One of the many undercovered stories about President Obama's mammoth spending bill is its loosening of the requirements put into place by federal welfare reform, which has by all measures been a resounding success since it was signed into law in 1996.
But the Times isn't worried. Instead, a Wednesday metro report by Julie Bosman pondered why New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg isn't jumping at one of the related opportunities presented by the "stimulus package" - extending food stamp benefits toNew Yorkerswho weren't qualified to receive them under the previous guidelines.
In "Despite U.S. Offer, City Stands Firm on Food Stamps," Bosman twice quoted the leftist Food Research and Action Center (FRAC). A 1991 FRAC report made the wildly inaccurate claim that one child in four in the United States was either hungry or 'at risk' of hunger.
But Bosman didn't label FRAC spokesman Ellen Vollinger as left-wing, neutrally terming the group one of several "advocates for the poor" that she quoted in the slanted sob story.
A provision in President Obama's stimulus package, extending food stamp benefits for able-bodied adults, has revived a dispute in New York City between Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg and advocates for the poor.
The provision overturns a 1996 rule limiting able-bodied adults who have no dependents to three months of food stamps in a three-year period. But the Bloomberg administration said on Tuesday that nothing had changed and that it was not obligated to extend benefits to anyone not enrolled in the Work Experience Program, a workfare program that provides temporary jobs, usually in city agencies.
While cities and states are allowed under the stimulus provision to require participation in such workfare programs, advocates for the poor decried the policy as unwise and counterproductive, particularly as the recession swells the ranks of the jobless who need help buying groceries.
"They are wasting city funds to force people to do sometimes 'make-work' jobs in order to get fully funded federal benefits," said Joel Berg, the executive director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger.
Bosman didn't challenge a moldy FRAC argument that's been used to defend many a liberal spending priority:
Ellen Vollinger, the legal director for the Food Research and Action Center, an anti-hunger policy organization in Washington, said that each dollar in federal food stamp benefits generates nearly double that in economic activity.
Bosman let Berg compare the mayor's position "to the standpoint of Charles Trevelyan, the British officer in charge of famine relief during the Irish potato famine of the 1840s; he blamed the poor and their 'selfish, perverse and turbulent character' for their own plight." FRAC's Vollinger had the last word:
Ms. Vollinger of the Food Research and Action Center questioned why New York would not take full advantage of food stamps, which are paid for by the federal Agriculture Department, and instead expand the workfare program, which is partly funded by the city...."If they were really interested in maximizing federal resources and minimizing the cost of handling this, then eliminating the time limit would be the cost-effective approach," Ms. Vollinger said.