The city’s department of Human Resources Administration (HRA) recently made some reforms to its “Back to Work” program. HRA was heavily criticized for placing young people in adult-oriented job programs that are inappropriate for their age and education level.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg recently signed into law three bills that will collectively improve the chances that young people seeking public assistance will be able to access it. The reforms give youth a better chance of getting out of poverty.

City Council Members Gale Brewer, Lewis Fidler and Annabel Palma sponsored the bills. The Back to Work program includes citywide contracts with community-based employment and training organizations to provide job-readiness training, placement services and vocational training to applicants and recipients of cash assistance.

The program includes short-term job search, vocational training, work experience or basic education. HRA cultivates each individual’s skills, which leads to job placement and, ultimately, career advancement.

However, last year, the program was on the receiving end of heavy criticism. The Community Service Society (CSS) and the Resilience Advocacy Project released a report on disadvantaged youth in the city who applied for public assistance. The groups found that HRA often misled youth into wrongly believing they were ineligible to receive these benefits.

“When young people were able to access public assistance, an overwhelming majority were directed into HRA’s Back to Work program–a job readiness and search program geared to adults–to fulfill state and federal work requirements, regardless of their age, educational level or work experience,” said CSS President and CEO David R. Jones.

While Back to Work was applauded for allowing individuals to participate in job-assistance and training programs as a condition of receiving cash assistance, Jones added that for those who never held a job or lack basic skills, the emphasis should be on obtaining a GED and youth-oriented workforce development programs. The condition is written in state law and encouraged by the federal government.

Jones said, “These bills will collectively improve the chances that young people seeking public assistance will be able to access it, and this time of crisis in their lives will be used by the City to connect them to education programs and other meaningful services that can help them escape poverty, fulfill their goals in life and become contributing members of society.”