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.
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.