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Recession exposes cruel impact of the politicians' cuts
"People need help now"

January 25, 2002 | Page 5

LEE WENGRAF looks at how the recession has hit hard in New York City.

BRUCE HAD a decent job as a dispatcher for a courier company in downtown Manhattan. But the company did 98 percent of its business at the World Trade Center. After September 11, it went under--and Bruce was out of work.

A year ago, a flurry of articles in the mainstream media reported that it was easy to find a job--and that working people were able to get higher wages and better benefits out of employers as a result. No longer.

In New York, people like Bruce have been searching for work for months--and finding nothing. Bruce has spent long, frustrating hours at the city-run Waverly Job Center, applying for aid and looking for a job. "There's just too much paperwork," he says. "People need help now."

Bruce and his family are getting by for now--thanks to a little help that he's gotten from his church. But he's fallen two months behind on his rent--and isn't sure where to turn next. Many more New Yorkers face the same situation.

According to official figures, more than 120,000 people have lost jobs in the city since the September 11 attacks. The real total may be higher. But this alone amounts to 5 percent of the 2.5 million jump in unemployment across the U.S. over the past 12 months.

And it's not like New York City was the land of milk and honey before September 11. As of last August, an incredible 1.5 million New Yorkers--one in every five residents--received some emergency food aid during the past year from soup kitchens, pantries and shelters to avoid going hungry. That's triple the number of food aid recipients in 1995, according to WorkingForChange.

Now the recession and the September 11 attacks have made a bad situation worse. According to Food For Survival, the city's largest food bank, roughly two-thirds of people receiving free food in New York since September 11 were getting donations for the first time.

"There's been a 70 percent increase in need since September 11," Joel Berg, executive director of the NYC Coalition Against Hunger, told Socialist Worker. "But this is roughly the same increase we saw in the first half of 2001 and also during 2000."

The same increased demand on food charities is being felt beyond New York. A recent survey for America's Second Harvest, a national network of nonprofit food banks, discovered that the U.S. passed a horrible new milestone: More people now get food from private charities over the course of a year than take part in the federal government's food stamp program.

According to the survey, emergency feeding sites serve more than 7 million people in a given week and more than 23 million at some point during the year. That's close to one out of every 10 Americans. Another startling revelation of Second Harvest's research: Many of those who seek food aid are in families where one or more people work full-time.

Yet while the crying need only grows more obvious, federal government programs are helping fewer people. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that only 17.7 million people use federal food stamps, down from 21.9 million in 1997--a direct result of Bill Clinton's 1996 welfare "reform" law and other attacks on programs for the poor.

The impact of these cuts was somewhat hidden by the late 1990s economic expansion. But the cost is becoming clear now--and all the more starkly in New York City, thanks to former Mayor Rudolph Giuliani.

Giuliani's final days in office in December were filled with fawning press accounts of his reign--especially his "heroic" behavior in the aftermath of September 11. But the truth is that Giuliani's eight long years of attacks on workers and the poor set the stage for the recession to hit New Yorkers hard.

For example, his administration came up with some of the harshest welfare "reform" measures in the country--like the notorious Work Experience Program that forced recipients into humiliating jobs at sub-minimum wages.

City officials would limit "access to federal benefits like food stamps and TANF [Temporary Assistance to Needy Families] by giving people who were applying false information--like that there are work requirements for food stamps--and having offices only open during bad hours for people," Joel Berg said. "The push was not to move people towards paid, full-time employment."

Now the bill for all this has come due--and private organizations are scrambling to fill a gaping hole left by public services drained of funds. "Things have definitely gotten worse since September 11," Berg said. "The only silver lining is that there's now the beginning of a discussion on the growing inequality in wealth in the city." As columnist James Ridgeway wrote in the Village Voice: "The recession is turning so-called welfare reform into a catastrophe happening before our eyes."

We have to expose the consequences of the politicians' savage attacks on the poor--and build the fight to defend our jobs and our rights.

Huge handouts for New York's richest companies

WHILE NEW York's poor are left in the cold, the city's richest companies are treated with all the warmth that the politicians can provide. Even as he slashed away at programs for the poor, Giuliani heaped money on the bosses--in corporate welfare schemes of all kinds.

The most outrageous example was probably the $1.1 billion handout to the New York Stock Exchange, supposedly to keep it from moving to New Jersey. But there were plenty of other beneficiaries. ABC, Citigroup and Time Warner, to name just three, all raked in big tax breaks and other "incentives."

A study by the Center for an Urban Future found that dozens of corporations took massive handouts to stay in New York City--then turned around and downsized anyway.

But Giuliani's New York didn't just flush away money on corporate giveaways. Two years' worth of federal job training money--more than $211 million--went unspent, according to the study. And this in a city where job training facilities and personnel have been cut to the bone.

As the Center for an Urban Future concluded: "Rather than emphasize training, the Giuliani administration years ago made its primary human services goal to cut the welfare rolls to the lowest level possible."

"I hope they help me"

PEOPLE LIKE Kenice Cooper are learning about the impact of Giuliani's cuts the hard way. Kenice came back to New York City last fall with her 18-month-old daughter after living at a women's shelter upstate. She signed up for welfare and food stamps--but has been waiting two months to receive benefits.

Facing homelessness, she finally found a spot in a city shelter--but only after waiting four days for placement at the city's Emergency Assistance Unit.

Despite record numbers of homeless in the city, there's only one emergency unit for everyone seeking shelter space to pass through. Why? Because Giuliani closed all the others.

Kenice and her daughter got a bed during their wait in the emergency unit--but only because a lawsuit forced the city to provide beds after reports that people were forced to sleep on chairs and on the floor.

"I hope they help me and the others who need it," says Kenice. But Rudolph Giuliani has made that harder than ever.

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