Can New York City’s Welfare System Be Saved?

Depending on your politics, the term “safety net” might suggest a government that righteously protects its neediest, or a nanny state that coddles the undeserving. But for many poor New Yorkers, it’s a misnomer—more of a tightrope than a net. Because instead of breaking your fall into poverty, the bureaucracy of the city’s welfare system shoves you further over the edge.
A new study by the legal advocacy group Urban Justice Center (full disclosure: where the author once interned and volunteered), based on surveys of clients, argues that New York City’s primary public assistance agency, the Human Resources Administration (HRA), has become utterly dysfunctional under the last two conservative administrations. It’s not just a matter of incompetence but rather a so-called “culture of deterrence”: a bureaucratic process that indirectly aims to make welfare so unpleasant even eligible people stop applying (which conveniently serves the agendas of politicians who emphasize “personal responsibility” over public assistance).

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