Right of Welfare Recipients to Participate in Education and Training Programs

Davila v. Turner, Index No. 407163/96 (Sup. Co. N.Y. Co.)

Nature of Claims: This class action challenges the City's policy and practice of assigning single-parent recipients to workfare (“WEP”) instead of permitting them to enroll in or continue in education or training programs without an individualized assessment of their needs and preferences. The action also challenges the imposition of rules that needlessly impair the ability of students receiving public assistance to complete their courses of study at two-year community colleges and vocational training programs, and that needlessly impair recipients who are in need of basic literacy, English as a second language (ESL), or GED courses from enrolling in those courses of study.

Background: Class certification was granted on April 21, 1997. On July 2, 2003, the court approved a settlement requiring that single parents must be given an “assessment” interview before receiving a work assignment. Single parents who state a preference to go to school can be assigned to school as a work activity. Single parents can participate in vocational educational and training programs and use that participation to satisfy part or all of their weekly work requirement. The settlement provides for a random sampling and review of cases by HRA in order to assess the City’s compliance with the settlement. The court originally retained jurisdiction for purposes of modification and enforcement until December 31, 2005, but has continued to retain jurisdiction through a series of stipulated orders extending the jurisdiction until HRA has submitted monitoring reports and plaintiffs have had the opportunity to review them.

Current Status: HRA failed to complete the required monitoring of cases prior to December 31, 2005. The court’s jurisdiction has been extended on consent while the parties have negotiated a final version of the monitoring instrument to be used by HRA. Meanwhile, the parties are also reviewing recent changes in federal and State regulations that affect access to education and training. Those policies have been modified in a manner that will – if implemented by HRA – increase access to education and training. In particular, as of October 1, 2009, state regulations allow local districts such as HRA to include time spent on homework as contributing toward the number of hours that recipients are required to participate in work or training activities. HRA has not indicated whether or how they will allow participants to count homework hours. State rules now require evaluations of literacy levels for those who do not have a high school diploma or its equivalent, who are interested in an educational activity. State legislation is also pending that would allow public assistance recipients to receive work-hours credit for attending four year colleges.

No. Persons Affected: Approximately 17,000 persons are potentially affected

Reported Decisions: Davila v. Turner, N.Y.L.J., Sept. 18, 1998, at 1, col 2 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Co.); Davila v. Turner, N.Y.L.J, April 16, 1999, p. 25 (Sup. Ct. N.Y. Co)