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Workfare in the US

We’ve been in touch with Community Voices Heard (CVH), a group organising against workfare in New York City. Jennifer Hadlock, a CVH organiser spoke to us about workfare in the US and internationally.

What is the situation with workfare in your country now?
Across the US there is workfare in many states. New York City has been a model because of our large population. Over 17000 people every day are doing Work Experience Program as it is called here.  Another 17000 across the state of New York. Over 300,000 people across the country that we have been able to identify.

Are schemes run by the state or contracted out to private companies? (In the UK, companies like G4S and SERCO are being handed billion pound contracts to arrange workfare.)

The Workfare assignments are mostly public agencies and non profits. The nonprofit and for profit companies that run job search are receiving the money we think would be better spent giving people a pay check for doing the jobs they do as workfare.

Where do placements take place? Are they in non-profits or profit-making companies as well? Are they replacing state employees?

City Parks, Subways, city office buildings, churches, food pantries, streets, etc. They are supposedly not replacing city employees but we believe they are.

Is workfare on the increase or is it in decline? Who supports it?

Workfare is on the increase internationally however, the number has been steady with a little increase here in NYC. The Mayor supports it. Many people generally do not understand it and support it.

What action are groups like yours taking against workfare?

We do direct action, write reports, meet with elected officials, hold press events. You can check out our www.cvhaction.org reports.

Are there any other groups we should be in touch with as well?

We know there is workfare in Australia, Israel and that people in India and Japan are concerned about it coming. In NYC it is mostly in city departments doing maintenance work or non-profits doing maintenance and clerical work. In the mid to late 90s people organized the WEP workers and did lawsuits. After losing on those fronts, the fight became to create an alternative which is subsidized employment transitional jobs with training that leads to permanent employment.

An issue has been that the city uses these transitional employees as seasonal workers and then they go right back to public assistance. The training leaves a lot to be desired but it is better than WEP because they get a pay check, are union members and qualify for either programs that support people working on low wage jobs.

The media barely will mention this issue at all.

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