Access To Assistance Campaign
In these difficult times, many struggling New Yorkers can’t get the help they need. Providing cash assistance in a respectful and efficient manner reduces hardship and stimulates local economies. But too many New Yorkers in need of this critical assistance face burdensome application requirements, harsh treatment, and excessive wait times. As a result, many households aren’t receiving desperately needed support, and face serious hardship.
Despite massive increases in poverty, unemployment and enrollment in other benefits programs, enrollment in NYC's welfare program remains at a historic low. A recent estimate noted that only 16% of impoverished women in New York received cash assistance in 2008. This strongly suggests that many income-qualified individuals aren’t getting the support they need from HRA.
Moreover, when HRA’s eligibility decisions are reviewed through the State’s administrative Fair Hearing process, they're found lacking at a frequency of 96%.
It’s clear that HRA is better at locking New Yorkers out than helping them out, and that the system needs major change. We invite you to join us in our efforts to make that change.
Our Goals – Removing Barriers to Assistance
The Access to Assistance Campaign works to eliminate inappropriate obstacles to welfare and reduce programmatic inefficiencies. At the City and State Levels of government, we work to:
- Simplify the enrollment process by creating online application and recertification options, reducing the excessive number of required appointments and improving customer service.
- Reduce improperly imposed penalties (sanctions), and eliminate durational sanctions.
- Encourage more effective screening of applicants and recipients with disabilities, and those experiencing domestic violence
- Advocate for Parents’ right to childcare by assuring applicants receive assistance in finding quality care, and are protected from improper penalties if they can’t find suitable care
In Guilty Until Proven Innocent: Sanctions, Agency Error, and Financial Punishment within New York State's Welfare System Access Campaign leaders outline how sanctions are often imposed in error, the depth of these errors, and how they hurt vulnerable individuals and families. Among other areas, it explores the impacts sanctions have on people with disabilities, children, and victims of domestic violence. It also examines the violations of legal standards for determining whether a recipient has "good cause" for not meeting a requirement, and the agency's failure to meet their "duty to assist" clients. It details how specific programs exacerbate the problems created by sanctions, and recommends alternative policies to the existing sanctions system. View the complete report (pdf).
In an effort to gain more of an understanding of the experiences of welfare applicants at HRA,we surveyed service providers, applicants and advocates on the nature and impact of barriers to assistance at HRA. The results of that work are summarized here. (PDF)
The best way to understand the challenges at HRA is to hear from those who have experienced them. you can watch and read about first-hand experiences at HRA here (opens a new page)
We're working hard to address barriers to access through legislative advocacy. Current bills of note include:
- A. 2669 / S.4830 - Sponsored by Assemblymember Keith Wright and Senator Diane Savino , this bill changes Social Services law to end durational sanctions for welfare recipients and and strengthens protections from wrongful sanctions. Its passage would result in increased family stability and a more effective welfare system. Send a Memo of Support for this bill now, or learn more about how sanctions don't work.
- A. 0290 / S. 0428 - Sponsored by Assemblymember Keith Wright and Senator Martin Malaave Dilan, this bill weighs an applicant's treating practitioner’s opinion in the welfare agencies' determination of applicants'/recipients' work limitations or disabilities. Send a Memo of Support for this bill now.
- A.3473 / S.1419 - Sponsored by Assemblymember Keith Wright Senator Velmanette Montgomery, this bill would would increase access to higher Education programs for Public Assistance Recipients. Send a Memo of Support for this bill now.
- A.1894 - Sponsored by Assembly Member Vanessa Gibson, this bill protects applicants from adverse case actions resulting from child care related compliance issues when a parent is unable to find adequate childcare. Learn more.
The Access Campaign also advocates for legislation in the following areas
- Disability Screening & Protection - Many public assistance recipients and applicants have disabilities, and among the most common are mental health and learning disabilities. When these disabilities are not recognized and appropriate accommodations are not made, clients inevitably fall through the cracks, fail to comply with some requirement, and face face a denial, termination or reduction of benefits, resulting in crises in housing, hunger and health. The Access Campaign supports the implementation of screening proceses that would protect those with disabilities from inappropriate rejection. Learn more.
In support of our ongoing policy advocacy to make assistance more accessible to those facing barriers, the campaign has produced a two-page overview of tips for applicants that outline basic legal rights and key barriers to be conscious of. This document is designed to assist providers and applicants alike, and is available in English and Spanish. It is available for use by any parties who may find it useful.
Our success will depend on your participation. There are a variety of ways you can get involved, so please join us!
Document and share experiences:
- Share the story of your experiences, or those of your clients. Individual experiences help us illustrate for policy makers why we need changes.
Were you (or your clients) discouraged to apply when trying to secure benefits? Were you provided with incorrect information as you attempted to maintain them? Were you denied benefits because you were unable to make it to all of your eligibility appointments? Did a computer glitch or administrative mistake result in a denied application or loss of benefits? We want to know the details of your experience, and how these challenges affected your life. You can contact Greg Richane at FPWA to share the details of your story.
- Sign on your organization to our campaign
- Sign up for campaign updates, to hear about our efforts as they occur.
- Take action online
- Read our Report on changes to the welfare system since 1996 and on access problems.
Since the mid-1990s the welfare caseload in New York State has dropped by 61%, due to sweeping federal, state and local policy changes that make it harder for income eligible households to access assistance. Excessive compliance requirements, long lines, and bureaucratic deficiencies have resulted in high denial rates. These barriers to access have kept the welfare rolls low despite increases in unemployment, poverty and applications for assistance.
One of the most significant barriers for income-qualified applicants is HRA’s onerous application process. Applicants must complete an extraordinary number of eligibility appointments and participate in a “simulated work week.” For a growing number of applicants in crisis, mere completion of the application process is often an insurmountable barrier to accessing benefits. According to state data, denials due to “failure to meet application requirements” have increased from 50% in FY 2007 to 78% in FY 2009 (the rejection rate was even higher in 2008, at 82%).
The denial rate for welfare has increased as enrollment in other programs has grown. Between July ‘05 and July ‘10, enrollment in food stamps increased by 64% and Medicaid enrollment increased by 9%. Over the same period, enrollment in cash assistance programs actually decreased by 17%. Since income eligibility standards for welfare are lower than those for Food Stamps and Medicaid, welfare eligible households are poorer than the general population of Food Stamp and Medicaid recipients. This means that the poorest New Yorkers are encountering many unnecessary barriers when trying to access this critical benefit program.
For more detailed information, you can view this one-page overview, or read our comprehensive 2009 report: The State of NY's Social Safety Net for Today's Hard Times Over a Decade Since Welfare Restructuring.
Recognizing the need for more attention to welfare access issues, the New York City Council General Welfare Committee has held multiple oversight hearings addressing these issues.
April, 2013: Testimony
- Bich Ha Pham, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies
- Sonia Mansoor, Sanctuary for Families
- Lori McNeil, Urban Justice Center
September, 2010: You can view press coverage of the hearing, and read testimony from campaign members and other organizational partners:
- Liz Accles, Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies
- Mark Dunlea, Hunger Action Network of New York State
- Joel Berg, NYC Coalition Against Hunger
- Kathleen Kelleher, The Legal Aid Society
- Lori McNeil, Homelessness Outreach and Prevention Project, Urban Justice Center
- Brooke Richie, Resilience Advocacy Project
- Lazar Treschan, Community Service Society
- Tanya Wong, Legal Services of NYC