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:

Report on Sanctions

Summary of Welfare Access Survey

Applicant Stories


Consumer Rights & the Welfare Application Process

Get Involved



Report on Sanctions

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).

Applicant Survey Summary

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)

Applicant Stories

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)

Legislation & Detailed Concerns - Send a Memo of Support Now!

We're working hard to address barriers to access through legislative advocacy. Current bills of note include:

The Access Campaign also advocates for legislation in the following areas

Consumer Rights:

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!

Ways to get involved:

Document and share experiences:

Get involved in policy change:


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.

City Council Hearings

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

September, 2010: You can view press coverage of the hearing, and read testimony from campaign members and other organizational partners: