MTA Wants to Put NYC Welfare Recipients to Work

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on March 30, 2011 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

One of the foremost problems with the nation's welfare system is that it often fails to provide recipients with the skills necessary to find and maintain employment.

New York City's Work Experience Program is designed to do just that--place welfare recipients in "unpaid" city jobs to build employable skills.

The news on the street is that WEP will be getting an influx of new positions, as the money-challenged Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) has plans of hiring welfare recipients to clean the city's subways and buses.

Last year, budget cuts required the MTA to cut 3,500 jobs, 173 of which the Daily News reports were cleaning positions. Because the MTA has previously and successfully participated in the WEP, it is looking to fill those positions with welfare recipients who wish to acquire on-the-job skills.

This may sound like a great idea for all parties involved, but it might present some legal problems for both the MTA and New York City.

The Constitution restricts government agencies' ability to discriminate between different groups of citizens. This includes in the area of employment.

An argument can be made that the city and the MTA are discriminating in favor of welfare recipients in terms of who it employs in city jobs. In effect, it's rehiring employees to fill cleaning positions, and is requiring that any applicants be currently receiving some form of welfare.

Chances are city attorneys and the MTA have already analyzed this possibility and found that it passes constitutional scrutiny. But if they haven't, they should get on it quick before an ex-MTA employee decides to file suit.

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