Councilmembers Vann and De Blasio Chair Hearings on Mayor’s Poverty Oust Programs

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De Blasio: "We need real answers, not more boutique solutions that serve only a few thousand people. We must think big, we must provide widespread solutions to poverty that will help all New Yorkers in need."

On Thursday, October 30th, Councilmember Albert Vann (D-36th District, Brooklyn, NY), Chair of the Committee on Community Development, and Council Member Bill de Blasio (D-39th District, Brooklyn, NY), Chair of the General Welfare Committee, held a joint committee hearing to examine the progress of New York City Mayor Bloomberg's anti-poverty initiative, CEO (Center for Economic Opportunity), whose mission is to reduce poverty among the City's working poor, young adults, and young children, which together aggregates approximately 700,000 New Yorkers.

Councilmember Bill de Blasio, Chair of the General Welfare Committee stated, "The Mayor has determined that there is more poverty than we initially thought, but what does he plan to do about it?  We need real answers, not more boutique solutions that serve only a few thousand people.  We must think big, we must provide widespread solutions to poverty that will help all New Yorkers in need."

Councilmember, Al Vann, Chair of the Committee on Community Development and lifelong resident of Bedford Stuyvesant, the  community he now serves, issued the statement, "Today's hearing gave us a better understanding of just how effective the Center on Economic Opportunity has been in moving folks out of poverty.  Although there has been some success, it is clear that there is still much work to do. We look forward to working with the [Bloomberg] Administration to fight poverty, and will continue to push them to be more aggressive in their approach and commitment to eradicating poverty among young children, young adults and the working poor."  

That statement and others regarding this issue led BSN to probe deeper into the City's quest for solutions to the poverty that stifles New York City.  Brenda Jeanne Wyche, Managing Editor of The Black Star News conducted the following interview with Mandela Jones of Councilmember Vann’s office and got some compelling answers:

BSN: Thank you, Mr. Jones, for taking the time to share some insight on this issue.  Firstly, what is the success rate of this CEO (Center on Economic Opportunity) effort in comparison with the number of existing impoverished New Yorkers?

MJ: The Center on Economic Opportunity (CEO) has a number of programs and policy efforts, but the Center is only two years old so they do not have enough results to allow them or the Council to fully evaluate the effectiveness of their programs. This is why they only had concrete results for two of their programs/policy efforts. Their overall plan is to test out a number of different programs/policy efforts and then evaluate whether they are effective, and then take those that are effective and implement them on a larger scale. It would be difficult to state a success rate at this time because participants have not fully completed the programs they are in. For the working poor, CEO wants to 1) promote career ladders through job training and professional development; 2) provide financial literacy and asset building education through the Office of Financial Empowerment; and 3) improve access to work supports/public benefits through AccessNYC, which screens for eligible public benefits. For young adults, CEO wants to 1) provide education through GED programs and community college programs that are flexible for students who work; 2) provide paid internships and job placement for those not working or in school; and 3) provide service learning programs for young people, and education and job training programs for those within the criminal justice system. For young children, CEO uses 1) the child care tax credit which has distributed $32 million to over 50,000 households; 2) the Nurse Family Partnership, which serves first-time mothers and improves maternal and child health, as well as social and educational outcomes; and 3) food policy and coordination efforts to increase access to healthy food. There are other aspects of CEO, such as Opportunity NYC, but these are the targeted methods that are being used right now.

BSN: Moving forward with the current administration, what is the immediate plan of action to help these unemployed and underemployed people who are suffering?

MJ: The plan is to move people into jobs and higher-paying jobs. For young children, it is to improve their lives early on so as to improve their chances in breaking the cycle of poverty.

BSN: What is the “Sector Focused Career Center?”

MJ: The Sector Focused Career Centers are career centers for specific industries that aim to assist unemployed and low-income individuals advance out of poverty and low-wage work. They serve the working poor whose income is below 200% of the federal poverty level. They provide workforce preparation that is grounded in both the employment needs of business, as well as the developmental needs of jobseekers and employees. Therefore, they involve an organization acting as a strategic partner with deep knowledge of the targeted industry and its companies.

BSN: What is Workforce 1 NYC Transportation Center?

MJ: The Workforce 1 NYC Transportation Center is an example of a Sector Focused Career Center. It is in Jamaica, Queens and dedicated to the transportation sector, specifically the industries of Air Transportation, Truck Transportation, Ground Passenger Transit, and Support Services for Aviation.

BSN: What demographic of the does the Sector Focused Career Center and the Workforce 1 NYC Transportation Center serve, i.e. uneducated, unskilled workers, college educated, etc.

MJ: The Sector Focused Career Centers and Workforce 1 NYC Transportation Center are meant to help the working poor.

BSN: What is the median salary one could expect as a result of such jobs?

MJ: I couldn't tell you what median salary one could expect from such a job, although they said they were trying to connect unemployed folks with $10/hr jobs. You could call SBS to see if they could answer that question.

BSN: In this troubled economy, an individual, not to mention a family – could not live on such a low wage and expect any quality of life – or virtually, any life at all.  How is this going to be remedied?

MJ: The only answer I can offer to this is to get people living-wage jobs.

BSN: Is there any type of vehicle put in place that assist these workers with housing and living expenses, i.e., rent or mortgage, food and utilities?  What about Health care?

MJ: All of these areas are addressed by making sure that individuals and families are utilizing public benefits that they are eligible for.

BSN: There are countless unemployed middle management and administrative workers, i.e., secretaries and exec assistants, etc., who are unable to find work in this troubled economy.  What help is there for people who are in that category?

MJ: For these folks, the Mayor had a press conference Thursday, October 30th, announcing eighteen economic initiatives. I believe this segment of the workforce was addressed in one or some of these new initiatives. This is not the focus of CEO.

BSN: The administration plans to "bring Financial Empowerment Centers to more NYC neighborhoods."  Do you realistically see any immediate concrete solutions in implementing these Financial Empowerment Centers when people are hurting so badly for money right now?

MJ: I believe that regardless of the macroeconomic climate and probably even more so during a bad economic climate, individuals need to be financially literate and knowledgeable on how to build assets. Otherwise, they will be in an even worse situation in such bad times.

BSN: How would a person in need of these “CEO” services or any of the other services mentioned above, go about signing up to participate in any of those programs?

MJ: Well, many of the programs are implemented through local community-based organizations that have been awarded contracts with a city agency (DYCD**, SBS*, etc.). These CBOs should be doing outreach within individual communities, but an individual should be able to call 311 and/or the specific city agency and find out what CBOs in their area have contracts to do certain CEO programs. More information on CEO programs can be found on their website at www.nyc.gov/ceo. The issue of outreach by the administration was brought up during the hearing yesterday with Council Members suggesting the administration and CEO should utilize the local elected officials in their outreach efforts.

Last summer, Councilman Vann clashed with Speaker Christine Quinn who opposed naming a portion of Gates Avenue after the controversial community leader and activist, Sonny Abubadika Carson , arguing Carson’s tainted past, leading to an exposé by  Vann's office, outting slaveholders, slave traders and pedophiles whose names currently identify many Brooklyn streets.  

*New York City Department of Small Business Services
**Department of Youth and Community Development


Brenda Jeanne Wyche is Managing Editor of Black Star News and Harlem Business News. Check out Wyche's blog at http://osnapp.blogspot.com .  If you have a solution, contact Brenda@blackstarnews.com .  Maybe we’ll talk.

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