State Budget Now Allows College Attendance to Count toward Work Requirements
By Mary Alice Miller
Public assistance recipients now have the opportunity to apply 4 years of college toward their work experience requirements. “It is an investment in someone who is struggling to try and sustain themselves,” said State Senator Velmanette Montgomery. “Meanwhile, they are required to fulfill some requirements related to their public assistance now in a more productive activity and they are able to receive benefits associated with having a higher education degree once they graduate which allows them to have a more sustainable income for the rest of their lives.”
The language which allows public assistance recipients to count college attendance and activities toward mandatory work experience requirements is embedded in this year’s NYS 2014-15 budget. The change would apply to anyone who is receiving what would be considered welfare funding.
Montgomery has been working with the Welfare Rights Initiative at Hunter College to advocate for the change since 2008 when Democrats controlled the Senate.
“It is extremely important, especially to people who may have not been able to work, don’t have skills and may want to go to school. They can go to college now and their attendance and college classes can be used to fulfill work requirements,” Montgomery said. “And eventually, if people are able to go to a four-year college and receive a degree, it is very likely that they will not ever again need public assistance because they will be able to sustain themselves and their families without being subsidized by public assistance.” She added, “That is a significant advancement, in my opinion. It helps to prepare people in a way that allows them to be able to receive a sustainable income once they (hopefully) are able to graduate from college.”
This year’s state budget includes funding to strengthen educational opportunities at any life stage. Besides UPK (Universal Pre-K for 4-year-olds), there is an additional $34 million in funding for child care (for 0-4-year-olds). “I am hopeful that we can see some of the funding that is now available based on increasing the budget for child care, that we can receive some additional resources coming into the programs in my district that have provided early childhood programming and early childhood education and services for families for decades and decades,” said Montgomery. “We lost some of them vis-`a-vis the cuts in the programs and the changes implemented by the previous (city) administration. I am hopeful that we can bring those programs back to be able to serve more children and their families in my district through the Head Start and day care programs that are sponsored by community-based organizations in my district.”
The state budget also includes $1.5B for 5-year implementation and expansion of after-school programs, as well as a variety of supports to assist students to prepare for and remain in college
There is “additional funding for Medgar Evers College, overall and for specific programming,” Assembly member Annette Robinson said. “For instance, they have a Pathways program at Medgar Evers College to transition children from elementary school through high school and into college.”
Robinson noted that, “We assist our young people with an increase in the TAP program”, which funds financial aid for SUNY and CUNY. Embedded within TAP funding is a special program to provide higher education assistance for foster children. There is college-based increase in funding to $20.2 million for o
pportunity programs such as SEEK, HEOP and DISCOVERY. “Students who are currently in those programs do come to lobby from the top of the state to the bottom,” said Robinson.
Included in this year’s budget is a $2.1 million bond act to support technology in schools. “This means the children should have Smart Boards, the technology in the libraries should be upgraded and the kids should have laptops. The children should have the technology they need to be successful,” said Robinson. “You can’t talk about having Common Core expectations of the children learning and functioning at [a certain] level and they don’t have the equipment and tools to do that, nor do the teachers.”
A broad array of human services received increased funding, too.
This year’s budget has additional temporary assistance for needy families. “There was a sentence in the law that said the City of New York could not use certain monies for rental assistance for families,” said Robinson, “but because we have such an extraordinary problem with homelessness in NYC, we were able to get the language changed so that the City of New York will be able to provide money to tenants for rental assistance.”
There is $5 million in funding for community services for the elderly, giving seniors the opportunity to have home care and distribution of Meals on Wheels and $4.1 million expansion of EPIC, a pharmaceutical program for the elderly. Income eligibility for SCREE rental income exemptions increased.
“In our community, we are having a problem with many of our children going missing,” said Robinson, “so we put increased funding for Safe Harbor and sexually exploited youth to the tune of $1.4 million.”
Additional funding for community mental health services will put apartments online for people with disabilities and for young people – $38 million to establish 638 apartments and 122 enhanced-service slots for children in day care.
There is a 2% COLA for direct care workers such as home health aides in state-funded human service agencies that work with children and adults with disabilities.
There is money for summer youth employment. “The money comes from the federal government then we try to add to it,” said Robinson. “But there are still not enough slots for the children.”
“There are some things in this budget that will be valuable and come out of the NYS Housing Office,” said Robinson. “Of the $312.4 million that was received from the mortgage foreclosure settlement from JP Morgan Chase, our community will get a large sum of that money because we have continually been doing housing counseling, mediation programs and legal assistance through Bedford-Stuyvesant Legal Services, Bridge Street Development Corporation, Neighborhood Housing Services and Pratt Area Community Council, organizations that have been providing these services for the past 8 years to assist people with foreclosure prevention.”
And, said Robinson, “We were able to provide an additional $1 million for minority- and women-owned businesses to develop and establish a lending program.”
“Was it a perfect budget?” Robinson asked. “No. There was a lot of tax relief granted, but we still were able to extract some things we needed for our communities.”
“We understand there is give-and-take in budget negotiations,” said Assembly member Walter Mosley. “We didn’t get everything we wanted, but we got more than we anticipated.”
Mosley stated that the $2 billion bond for SMART Schools build-out will improve technology as well as remove trailers out of public school systems but, he added, there is no attachment to 15-A language that would automatically have M/WBE qualifiers in those bonds being awarded. “In cities like Rochester, Buffalo, Syracuse and the downstate region where there are a large number of minority contractors who would like an opportunity,” Mosley said. “We can still add language to the budget to make sure that minority-owned businesses have a guaranteed opportunity to participate in the SMART Schools build-out programs.”
The budget wasn’t perfect for Montgomery, either. “One of the problems that I expressed on the floor when we were voting for the budget was the fact that we now have a situation where the state education commissioner, as well as the city’s Department of Education, has been superseded by the legislature and the governor,” said Montgomery. “That is a real problem.” Explaining further, Montgomery said, “In the language of the budget, there exists a number of direct policy changes vis-`a-vis the legislative process and the governor. And there are several areas especially related to how charter schools are dealt with in the City of New York now in statute so that the City of New York will have to bear some additional financial costs associated with requirements that the charter schools must be either allowed to co-locate or (the city has to pay for funding space outside public school buildings).” Regarding the fact that charter schools can now be audited by the state and city comptroller when a few years ago state law prohibited those audits, Montgomery said, “That’s a good thing.”
Overall, Mosley said, “It was a progressive-minded budget, but it was also fiscally responsible. It took into account the future of NYS, and NYC in particular. We have a lot more to do legislatively. We can continue to negotiate as we move forward.”
Despite the increases in funding, Robinson said, “many people are not taking advantage of programs and services such as TAP awards, temporary assistance for needy families and the SCREE program for the elderly. We [seek] to build up and strengthen our community. That is what this is all about.”