Why We Do What We Do

October 15, 2009

Simply put, America Works of New York, Inc. is a company with a conscience. When you read this story, we hope you’ll agree.

Although we’re essentially an employment agency, we’re a very specialized one. We call on private-sector employers to help lift people from poverty into independence.

Working with governments as well as faith- and community-based organizations (FCBOs), we place “hard-to-serve” people such as welfare recipients, homeless veterans, and former criminal offenders into the job market. Over our 25-year history, we estimate that we’ve found jobs for about 175,000 people in cities such as New York and Albany, N.Y.; Newark, N.J.; Baltimore, MD; and Oakland, CA.

Seeing the smiles on our clients’ faces when they gain employment is truly priceless. Believe us when we say that it never gets old.

But we don’t always know what brings people to our doorstep. That’s why we were especially moved by the letter we received yesterday from one of our clients. We hope you’ll see why we’re so committed to our mission.

To see more feedback from our clients, click on the Testimonials tab above.

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10/14/09

To Whom It May Concern,

My name is XXX XXX and here is my story.

In December ’08, I lost my fiancée due to a fatal car accident and in January ’09, I lost my mom due to ovarian cancer which left me with no family living and through all the expenses I ended up homeless and on the streets of Manhattan in May ’09.

Then in June, I answered a job ad in the New York Daily News at America Works…and met with the incredible caring help from Corina and Edi as they enlisted me for this job.

Their caring and great work for me truly started my life off again and now I’m doing great at the job. I now am off the streets and living in a furnished room and starting my life up again and feeling much better about myself.

Thank you again Corina, Edi, and the staff at America Works. You saved my life and gave me a life again.

Sincerely,

XXX XXX

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What Welfare Reform Teaches Us About Reforming Parole

April 6, 2009

peter_cove.jpgPeter Cove
Founder, America Works

Originally Posted On:  The California Progressive Report 4/6/09

Link: http://www.californiaprogressreport.com/2009/04/what_welfare_re.html

Does anyone dispute the fact that welfare caseloads fell by 60% over the last 12 years in large part because work requirements became mandatory?

Prior to the reform of welfare by Congress in 1996, entitlement to cash assistance was a right for single mothers and little was expected in return. With the passage of the welfare reform bill, equal participation in the workforce from the recipients of welfare was required. Work was introduced as the reciprocal responsibility for welfare benefits. This established a quid pro quo in welfare, which changed the game from a handout to a workout.

This change resulted in many unintended consequences having residual benefits for the children, the mothers, and the private sector. Studies have shown that the benefits far outnumbered the costs for the children whose mothers went to work. Furthermore, when working, mothers also suffered from less mental illness and depression with their self-esteem, as well, as their family income increasing.

The private sector experienced an influx of previously discarded workers willing to take vacant jobs and move up in companies that were ready to accept them. More importantly, previously dependent receivers of government assistance were now paying taxes.

As the requirement for work reshaped welfare, might it do the same for parole? The question is this: might parole be improved by mandating the same type of work requirements introduced into welfare? Few would argue that parole works well. With over 70% of prisoners released returning to prison in 3 years in California, there clearly is something amiss in the parole system. Revamping parole from its losing game, to one where work becomes the central policy for re-entry may well be the ticket to successful reform.

Such a proposal was made last year in a groundbreaking paper for The Brookings Institute written By Professor Larry Mead of NYU. In it, Professor Mead argues that to reduce recidivism the correction system must become more accountable for how its turns out its clients. The notion is for parole to become work centered, with participation in the workforce determinate of continued freedom for the parolee. Surprisingly, of those returning to prison, 67% are due to technical violations of their parole. A technical violation means, they have in some way run afoul of their parole requirements. They might have gone to another state for a day. They might have forgotten or purposely missed a meeting with their parole officer. Nonetheless, these people have not committed any new crimes. In other words, they have in the plain interpretation of the law violated their parole conditions. But, only in rare instances have they become enough of a risk to the public to warrant re-incarceration.

By requiring parolees enter the workforce as a condition of freedom the role of the parole officer would change as did that of the case manager in welfare. Prior to welfare reform, the case manager was primarily responsible for enforcing rules as to who was eligible for grants. Often, they would encourage welfare mothers to have more children in order to increase their take-home income. Sadly, case managers seldom encouraged welfare recipients to work. Their responsibilities were, in a way prior to welfare reform, no different from those of parole officers today.

They both monitor conformity to regulations. But what if parole officers saw their job as helping returning felons enter the workforce? What if showing up to work was the measure of good compliance rather than arriving at the parole officer’s office on time; a time, by the way, that almost always conflicts with keeping a full time job?

Studies have shown, the therapeutic value of work, as well as, the income earned is enormous. By reforming parolee, there would be re-incarceration for criminal offenses, but technical violations would be reduced to work violations. The benefit to society would be a precipitously drop in recidivism. In an article to come, I will look at the connection between the drop in recidivism to employment.

Peter Cove is the Founder of America Works, a national company securing work for offenders, veterans and other hard to place workers.


Before unraveling welfare reform, appreciate why it worked

February 25, 2009

Our economic tsunami could drown the historic reforms made in welfare over the past 13 years.

We must not let that happen.

The shovel-ready arguments voiced by many in the left wing of the Democratic Party go like this: We are in a recession, people are hurting, and jobs are not there for welfare recipients – so loosening strings on government entitlements is the answer. A New York Times editorial of Feb. 9 says “welfare programs should be expanding” and bemoans the fact that “the number of people receiving cash assistance is at or near a four-decade low.”

Indeed, those intent on driving the welfare rolls back up scored a big victory in President Obama‘s stimulus bill, which contains two provisions that have the potential to discourage work. First, it gives states that increase their caseloads more money, which creates an incentive to let more people onto the dole. Second, it relieves states of the “work activity” obligations for food stamps they otherwise would incur because of rising caseloads. Since New York City has an aggressive workfare program, it is turning down some of that food stamp cash – and instead keeping in place stricter rules that require able-bodied welfare recipients to work to continue to receive the benefit.

Advocates are crying foul. They insist government help is needed now, and city government’s work requirements are onerous and unfair.

This calls for a quick history lesson. Though almost all agree that welfare reform, which resulted in the greatest reduction in welfare dependency in the nation’s history, was a major success, few seem to recall why it worked. We’d better remember if we’re going to stop thousands of families from slipping into dependency during the current crisis.

First, contrary to the assumptions of so many – and the doom-and-gloom predictions that welfare recipients would wind up unemployed and sleeping on the streets en masse – we have consistently discovered that jobs, in fact, are available for people trying to get off public assistance. In any economy, even this one, there is churn in the labor market. People resign, are fired or die. When that happens, jobs open up.

According to the city’s Human Resources Administration, the city’s welfare program has not seen a falling off in its ability to place welfare recipients into employment – not even during the national recession that started more than a year ago.

In fact, last year, a little over 85,000 New Yorkers reached the point of losing their cash grant due to time limits imposed by federal law. In that year, the HRA, responsible for welfare in the city, placed over 80,000 people – up slightly from 2007.

Second, welfare reform worked and still works today because most people on welfare want to work, can work – and are welcomed by the private sector as good employees. Twelve years of dramatically reduced caseloads put the lie to the myth that they prefer a government benefit to a low wage, can’t work due to infirmity or lack of education or are excluded from jobs by the private sector’s prejudice.

Third, work is therapy and it socializes. There are huge benefits that accrue to families and society when previously dependent people hold down a job. Children fare better in school and are less prone to social deviance. Mental health of the wage earner improves, and, frequently, family reunification occurs.

Whatever anti-poverty advocates say, no matter how intently they want to turn back the clock on reform, our economy can and must keep moving low-income people from dependency to work. We cannot risk a return to the “come and get it” policies once promoted most famously here in New York City.

Yes, there will always be those deserving and helpless who require government assistance. The states have those resources through block grants from the federal government.

But it would be a tragedy to use the new economic downturn to return to old, failed policies that disastrously marginalized so many.

Cove is the founder of America Works, a company that places hard-to-place people into work.