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Breaking News: New York City Abolishes Slavery

October 3, 2014

Press release from the VOCAL website (

Commentary on my fight against the slave labor that was WEP to follow.


Contact: Alyssa Aguilera, 917-200-1446, or Jennifer Hadlock, 347-454-4842,

Human Resources Administration (HRA) Announces Historic Overhaul of Clinton-Era Welfare Policies



New York – Today, the Human Resources Administration (HRA) announced a historic overhaul of the agency’s employment plan. Under the leadership of Commissioner Steve Banks, HRA has moved forward a bold vison for supporting welfare recipients as they look for employment and break the cycle of poverty.

Major reforms include the phasing out of the demeaning, unpaid Work Experience Program (WEP) which mandates that welfare recipients work for no compensation in jobs that provide little to no job training or valuable work experience. The end to punitive policies and procedures that unfairly penalize welfare recipients and terminate benefits to the detriment of poor New Yorkers and their families. The embracing of harm reduction programs, so that people who misuse drugs or alcohol are supported and not penalized for substance use. Expanded access to appropriate education, job training and employment services for welfare recipients.

These policy reforms represent a culture shift at HRA. There is now a recognition that welfare recipients are not a monolith and their needs cannot be met wholesale. There are some people who are job-ready and need a light-touch from HRA, some who need education and training so they can be better prepared to enter the workforce and others who are unable to work because of chronic health issues or other types of employment limitations. All should be supported by HRA and we applaud the effort to move away from a failed “one-size-fits-all” approach.

The modifications to HRA policies announced today fit well with the De Blasio Administration’s other efforts to tackle income inequality and uplift poor New Yorkers. Polices like an expanded living wage, universal Pre-K, paid sick days, etc. are exactly the types of policy shifts that our city needs to unrelentingly combat the widening gap between the rich and the poor.

“After two decades of work to overturn callous welfare policies, I was moved to tears with the announcement of HRA reforms today. Under Mayor Guiliani, New York enacted some of the worst welfare policies ever created, that were then reproduced across the country, and eventually adopted by the federal government under President Clinton. Today, Commissioner Banks, along with the support of Mayor de Blasio, has refuted those policies and embraced an approach that will both combat poverty & income inequality, all while supporting the dignity of those in need.” Jennifer Flynn, Executive Director, VOCAL-NY

“My oldest son was in diapers when I started the journey with other mothers to end WEP, he is now almost 22 years old. I am excited about this historic moment in the City of New York. Thank you Commissioner Banks for having the courage to return humanity and dignity to people living in poverty receiving social services.” Sandra Killett, Community Voices Heard Member-Leader and Former Welfare Recipient

“As someone who is on Public Assistance, I was glad to review the Proposed Employment Plan by HRA to be submitted by Commissioner Steve Banks. I was very pleased to read extensive changes being proposed in the areas of obtaining Education and Paid Training. This along with finally replacing unpaid the Work Experience Program (WEP) with Training Vouchers, Internships and Apprenticeships will definitely improve the broken cycle of poverty that exists in New York City.  The former policies against low-income people of color and the extremely poor of New York City has been too long destructive and dehumanizing, increasing the gap between the Rich and Poor. Finally, we have a New York City Mayor De Blasio and HRA Commissioner Steve Banks restoring the rich history of New York as a beacon of hope for all working families, immigrants and extremely poor to once again be part of a united metropolis. New York City was once the place of dreams for the world, let us begin to make this happen,” John Medina, a Board Member with Community Voices Heard and Welfare Recipient


Press Release

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