While it may seem counterintuitive to some readers, there was a time when New York City was actually a role model for welfare reform (and workfare) in the United States. During the period from 1995 to 2000, the welfare rolls in the Big Apple actually dropped from more than 1.1 million to a bit over 500,000 – essentially cutting it in half. But that was before the arrival of brand spanking new Democrat Mayor Bill deBlasio. Among his many other “progressive” reforms which are beginning to roll out, the New York Post issues a dire warning regarding his plans to install Steve Banks as the city’s new welfare commissioner.
Banks is uniquely qualified to return New York to its former status as America’s dependency capital. For the last quarter-century, he has been suing the city over its welfare and homeless policies, inevitably seeking looser rules for eligibility, fewer requirements for work or lesser sanctions for noncompliance. As a result, he is deeply versed in the city’s internal protocols governing the distribution of assistance, and already understands where the regulatory levers are to open wide the aid spigot.
Banks is best known for a 25-year-long lawsuit that conferred on families claiming homelessness a court-enforceable right to housing at taxpayer expense — an entitlement that exists nowhere else in the country. But Banks and his Legal Aid Society have been equally diligent in fighting welfare reform. Their principles throughout are in perfect sync with de Blasio’s view that government, rather than personal initiative and self-control, is the ultimate guarantor of individual success.
If Banks believes there are better solutions to poverty than government programs, he hasn’t let on. “[Family] homelessness is a horrible symbol of a failure of a whole broad range of government policies,” he said in 2007. Actually, the steady stream of single mothers seeking taxpayer-provided apartments is a symbol of family breakdown; the number of married, working, drug-free families claiming homelessness is close to zero.
Banks is a disaster waiting to happen in terms of the city’s financial and social stability. As the Post editorial points out, his long history of statements and professional pursuits has left little doubt that he feels someone earning $20,000 a year is no better off than someone collecting $20,000 worth of government benefits — even though the former is engaged in life-affirming activity and has a real chance at future advancement.
How will the long term effects of Banks’ stewardship sit with New Yorkers? It may not do much to bolster deBlasio’s numbers if the homeless problem begins to swell once again, and his initial standing in the polls is nothing to write home about. The mayor’s job approval is already underwater after the botched (some say intentionally) handling of snow removal following the recent storms, as well as his SUV caravan being seen violating traffic laws and his attempts to muscle the police department after a crony of his was arrested.
Oddly enough, though, the Mayor seems to have one thing in common with Barack Obama. While his job approval numbers are south of 50, nearly 60% still say they “like him” and 65% feel that he “represents people like them.” I suppose that’s what it takes to succeed in New York City these days. Effective job performance doesn’t hold a candle to they really, really like me.