Reposted from comrades at the Welfare Rights Initiative at Hunter College-CUNY
Krsytle Cruz, the mother of a bright 4 year old girl, recently graduated from the Hunter College Nursing program. She received welfare while she earned her degree. The welfare agency in New York City told her she had to complete 35 hours of workfare each week. For four year college, New York welfare law only counts work-study and internships—not academic classes.
This doesn’t make any sense. Almost 90% of women receiving welfare who graduate college are lifted out of poverty. The ripple effect on kids attaining higher education is well-documented, too. Fortunately, Assemblyman Keith Wright has introduced a bill that would bring New York state welfare policy in line with federal policy and recognize the indisputable connection between educational opportunity and economic opportunity.
Through the Welfare Right Initiative at Hunter College, Krystle was able to complete 35 hours of internships and work-study each week while raising a family, attending classes and studying. It was a struggle that not all students can tackle. She was able to stay in school in part because of considerable advocacy on her own behalf. On average, Krystle was called into the welfare office twice a month and sent notices that she and her little girl would be cut off from food stamps or Medicaid. Even though she fully documented all her activity, she was still told that her hard work to acquire a college degree—work that gives her and her daughter opportunities for a better life—didn’t count.
When I last spoke to Krystle, she said: “In my own experience with women receiving public assistance, I have observed how their strong desire to go to school is crushed by caseworkers telling them that they cannot. Instead, women are sent to dead-end workfare assignments. The family remains starved for money, and starved for a brighter future.”
A recent New York Times article reported that low-wage workers who move from welfare to employment often fail to advance because they need advanced skills and higher education. But Krystle was able to realize her dream and break out of this cycle. Her caretaking of sick family members led her to pursue nursing. Her family’s pride in her accomplishment is shared by her college president, fellow students, and others who today receive public assistance. Better welfare policy would create more stories like hers.
(Image courtesy of Welfare Rights Initiative)