Historically, public workforce and education programs have not been able to easily evaluate their effectiveness or improve implementation by consistently accessing data about the wages of New Yorkers they serve.
But that data is, in fact, already collected. All employers covered under New York State’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) Program are required by law to report the gross wages of each employee out to State authorities on a quarterly basis. These records of individual earnings comprise the Wage Reporting System (WRS), which is owned and maintained by the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance. A 1995 amendment to the State Tax Law granted the New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL) access to WRS data for the purpose of administering the State’s UI Program. The terms of State Labor Law Section 537, which governs local government access to WRS records, historically allowed NYSDOL to narrowly construe WRS access by local governments and their agencies. State authorities have traditionally only disclosed WRS data under very limited circumstances. In contrast, many states – including California, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Ohio, and Texas – provide interagency access to WRS for the assessment of public programs.
Especially given a struggling economy and strained public budgets, it is critical to make informed, evidence-based decisions about allocating scarce resources in order to provide continued, high-quality service delivery to citizens. Public agencies need consistent access to WRS to fully understand the impact of workforce and education programs across public and private funding streams. In Fiscal Year 2014, for instance, New York City is spending over $500 million on workforce development and training programs, but only has limited information on the efficacy of these programs. To get that information, City agencies and their contractors must improvise costly, incomplete and inefficient methods to track and verify the individual outcomes of their respective program participants. The end result is that local policymakers lack objective information to help identify which public programs are most effective at educating, employing, or training New Yorkers.
To address this challenge, OHCD spearheaded a strong coalition of support to pass bill A7911B / S5773A, which was championed by Assemblywoman Nily Rozic of Queens and Senator Diane Savino of Staten Island and signed into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo on October 23, 2013. Starting December 22, 2013, the law will allow public agencies greater access to the dates, places, and wages of employment for individuals.
See milestone dates, votes, and text of A7911
See milestone dates, votes, and text of S5773
See the final bill text in its entirety (in PDF)
Helping to shepherd this legislation from conceptualization to enactment, OHCD compared and determined the legislative approach to pursue, drafted bill language, met with legislators, mobilized support from partner organizations, prepared in partnership with City agencies background materials and examples of how the City could make use of the data, and more.
This law is important because it:
- saves money. With expanded access to wage data, public agencies and contractors will be able to focus their resources on actually providing services rather than diverting those resources to costly, incomplete, and inefficient methods of tracking their performance.
- catalyzes program improvement. Public agencies will be able to more effectively assess the performance of their workforce development and adult education programs, paving the way for stronger outcomes for New Yorkers and smarter investments for taxpayers.
- spreads innovation and excellence. Public agencies will be able to identify programs that achieve superior performance so that they can expand those programs to touch the lives of more New Yorkers.
- increases accountability. Public agencies wiill also be able to identify programs that are falling short of the performance New Yorkers expect and want so that those programs can either be improved or phased out.
The law achieves these outcomes by:
- expanding access. Federal, state, and local government agencies, including CUNY and SUNY, will be able to submit requests to the New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL) for past and future wage data from the Wage Reporting System (WRS) that includes the dates, places, and wages of employment for individuals. The law creates an entirely new category of authorized requests within the state's labor law for purposes including the evaluation of public programs over the long-term. The data may be used for 10 years or, if any agency is approved, longer. This will arm public agencies with the information they need to ensure that they are running effective, world-class workforce and education programs.
- protecting privacy. Individual identifying information cannot be disclosed by the requesting agency.
- setting timelines. By creating a clearer, quicker, and more open process for making data requests, public agencies will be more certain that they can receive the data they need, in a timely fashion. NYSDOL will provide within 20 business days of receiving a data request a written decision that the request is approved, denied, or requires more information. If NYSDOL requests more information, the requesting agency will provide that information within 20 business days of receiving the request for that additional information. NYSDOL will then provide a final decision of approval or denial within 30 calendar days upon receiving the additional information.
- increasing transparency. NYSDOL will develop and publicly post a standard application form and key point of contact for assistance with data requests. Any denials of data requests must include a rationale. Further, NYSDOL will promulgate guidelines for the development of data sharing agreements for approved data requests.
Since the passage of the legislation, OHCD has continued to lead the way in ensuring that our increased access to wage reporting data is fully leveraged by planning with City and State coaltiion partners for a smooth and effective implementation. OHCD is also helping coordinate agency-specific and system-wide research agendas that are ready for submissions once the bill takes effect. Better data can help us create a better workforce and education system.