A Modest Law with Great Potential

From the Drum Major Institute Blog

By WRI Co-Executive Director Maureen Lane

Recently, New York Governor Paterson signed the Work Study Internship Law, which counts work-study, internships and externships as work activity for people receiving welfare. Since its original passage in 2000, it has had to be renewed every two years.

As Beth Gregory, a 2004 WRI student, recounts:

“I remember calling reps to renew it when I was doing the internship!”

But with Paterson’s signature, the law is now permanent.

The law has allowed thousands of students receiving welfare to continue their college enrollment while participating in work study, internships and externships. It has been one of the most effective tools in allowing individuals to benefit from the life-changing impact of higher education. Research studies over the years have affirmed this positive impact–over 88 percent of individuals who attain a college degree move out of poverty.
WRI students, staff and alums are grateful to mark the permanency of the Work-study and Internship law. The law recognizes the importance of acquiring skills and credentials through education and training programs and in college.

The Work Study and Internship Bill was initiated and passed in 2000. At that time, WRI students receiving public assistance joined with Legal Aid attorney Richard Blum and City University of New York (CUNY) Law School Professor Stephen Loffredo to help write the legislation. Welfare policy was preventing people from accessing education and training at all levels, including college. At that time CUNY alone had lost over 20,000 students receiving public assistance because of misguided federal, state and city welfare policy.

WRI organized legislative visits, classroom presentations and public forums, and mobilized a city and statewide coalition of individuals and groups to rally support. With the support of State Senators Tom Duane and Ray Meier, the campaign was successful in getting the law passed, but it required renewal every two years. The experience of implementing the renewal campaign has been empowering for students–uniting to preserve and enhance their educational opportunities. It has demonstrated the potential we all share to gain a voice in the public policy decision-making that shapes our life chances, when we come together for the collective good.

Congratulations to all who helped make this law permanent, especially, Senators Squadron and Montgomery, Assemblyman Wright, their staffs and the Senate Majority Program and Counsel, Senator Thomas K. Duane and former NYS Senator Ray Meier, the students of Hunter College and campuses throughout the City University of New York, CUNY Senior Vice Chancellor Jay Hershenson, the Economic Justice and Social Welfare Network of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, the Hunger Action Network of New York State (HANNYS) Urban Justice Center, Economic Justice Project of CUNY School of Law, Empire Justice Center, National Center for Law and Economic Justice, Legal Aid Society and the many, many supporters of access to education and training for people on public assistance.

It is a modest law with life-changing potential for many people. WRI has worked with thousands of students on their personal welfare cases and kept them in school or connected them to college. But policy has still set up roadblocks to the dream of moving out of poverty through the self-determination that education and training affords. New York State, New York City and the nation demand more thoughtful and visionary social policy. Welfare and education intersect and cry out to be a part of a comprehensive vision for the future of our state, country and economy.

WRI will continue to be civically active in building the political will for access to education and training for all New Yorkers through better policy.

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