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Heather Mac Donald
Selling Welfare
Autumn 1994

New York City doesn't have enough people on welfare. Such anyway seems the premise behind a $400,000 city and federally funded advertising campaign this summer that aimed to persuade up to a million city dwellers to apply for food stamps. Focus groups, organized by the Human Resources Administration's ad agency, had revealed that most people were too proud to apply. "We think that's a big problem," says Judy Soehren, acting director of HRA's Office of Food Programs and Policy Coordination. The campaign's goal, according to Soehren: to make people "feel better" about using food stamps.

HRA sees itself as combating not just quaint notions of self-reliance but ignorance as well. "Just because you own your own home and live in a nice community doesn't mean you're ineligible," Soehren explains. Her favorite ad shows scenes from four different neighborhoods—a housing project, an apartment house, a brownstone, and a duplex co-op—with the slogan "Hunger knows no boundaries." Taxpayers are also paying for research on attitudes toward food stamps.

HRA promotes the programs as a way to bring federal funds into New York. But will encouraging welfare dependency save the city money in the long run? HRA seems untroubled by the question: plans for next year's campaign are already under way.

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