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.

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