New York State Bishops Statement on Welfare Reform


New York State Bishops Statement on Welfare Reform

September 28, 2001

A rapidly approaching milestone of federal welfare reform threatens the well being of thousands of New Yorkers on public assistance. This is a matter of grave concern for the Catholic Bishops of New York State, and we stress that immediate action is required, both for the people immediately affected and for all who suffer in poverty.

As part of 1996 legislation overhauling the nation’s welfare system, a lifetime limit of 60 months for receiving cash assistance was instituted. For that reason, on December 1 of this year, federal benefits for thousands of recipients will end forever. Many of those about to be cut-off from assistance are the most vulnerable members of an already vulnerable population.

In a spirit of justice and charity, we call on our political leaders to take the necessary steps to ensure that this population of New Yorkers receive the support they need to live in dignity as human beings made in the image and likeness of Almighty God.
At the same time, the state and federal government must do more to reduce and ultimately eliminate the root causes of poverty that prevent many of our brothers and sisters from achieving self-sufficiency and sharing in the American Dream. In the last five years, the documented welfare caseload in New York State has dropped 55 percent, with nearly 1 million fewer families on public assistance than in 1995. While at first blush this would appear to mean that reform has been successful, there is precious little data to back up that claim. In fact, evidence suggests that, while cases have been closed like never before, poverty continues to rise. We know, for instance, that in this same five-year period, our Catholic Charities agencies have seen a steady increase in demand for emergency services, including food, shelter and cash assistance.

Clearly, while thousands of New Yorkers have left welfare, in many cases they often struggle to make ends meet in low-wage jobs that leave them in poverty. The U.S. Bishops always have supported true welfare reform with policies that assist those who are able to work to acquire the skills necessary to move into meaningful jobs, while maintaining a program of economic assistance for those who will never be economically self-sufficient.
Therefore, with the imminent five-year cut-off looming for thousands of recipients, the Bishops of New York State respectfully request that the Legislature and Governor address the following critical issues: