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Statement of City Bar President Debra L. Raskin on Proposed Changes to NYC’s Human Resources Administration Policies

The New York City Bar Association applauds the new Commissioner of New York City’s Human Resources Administration, Steven Banks, for proposing changes to HRA policies that will ease barriers to the receipt of public assistance by those New Yorkers most in need.

As observed by our City Bar Justice Center and members of our Social Welfare Law Committee, New Yorkers seek cash assistance to get through difficult times that are often caused by a change of circumstances such as unemployment, the onset of disabling health conditions, domestic violence, homelessness or the unmet need for child care. These individuals usually have two goals. In the short-term, they seek to obtain and maintain subsistence income. In the long-term, they seek a path to a more stable income, whether through education, employment or accessing other sources of public benefits, such as Social Security, for which they may qualify. Both goals involve the work and assistance of HRA, the social services agency responsible for administering benefits in New York City.

However, as we discuss in our report Policy Recommendations for New York City’s Next Mayor, it has become increasingly difficult for the poorest New Yorkers to access and maintain much-needed benefits. We urged HRA to exercise its discretion to remove administrative barriers by, for example, giving applicants the ability to communicate with HRA by phone, fax or mail and increasing transparency of attendance reporting policies. We applaud Commissioner Banks for taking up the call of the City Bar, and others who represent low-income New Yorkers, so that individuals in need can fairly access the benefits that will help them move out of crisis and toward a more stable life. These reforms include (1) allowing four years of college as an option to HRA clients who must fulfill mandated training and employment requirements; (2) disbanding the “Center 71” program that resulted in unnecessary case sanctions and avoidable fair hearings; (3) developing a pilot program that provides clients in employment programs with five excused absences for illness or family emergency prior to the implementation of a sanction; (4) expanding HRA’s online portal; and (5) developing a new client advocacy unit for clients, community members and elected officials, including an ADA coordinator, a language access coordinator and an LGBTQ services coordinator.

 

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