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An Advocates Guide to Welfare Work Rules

Empire Justice February 01, 2008

As a condition of receiving public assistance in New York, applicants and recipients must comply with work requirements.  The system tends to be rigidly administered, and people who are found to have in any way failed to comply are subject to sanctions, in which their benefits are reduced or terminated.  But the law does provide an array of rights for those subject to these mandates.  It is therefore our hope that the Guide will assist advocates in protecting clients against sanctions and in enforcing those rights.

The Guide seeks to accomplish a few related objectives:

  • Set forth the basic work rules, distilled from Federal and State law, regulations and policy directives, the so-called “black-letter law.”  Topics covered include the  evaluation of employability, the assessment process, the potential range of assignments, including discussions of workfare and access to education and training, supportive services (like child care) and the sanction process.
  • Offer analysis about the meaning or intent of the legal and regulatory provisions.
  • Include detailed citations of law, regulation and policy, as well as relevant judicial and hearing decisions that shed light on the meaning of the laws and rules.  Nearly all of the fair hearing decisions are hyperlinked to the Empire Justice Center’s Online Resource Center.  Check the website introduction to the Guide for instructions.
  • Provide “advocacy tips,” that is, suggestions about possible strategies for effectively representing or advising clients.
  • Much of the work on the Guide was done while the author was working in New York City, where about two-thirds of welfare recipients reside.  The Guide therefore includes occasional “New York City Practice Notes,” highlighting the particular ways in which the work rules are implemented in NYC.  We anticipate that future editions of the Guide will incorporate policy and practice from around the State.

The basic law concerning the work mandates changed dramatically in 1996 when Federal welfare reform was enacted, after which New York State laws were adopted to implement the new rules.  The first version of the Guide, written in 1998, took these Federal and State changes into account.  Since then the only significant modification in the work rules law came about with the Federal Deficit Reduction Act of 2005 (DRA).  The DRA gave wide latitude to the Department of Health and Human Services to adopt regulations implementing the new law.  Those regulations were not finalized until a few days before the Guide was posted on our website.  Once we know how New York State will respond to the new regulations with their own rules changes, we will update the Guide.  In the meantime, a companion article in this edition of the Legal Service Journal summarizes the Federal rules changes, and a more detailed discussion is posted on our website.

Lastly, a request for your input:  We would appreciate any feedback you might care to share.  Among the types of information that would be particularly helpful, please tell us about any statements in the Guide that need to be corrected or updated, about noteworthy local practices, and about topics that are not included but that you feel should be covered.  Please send your feedback to dfriedman@empirejustice.org.  If you think the Guide should include a decision in a court case or fair hearing that might be useful for others, please submit them to Susan Antos at santos@empirejustice.org.

DISCLAIMER: Please note, some sessions may be out of date.