Monday, March 30, 2009

PA Gotbaum, Advocates Call on HRA to Improve Its Automated System

On March 22, 2009, Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum released a study based on surveys with 148 HRA employees. These surveys, Gotbaum stated, showed that serious, but fixable, obstacles have hindered the effectiveness of the HRA’s automated system, which began in 1997. In the surveys, the HRA eligibility specialists reported several obstacles that made it difficult to process claims in a timely manner, highlighting that they did not have enough staff, that computers were not reliable, and that the appropriate interpreters were often not available.

Said Joel Berg, Executive Director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, “Considering that 18,000 more New Yorkers received Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits in January 2009 than in December 2008, it is now more important than ever that HRA staff members have all the resources they need to deal with the increased demand for these vital programs. We urge HRA to implement the changes that the Public Advocate’s report recommends – especially simplifying the application procedure and providing appropriate support to HRA staff – so that HRA staff members have all the resources they need to assist low-income families in this difficult economic time.”

In the report, Gotbaum recommended that the HRA take a series of critical steps to correct the problem, including: hiring more staff for high traffic centers, improving technology necessary for processing benefit applications, and ensuring that interpreters are available in all HRA office. This survey is a follow-up to a survey of New Yorkers seeking benefits in November 2008 which found that individuals visiting HRA offices had to wait for excessive amounts of times, had to return to HRA for multiple visits in processing their claim, and were hindered in receiving their benefits due to technological failures.

In the General Welfare Committee Budget Hearing concerning the HRA on March 23, 2009, Gotbaum yet again reiterated the importance of improving the automated system in order to serve New Yorkers and to prepare for an increased number of applications as the recession continues. Gotbaum said: “Public benefits have always been a lifeline to low-income New Yorkers. But now, when jobs are scarce and every dollar counts, it is all the more critical that HRA adjust its policies and correct the problems at its Job Centers.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Advocates Call on Governor Paterson to Reverse Mayor’s Decision

On March 7th, NYCCAH joined Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, Comptroller William Thompson, and other advocates in urging Governor Paterson to accept the ABAWD waiver for New York State in order to override Mayor Bloomberg’s refusal of the waiver which would extend the length of time in which single adults could receive SNAP (f.k.a. “food stamps”) benefits while they search for work.

As the
joint letter to the Governor emphasizes, accepting the ABAWD waiver is a good moral and economic decision because it would bring $155 in federally-funded SNAP benefits into the New York State economy. Said Joel Berg, NYCCAH’s Executive Director, “Individuals – with or without children – still need to eat. By not accepting the waiver, New York City is refusing a life line paid for by the federal government. As anyone trying to find work in this economy could understand, it’s even more difficult to find a job when you’re hungry. Wasting city dollars to create make work jobs instead of actively accepting federal benefits that promote true work and self-sufficiency is the ultimate lose-lose.”

The Mayor continues to spout false claims about what the waiver would mean. For example, the Mayor stated that “People with dependents have to work so there’s no reason that people without dependents shouldn’t have to work. We, even in this market, are able to help an awful lot of them. If you want help, you’ve got to help yourself.”

His facts are simply wrong. First, he incorrectly suggests that the waiver would allow single adults to receive benefits without having to look for work and that they would have fewer work requirements than those with kids. In fact, by accepting the waiver, food stamp recipients without children would have exactly the same work requirements as those with children.

Secondly, in alluding to work placement, the Mayor again incorrectly confuses the Temporary Aid for Needy Families (TANF, more commonly known as “welfare”) program with food stamps/SNAP suggesting that it would allow single adults to receive benefits without having to look for work and have fewer work requirements than those with kids.

Governor Paterson did take recent positive action on nutrition assistance. His New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) David Hansell recently announced that more working families with high child care costs may now qualify for SNAP and other nutrition assistance benefits.

Please support extending SNAP benefits to single adults searching for work by calling Governor Paterson’s office at 518-474-8390 and ask the Governor to build on his anti-hunger progrsss by overruling mayor Bloomberg.

Also, please add your support to the comments on Public Advocate Gotbaum’s recent article on this issue in the Huffington Post.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

NYC Mayor Denies SNAP Benefits

Mayor Bloomberg refused to accept funding that would have given able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) more time to find employment while receiving SNAP benefits (f.k.a. Food Stamps). This funding is available through a provision in the federal stimulus bill.

As Public Advocate Gotbaum and Joel Berg (NYCCAH’s Executive Director) emphasized in a recent letter to the editor in the New York Post, the ABAWD waiver is designed to specifically designed to address hunger during a time of high unemployment.

It is important to note that, despite some incorrect statements in the media, ABAWDs who are currently receiving food-stamp benefits are already required to search for work. The provision in the stimulus bill only extends the amount of time for ABAWDs to find a job.

NYCCAH joined other advocates at a press conference with Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum to emphasize the importance of the provision, not only to the recipients, but to the city economy overall. Stressing this point Gotbaum stated, “Food stamps are an essential part of the stimulus because the money ultimately goes to our city’s small businesses: grocery stores and bodegas, green markets and vegetable stands.”

Joel Berg, Executive Director of the New York City Coalition Against Hunger, echoed this message stating, “this decision is certainly a ‘lose-lose’ both for the City and for its low-income residents.”

The Bloomberg administration says it is not obligated to extend Food Stamp benefits to anyone not enrolled in the Work Experience Program, a program that requires benefits recipients to work a minimum of 20 hours a week at unpaid jobs to receive their benefits. But as noted in a New York Times Editorial, “forcing people to take make-work jobs to qualify for food assistance takes valuable time away from the search for a real job. That’s counterproductive.”

Please contact Mayor Bloomberg and let him know that you support the acceptance of the provision that would extend SNAP benefits to ABAWDs.