Unmask the True 'Welfare Queens'

On May 20th, Bronx Democrats Senator Gustavo Rivera and Assemblyman Michael Blake introduced the Public Assistance Disclosure Act, a bill amending New York State's labor law.

When employers deny workers a living wage, everyone suffers. Each year, New York's taxpayers spend at least $3.3 billion on SNAP (Food Stamps), Medicaid, and welfare for families who work but still qualify for these entitlements.

Rivera and Blake propose a simple idea: call out the employers who make this possible.

The Public Assistance Disclosure Act will require the state Labor Department to maintain a list of employers with 50 or more workers receiving public assistance. In essence, the bill seeks to end the invisible subsidy to employers that still refuse to pay a living wage.

In an article responding to the bill, New York Daily News reporter Bill Hammond criticizes the proposed amendment, suggesting that -- due to numerous oversights -- the bill would hurt businesses and discourage the hiring of working-class individuals.

Hammond faults the bill for failing to outline a mechanism by which employment information can be collected systematically without a gross violation of personal privacy. He also takes issue with the bill's formula for defining employees. Ultimately, Hammond claims that the bill fails to make the important distinction between denouncing large chains and hurting smaller employers that may be struggling to get by.

Hammond's critique begs the question of the underlying purpose of legal and political reform in this area. Should legal reforms work towards eradicating -- or, at the least, reducing -- the need for public assistance among working families? Or should they maintain subsidies that relieve the responsibility of the employer to the worker?

Rivera and Blake chose the first answer. We should too.

And while the details of implementation may be a challenge, this bill represents a valiant attempt to reveal how our tax dollars are actually spent. By calling out delinquent employers, we might reveal the identity of the true "welfare queens."