Situation: Nationally, about 70% of women on welfare
leave the rolls within 2 years. Others combine welfare and work.24 But many women return to welfare due to
layoffs, inadequate wages, domestic violence, lack of health benefits, child care services, or transportation. The
ongoing decline of apparel manufacturing employment in New York and slowed growth in health care services, means
less jobs for women with few skills.
DILEMMA: Workfare rules place non-profits in collusion with a system that does not recognize the impact of labor market changes on the work opportunities for low-skilled women nor the individuality of recipients and their families.
MYTH: Workfare Does Not Displace Regular Workers.
FACT: Workfare Recipients Typically Do The Work Previously Done By Waged Workers Earning Full
Wages. New York City promised not to replace laid-off unionized workers with workfare participants. Instead some
20,000 full-time city jobs were eliminated through attrition and aggressive severance packages and replaced with 37,
000 half-time workfare slots. Workfare workers now comprise about 3/4 of the Parks Department and 1/3 of the
Sanitation Department's labor force.25
DILEMMA: Replacing waged workers with workfare partic-ipants not only shrinks the supply of regular jobs in New
York City but is deeply divisive. Workfare recipients resent being blamed for the city's meanspirited effort to lower
its labor costs and weaken trade unions by using welfare recipients to get the job done.
MYTH: Workfare Increases "Self-Sufficiency."
FACT: Workfare Subsidizes Poverty. A New York mother with two children working off her welfare benefits in
a city or non-profit agency receives her basic monthly welfare grant of $577 from TANF and $256 from Food Stamps.
This $9996 yearly welfare income falls far below the 1997 official $13,330-a-year poverty line for a family of three.
Childless adults on home relief receive $352 a month in benefits and $110 in Food Stamps or $ 5544 a year compared
to the poverty line of $7890 for a one person family.28
DILEMMA: Workfare keeps participants poor and can impoverish former city workers. Public sector employment historically was a route into the middle class for women, immig-rants and persons of color whom the private sector refused to hire. The expansion of workfare and the shrinking of the City's unionized workforce, has all but eliminated this option for dis-advantaged groups. Will workfare place the non-profit sector on the same troublesome path?
MYTH: Workfare Takes Children Into Account.
FACT: Workfare Increases Caretaking Burdens. Workfare initially targeted single, child-less adults receiving
Home Relief. Now, pressed by the new federal law to place 50% of single mothers on TANF into work activities by
2002, states are assigning mothers, grand-mothers, and even foster parents who qualify for public assistance to
DILEMMA: Workfare risks depriving thousands of poor children proper care in their own and in foster homes. Non-profits will be faced with the troublesome reality that accept-ing workfare placements exacerbates the city's already severe foster parent shortage. The stiff work requirements interfere with the ability of foster parents on TANF to care for children and threatens to discourage others on public aid from stepping forward to serve as foster parents.
MYTH : Workfare Comes With Sufficient Child Care Services.
FACT: Workfare Increases But Does Not Meet the Demand For Child Care Services. As tens of thousands of
welfare mothers are pushed into jobs and work programs, the demand for good child care services is soaring. New
York is expected to need more than 500,000 additional child care slots for children over age 5, but federal welfare
law does not guarantee child care for this group.31
DILEMMA: Stiff work rules have increased the demand but not the supply of services provided by (1) licensed home are providers, many of whom are satisfying their own work re-quirements; (2) for-profit and not-profit child care centers that often hire former welfare recipients; and (3) unlicensed caretakers who may or may not offer quality care. Officialdom seems to trust women on welfare to care for any child but their own.
MYTH: Workfare Provides Battered Women With The Opportunity To Flee Abusive Relationships.
FACT: Workfare undercuts a women's ability to deal with male violence in the home. Researchers have
recently learned that from 30% to 75% of women in welfare- to-work programs are being physically or emotionally
abused by part-ners and that forcing women to work may precipitate male violence.
DILEMMA: Workfare's strict rules, along with time limits and child support enforcement promise to place women
at greater risk for abuse or increase sanctions for lateness and absenteeism that often follow battering. Many non-profit
agencies accepting workfare participants also run shelters for battered women or otherwise provide them with
MYTH: Workfare Saves Tax-payers Money.
FACT: Workfare Is Expensive And May Generate Additional Costs. The NYC Independent Budget Office (IBO) projected that a workfare placement would cost $6100 a year in add-ition to the household's public assistance and food stamp benefits.33 The Congressional Budget Office, (CBO) estimated that it would take $6300 a year beyond the cost of the welfare grant to cover a recipient's work-related and child care expenses as well as the supervisory and administrative costs of a workfare slot. Federal grants budget less for more useful job creation programs34
DILEMMA: Funds could better be spent by providing resources to non-profits to expand support services, job training, and job placement services and by funding government programs that create jobs and increase economic security .
MYTH: Workfare Helps New York's Economy.
FACT: Workfare Depresses Wages, Weakens Labor Stand-ards, Lowers Tax Revenues And Otherwise Harms
NYC's Economy. Workfare and other work requirements are flooding the labor market with droves of hungry people,
making it easier for employers to depress wages and harder for unions to negotiate good contracts for any low-paid
DILEMMA: Lower wages harm the economy by reducing the purchasing power of all city families. Lower tax revenues reduce the funds spent on social services, including those provided by non-profits, just when government funders and regulators are increasing expectations and pressing them for more services.
MYTH: Workfare Recipients Favor Workfare.
FACT: Workfare Workers Are Fighting For Change: While some workfare recipients in New York City report
that workfare got them going. Others have deplored the program, they did so long before the death of a workfare
recipient who was assigned to the Parks Depart-ment even though heart disease had previously forced her to quit a
secretarial job. The opponents in the workfare ranks have gone public.
participants who demanded to form a union. District Council 37, AFSCME, the union of 120,000 municipal employees has also begun to unionize these WEP workers.36 The AFL-CIO has also announced its support of these organizing efforts.
DILEMMA: If workfare workers are willing to risk their benefits by speaking out, can the non-profits do any less?
1According to the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Act of 1996, In 1997, 25% of adult recipients must work or participate in work activities for 20 hours a week. By 2002, it will be 50 % of the caseload, for 30 hours a week. States that do not meet these work participation requirements risk losing a share of their federal welfare funds.
2 New York Times, November 30 ,1994, p A1, Cited by. cited by Workfare: The Real Deal II, Community Food Resource Center( hereafter CFRC) NY, NY, July, 1997, p. 4.
3 Mayor's Management Report( 1997) cited in Workfare: The Real Deal II .CFRC, NY, NY 7/97 p.4
5 Greenhouse, Steven "Nonprofit and Religious Groups Vow to Fight Workfare Program" NY Times, 7/24/97, p. A.1; Steven Greenhouse, "2 Well-Known Churches Say No To Workfare Jobs," NY Times, 8/4/97, p. B3.
6 California Budget Project, "Are There Enough Jobs For All Who Must Work? May 1997, p. 3-4 . 921 11th. St. #701, Sacramento, Ca, 95814.
7 Alan Finder, "Welfare Clients Outnumber Jobs They Might Fill," NY Times, 8/25/96, p. A1
8 Thomas Lueck, "Job Boom In NYC Excludes City Residents, "NY Times, 8/15/ 97, p. B6
9 Rachel L. Swarns, "In Bronx Club, Welfare Mothers Prepare For Jobs, & Then Wait," NY Times 8/31/97, p.1,30.
11 Urban Justice Center, Some Common Questions and Answers About Non-Profits & Religious Congregation Becoming WEP Sites, NY, NY. 7/97, p.2.
12 Workfare: The Real Deal II, CFRC. NY, NY, 7/97 pp.11-12.
13 National Employment Law Project and WEP Workers Together Unite. It's The Law--Workfare Participants are Workers Too. cited by Workfare: The Real Deal II, CFRC. NY, NY 7/97 , p 12.
14 Urban Justice Center, National Employment Law Project, Welfare Rights Initiative ,Welfare, Jobs and Workfare: An Educator's Guidebook, NYC ,7/97, p.10.
15 "Judge Orders Assessments For Workfare Recipients," NY Times, 3/26/97, p. B3.
16 Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, "Workfare Requirements Under the New Welfare Block Grant: Can Non-Profit Organizations Provide the Jobs" pp. 2-3.( 202-789-3500)
17 Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, "Workfare Requirements Under the New Welfare Block Grant: Can Non-Profit Organizations Provide the Jobs" pp.5, 6 ( 202-789-3500); Steven Greenhouse, "Nonprofit & Religious Groups Vow to Fight Workfare Program" NY Times, July 24, 1997, p.B6
18 Information obtained through City Council member Steve DiBrienza's office by the Freedom on Information Act, cited in Workfare: The Real Deal II, CFRC, NY, 7/97 p.9.
19 "Long Odds,"New York Newsday 6/14/961 p. A3 ,cited by Workfare: The Real Deal II, CFRC, NY, NY. July 1997, p.8,
20 Mayor's 1997 Management Report in Workfare: The Real Deal II,CFRC. NYC, 7/97,p.7
21 Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, "Workfare Requirements Under the New Welfare Block Grant: Can Non-Profit Organizations Provide the Jobs" p.6. (ph: 202-789-3500)
22 Workfare: The Real Deal II, CFRC, NY, NY 7/97, p.9.
23 TV Interview, Atty Peter Cicchino, from the Urban Justice Center in New York, Jim Lehrer New Hour, 8/ 13/97.
24 Committee on Ways & Means, House of Reps
Overview of Entitlement Programs ( 1994 Green Book) Wash. DC. : GPO, 7/15/94, pp. 441-442; Roberta Spalter-Roth, Income Packaging: An Alternative Anti-Poverty Strategy For Women, Institute For Women's Policy Research, Wash. DC. 5/21/94.
25 Urban Justice Center, Background Sheet: New York City's Work Experience Program, NY, NY 1997. p. 2.
26 In Melish et al v. City of New York, unions representing painters and carpenters claim that the City has assigned workfare participants to do painting and carpentry work that had been done by civil service employees at the Parks Department, cited by. Workfare The Real; Deal II. CFRC, NY, NY July 1997, p.13
27 James Butler, President of the Municipal Hospital Workers Union, Local 420, Testimony Before City Council of New York, March 1996 .cited in Workfare: The Real Deal II, CFRC, NY, NY, 7/97, p11.
28 David Firestone, Little Effect Seen on Giuliani's Workfare, "NY Times, 7/30/97. p. A17, The HHS Poverty Guidelines Federal Register Vol. 62, No 46, 3/ 10/ 97, pp. 10856-10859.
29 Brukhman V Hammons, No 407215 136 ( NY Sup.Ct. 5/20/97 in Workfare: The Real Deal II, CFRC. NY,NY 7/97, p.13
30 Adam Fifield & Evan Halper, "Welfare's Foster Scare" City Limits, 5/97,p17-19.
31 Statewide Youth Advocacy, What About the Children? 12/18/96. p.6; Joe Sexton, "Informal Child Care for Welfare Mothers Stirs Questions," NY Times, 10/14/96, p. B1.
32 Jody Raphael, Prisoners of Abuse: Domestic Violence and Welfare Receipt . Taylor Institute, Chicago, Illinois, April 1996; Catherine T. Kenney and Karen R. Brown, Report From the Front Lines: The Impact of Violence on Poor Women, NOW Legal Defense and Education Fund, NY 1996..
33 The NYC Independent Budget Office, The Fiscal Impact of the New Welfare Law on New York City, 10/96
34 Federal Register, Notices,
V. 51, No 107, 6/3/96, p.27956
35 Tilly, Chris. Workfare's Impact on the New York City Labor Market: Lower Wages and Workers Displacement. NY: Russell Sage Foundation, Working Paper #92, p. 11, in Workfare: The Real Deal, II , CFRC, NY,NY 7/97 p.13
36 Greenhouse, Steven "Petitions Seek Vote on Union for Workfare, NYTimes, 7/3/97. p. B1____________________.
* Professor, Hunter School of Social Work.
Copies can made be made and distributed. Additional Fact Sheets are available from NASW, 50 Broadway, 10th Fl., New York, NY 10004. Ph: 212-668-0050; FAX: 212-668-0305.
The reality of Minimum Wage
In May 2007, Congress approved legislation raising the minimum wage to $7.25 per hour by the end of 2009. They raised the wage from $5.85 to $6.55 in July 2008. Minimum wage earners were paid a base salary of $10,712, this will raise their base salary to a whopping $13,624.
But let's take another look. $10,712 in 1997 should be $14,604 in 2007 just to keep up with inflation, not counting exploding inflation of 2008. The inflation calculator shows $5.15 an hour in 1997 should be $6.74 in 2007.
$2.00 in 1974 would be $9.24 in 2007;
Yet, minimum wage just went to $6.55 in 2008! $2.00 an hour in 1974 should be $9.24 in 2007. Even at $6.55 in 2008, minimum wage has lost almost one-third of its value since 1974 as of 2007. The working class is being hammered from all directions. Most jobs "created "in this area (East Tennessee, Southwest Virginia) pay under $8 an hour.
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