After Loss of Markets, NY May Boost Groceries

City Limits • April 21, 2008

Harlem— While the city’s trying to increase the number of produce carts and encourage bodegas to carry healthier food, state officials are angling for bigger game: Supermarkets.

Agriculture officials said they’re hoping to establish a program to boost supermarket development in underserved communities, basing the effort on a Pennsylvania program – the $120 million Fresh Food Financing Initiative – that’s been on the books since 2004. Widely considered a national model, Pennsylvania’s program has already helped to renovate or build 50 food stores statewide, all in underserved areas, since its inception.

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Inspection Protection: Will New Council Bill Safeguard Workers?

City Limits • Sept. 26, 2007

After celebrating the City Council’s recent passage of a bill upping penalties for employers that lock in their workers at night, the legislation’s backers are faced with a new challenge: enforcement.

The lock-ins bill was designed to clamp down on stores, primarily groceries, that lock in janitors overnight in the hopes of discouraging theft. The bill, passed Sept. 14 and awaiting the mayor’s signature, will dramatically increase fines for violations, from $500 to $5,000 for the first offense, and $20,000 for each additional offense.

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Low-wage Work Can Be Nasty, Brutish, Ignored

City Limits • June 25, 2007

Thousands of workers in New York City – from payroll staff in high-end restaurants to undocumented immigrants helping to build new housing – aren’t earning minimum wage or overtime pay, a new report from the Brennan Center for Justice has found.

In addition to minimum wage and overtime violations – researchers found the latter so common in most of the restaurant industry as to render overtime pay “purely optional” – researchers identified a string of other common violations. In interviews with 326 workers, employers, agency officials and advocates conducted between 2003 and 2006, researchers found consistent problems ranging from slippery floors and unpaid meal breaks to outright human trafficking.

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Seeking a Sympathetic Ear on Welfare in Washington

City Limits • March 26, 2007

With stringent new work requirements for welfare recipients set to take full effect nationwide in October, local welfare officials are scrambling to help their allies in Washington take advantage of a Democratic Congress and get the feds to alter regulatory changes made when Republicans were the majority party.

Last spring, Congress overhauled Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), the federal welfare program. Welfare program officials and advocates alike balked at statutory changes, arguing that they actually would thwart state efforts to get people into family-sustaining jobs.

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Designed to Deliver Jobs, WeCARE Yields Criticism

City Limits • March 12, 2007

The Bloomberg administration’s flagship welfare initiative came under attack last week, assailed by advocates for the poor who charged that the $200 million Wellness, Comprehensive Assessment, Rehabilitation and Employment (WeCARE) program is doing little to help the city’s indigent find work and is being left largely unmonitored by the city.

Launched in February 2005, the WeCARE program was heralded by city officials as a new era in welfare, breaking with what many saw as a punitive approach under Mayor Rudolph Giuliani. Intended to help welfare’s sick and disabled clients either find work or attain federal disability benefits, the program was designed to carefully assess – and try to fix – the problems keeping those clients from working.

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City Lawyers Tell Supremes: No Pay Raise for Home Aides

City Limits • Jan. 16, 2007

City lawyers are working to keep wages for home health workers low, City Limits has learned, even as their colleagues in city government discuss ways to help them move out of poverty. While the mayor’s high-profile Commission on Economic Opportunity recently announced it would be building a “career ladder” out of poverty for the lowest rung of health workers, city lawyers are fighting to keep home health aides from being entitled to minimum wage and overtime.

On Jan. 5, the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear Coke v. Long Island Care at Home, a five-year-old case seeking to bring home health aides under minimum wage and overtime laws. City lawyers said last week they plan to file an amicus curiae or “friend of the court” brief in support of maintaining the pay exemption before the case is heard this spring.

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Mayor Gives a Lift Up the Job Ladder

City Limits • Dec. 26, 2006

When Mayor Bloomberg announced the first steps to be taken in his new $150 million antipoverty initiative last week, he skimmed over what could be one of its most ambitious components: A set of “career ladder” programs designed to take low-wage, entry-level workers in growth industries and help set them on the track to better jobs and the middle class.

“What we want to do is target those sectors where the entry-level jobs may not be institutionally connected to the next step up the rung,” Deputy Mayor Linda Gibbs said at the event, “and give [workers] the skill building that’s necessary in order to qualify for those high level, better paying positions.” Gibbs added that the city would likely be focusing its efforts on health care and food manufacturing, though the programs would not be made public for another month or two.

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Farmer Delivers to the Bronx: High Health, Low Fat and Cost

City Limits • Oct. 23, 2006

The Bronx’s La Antillana supermarket is getting some stiff competition from an unlikely source: the schoolyard of P.S. 28, across East Tremont Avenue in the Mount Hope neighborhood. Last Thursday, public health leaders and community activists announced the Mount Hope Food Project, a new program aimed at preventing obesity by expanding access to healthy food.

The program’s cornerstone will be a community-supported agriculture (CSA) project, where an upstate farmer brings fresh produce every week to program members at a low cost – roughly $11 per person each week. The ability to get fresh, quality food sold Altagracia deVilla, 44, a home health aide and single mother of three, on the CSA.

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Extra Credit For Fathers: Reliability Earns Tax Break

City Limits • Oct. 9, 2006

A new tax break will be available come April for lower-income parents responsible for child support, making it the first of its kind in the country. State officials are launching an earned income tax credit (EITC) for noncustodial parents who are current with their child support payments, offering up to $1,600 a year in a refundable credit.

“What we’re trying to do is work on the success of welfare reform, where we saw single moms move off the rolls. But we have not seen the same movement among young men,” said Michael Hayes, spokesperson for the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA), which will administer the program.

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Poverty Report Attracting Attention Outside New York

City Limits • Sept. 25, 2006

New York City is planning to use new antipoverty initiatives to do more than help just the five boroughs’ poor. At a City Council hearing last week, officials said they’ll also be pushing a legislative agenda to complement the priorities set out in the report of the Commission on Economic Opportunity – a move that observers say could position NYC as a policy trendsetter nationwide.

“There’s many things we can do here locally, but many [for which] we need the partnership of both the state and the federal level,” said Deputy Mayor for Health and Human Services Linda I. Gibbs, citing access to health insurance and increased workforce development funding as examples. “It is incumbent upon us to bring our advocacy to the state and federal agendas.”

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