Is It Wrong to Require Work in Exchange for a Welfare Check? Black Group Says Public Housing Residents Wrong to Spurn Community Service Provision

Members of the African-American leadership network Project 21 sharply criticize a provision in the pending 2002 Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) spending bill that would repeal a requirement for out-of-work and able-bodied residents of public housing to perform community service.

Enacted in 1999, the current law gives housing authorities the ability to require residents between the ages of 18 and 62 to spend eight hours a month doing things around their communities like gardening, security and daycare. Exemptions are provided for the disabled, the employed, students and people already performing welfare-related work. An amendment inserted into the pending housing bill by Congressman Charles Rangel (D-NY), however, bans HUD officials from spending any money to enforce the requirement. Rangel calls the requirement an "indignity" because "there is no such requirement for any other type of federal assistance." President George W. Bush is expected to sign the bill despite the Rangel amendment.

"It’s too bad that Congressman Rangel sees getting something for nothing as being more noble than having to put in an honest day’s work for it," said Project 21 member Michael King. "As opposed to sitting on their hands and doing nothing, residents are asked to give a portion of one day in exchange for receiving housing. What’s the problem? Oh, I forget – this gives Congressman Rangel and his compatriots something else to point to at election time."

According to a Associated Press report, less than ten percent of public housing residents in New York City would be required to perform community service under the existing provision. In the month of December, if each of those residents got a full eight hours of sleep each night, performing such community service would only consume less than two percent of their waking hours that month. It might also provide them with job skills or, in the case of daycare, allow other resients to find employment. Still, New York City public housing residents are so incensed by the imposition that they took the time to travel to Washington to lobby legislators to repeal it.

Opponents of the community service provision consider asking capable unemployed people who are receiving public assistance and free housing to provide a service to their communities to be nothing more than modern slavery.

"Providing services such as picking up trash or providing childcare is a excellent way of returning something to the community and gives a sense of pride to those living there since we have always been told it takes a village to raise a child," said Project 21 member Kevin Martin. "It also gives those who are able-bodied and jobless something to do rather than sitting around with idle hands – which can be the devil’s workshop when you consider the drug sales and violence common in some communities."

Project 21 has been a leading voice of the African-American community since 1992. For more information, contact David Almasi at (202) 507-6398 x106 or [email protected], or visit Project 21’s website at

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