New York Drops Psychic Training Program
New York Times, January 29, 2000
Nine months after New York City began recruiting welfare recipients to work
from home as telephone psychics, city officials decided that there was no
future in it.
Yesterday, Jason A. Turner, commissioner of the city's Human Resources
Administration, announced the end of the city's arrangement with a company
calling itself Psychic Network.
"Though H.R.A. believes people should have the freedom to choose their own
employment, H.R.A.'s Business Link has decided not to include the Psychic
Network as one of its participating employers," Mr. Turner said in a
one-paragraph statement issued yesterday.
The decision to part company with the Psychic Network came on the same day
that an article on the arrangement was published in The New York Times.
Since April, 15 welfare recipients had been trained to read tarot cards and
hired by the Psychic Network through Business Link, a division of the city
welfare department set up in 1995 as part of Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani's
welfare-to-work effort.
A barrage of brickbats and belly laughs met the revelation of the city's
venture into the telepsychic realm.
Stephen DiBrienza, chairman of the City Council's Committee on General
Welfare and a vigorous opponent of the mayor's welfare policies, seemed
almost gleeful in his outrage.
"It's bizarre," he said. "Remember, this is taxpayer funds. I don't think I
could find anything more bizarre and at the same time more disturbing if I
tried."Mr. DiBrienza, who has accused Mr. Turner of failing to answer the
committee's questions about the types of jobs the city's welfare-to-work
programs provide, added, "It's no wonder they stonewall us if these are the
kinds of jobs they're pushing."
Shelley Ackerman, the president of the New York chapter of Astrological
Federation of America, was upset for other reasons.
"I'm horrified that this is going on," she said, eager to draw a line
between a quickie course in tarot and "astrological studies that have been
around for thousands and thousands of years." "That a city agency would do
this -- it's unbelievable, it's just unbelievable."
Any business that hires a welfare recipient for at least three months can
qualify for thousands of dollars in wage subsidies and state and federal tax
"There's no criteria at all," said Carmen Ortiz, national coordinator of the
tax credit program said in a recent interview.
Michael Kaufman, a financial economist with the United States Treasury
Department, estimated the federal tax credits granted nationwide in the
program at $370 million.
According to city figures, Psychic Network was one of 161 businesses that
successfully recruited with Business Link, which was set up to connect
companies in need of workers with welfare recipients in need of jobs.
In his statement, Mr. Turner cited as examples Bell Atlantic, Macy's, Rite
Aid, Madison Square Garden and United Airlines.
A collection of city recruitment fliers saved by a welfare recipient
included three promoting the Psychic Network jobs. Other fliers including
jobs as stock clerks, home health aides and, in an October notice, seasonal
Christmas wrappers at Tiffany & Company for $7.50 an hour.
City officials have refused to provide a complete list of participating
companies on the ground that they were promised confidentiality, unless they
chose to go public.