Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/hra 2017-10-23T06:06:14+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com City Council Budget Response Seeks New Spending, More Savings 2016-04-04T21:06:46+00:00 2016-04-04T21:06:46+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6263:city-council-budget-response-seeks-new-spending-more-savings Super User <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/24160646479_d465b780db_z.jpg" alt="bdb budget briefing w CMs" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Mayor de Blasio briefs Council members on his budget (photo: William Alatriste)</span>&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council on Monday issued its formal <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/html/budget/2017/FY17-Preliminary-Budget-Response.pdf" target="_blank">response</a> to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $82 billion preliminary budget for fiscal year 2017, capping a month of budget hearings that were fraught with <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6202-at-first-council-budget-hearing-concerns-over-city-savings-and-state-cuts" target="_blank">concerns</a> over how Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed state budget would affect the city and how prepared the city’s coffers are for a rainy day.</p> <p dir="ltr">Until last week, uncertainty over significant cuts in funding to New York City outlined by Cuomo had the City Council on its toes, with Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito traveling to Albany to participate in efforts to eliminate them. The de Blasio administration said at the first Council budget hearing that it did not have a contingency plan if the state were to shift nearly $700 million in costs for Medicaid and CUNY in fiscal 2017 to the city. Instead, officials said, they would be making every effort to ensure that the cuts did not stay when the state budget was passed.</p> <p dir="ltr">In <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/html/budget/2017/FY17%20Budget%20Response%20Recommendations.pdf" target="_blank">a letter</a> to the mayor on Wednesday, the Council identified its budget priorities but stopped short of issuing its full response given that the state budget had yet been finalized.</p> <p dir="ltr">At the end of last week, a new $147 billion state budget was passed without the most significant cuts to city funding, and the Council had the all clear to move forward with its priorities unchanged. Out of a budget process so far largely <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6072-majority-of-council-members-urge-mayor-to-identify-budget-savings" target="_blank">focused on identifying savings</a> across city government, the Council outlined specifics for a city budget that serves immigrants and youth, sets aside more in reserves, and invests in expanded services that it can track.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The Council’s budget recommendations are the culmination of dozens of comprehensive budget hearings and reflect the needs of all New Yorkers while also planning for our City’s future,” said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/html/pr/040416br.shtml" target="_blank">in a Monday statement</a> accompanying the Council’s budget response, which will form the agenda over the next three months as it negotiates a final budget with the mayor’s office by the June 30 deadline. “This is a budget that is smart, fair and fiscally responsible, all while greatly expanding opportunities to New Yorkers across the City,” Mark-Viverito wrote.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Council identified eight major priorities in its response: increased investment in city youth; investment in healthcare, education, jobs and legal services for immigrants; specific funding for the diverse communities; capital investment in infrastructure; creating a Rainy Day Fund and adding to existing reserves; baselining essential city services; expanding criminal justice, community support, and human services; and more accurately tracking city agency performance.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Council is proposing $790 million in new spending and tax reductions but estimates that the increase to the budget would ultimately be only about $127 million once larger agency savings and changes to debt service payments are included. Even with additional spending, the Council estimates a budget surplus of $258 million in fiscal 2017.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Council identifies $91.2 million in agency savings that the preliminary budget did not account for. A majority of this amount, $80 million, would come from reducing the city’s contribution to fringe benefits for the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) and the Human Resources Administration (HRA), which have received increased state and federal funding for these costs, the Council says.</p> <p dir="ltr">The response also calls for reduction in the city’s data processing equipment budget by $14 million and a $6 million reduction in Other Than Personal Services costs at the Department of Transportation. All of these savings figures were arrived at through analysis by the Council’s budget office, which is under the supervision of Mark-Viverito, Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who chairs the finance committee, and Finance Director Latonia McKinney.</p> <p dir="ltr">Although the state budget no longer haunts the city’s fiscal future, the Council recognizes risks remain. An economic slowdown is widely expected by city officials, economists, and budget watchdogs, and the Council’s budget response notes the consequences it could have on consumer spending, tax revenue, real estate prices, and cost of living.</p> <p dir="ltr">“These preliminary budget recommendations reflect a central challenge in government: making our city more equitable while also planning prudently for the future,” said Ferreras-Copeland, in a statement. “The proposals included address inequality in New York City while remaining fiscally responsible, and I believe they represent the diversity of needs across our city. As the budget process advances, I will continue to ensure that the Council is an equal partner and that the Administration’s investments are transparent.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The budget is due before the start of the next fiscal year on July 1. Along with the state budget, Mayor de Blasio will take the Council’s feedback into consideration as he crafts his executive budget, due out later this month. The release of that updated spending plan, which the mayor has indicated will likely include a more robust agency savings plan, will trigger another round of hearings at the City Council. Then, the two sides will negotiate out of public view until a deal is struck.</p> <p dir="ltr">Asked to respond to the Council’s preliminary budget response, Office of Management and Budget spokesperson Amy Spitalnick, recounted by email that “Budget monitors and rating agencies have all applauded this administration's fiscal prudence and focus on targeting investments and protecting against economic uncertainty – and investors agree,” while providing a link to <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-02-08/on-wall-street-new-york-city-mayor-de-blasio-is-getting-respect" target="_blank">a Bloomberg news article</a> on the subject.</p> <p dir="ltr">Spitalnick outlined that the administration has “unprecedented” reserves while restoring “funds cut under the prior administration.” Even with billions already in savings, she wrote, “the Mayor has made clear, we’ll continue to build on those savings in the Executive Budget.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“We look forward to continuing to work with the Council throughout the budget process,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/24160646479_d465b780db_z.jpg" alt="bdb budget briefing w CMs" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p dir="ltr"><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Mayor de Blasio briefs Council members on his budget (photo: William Alatriste)</span>&nbsp;</p> <hr /> <p>The City Council on Monday issued its formal <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/html/budget/2017/FY17-Preliminary-Budget-Response.pdf" target="_blank">response</a> to Mayor Bill de Blasio’s $82 billion preliminary budget for fiscal year 2017, capping a month of budget hearings that were fraught with <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6202-at-first-council-budget-hearing-concerns-over-city-savings-and-state-cuts" target="_blank">concerns</a> over how Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed state budget would affect the city and how prepared the city’s coffers are for a rainy day.</p> <p dir="ltr">Until last week, uncertainty over significant cuts in funding to New York City outlined by Cuomo had the City Council on its toes, with Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito traveling to Albany to participate in efforts to eliminate them. The de Blasio administration said at the first Council budget hearing that it did not have a contingency plan if the state were to shift nearly $700 million in costs for Medicaid and CUNY in fiscal 2017 to the city. Instead, officials said, they would be making every effort to ensure that the cuts did not stay when the state budget was passed.</p> <p dir="ltr">In <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/html/budget/2017/FY17%20Budget%20Response%20Recommendations.pdf" target="_blank">a letter</a> to the mayor on Wednesday, the Council identified its budget priorities but stopped short of issuing its full response given that the state budget had yet been finalized.</p> <p dir="ltr">At the end of last week, a new $147 billion state budget was passed without the most significant cuts to city funding, and the Council had the all clear to move forward with its priorities unchanged. Out of a budget process so far largely <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6072-majority-of-council-members-urge-mayor-to-identify-budget-savings" target="_blank">focused on identifying savings</a> across city government, the Council outlined specifics for a city budget that serves immigrants and youth, sets aside more in reserves, and invests in expanded services that it can track.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The Council’s budget recommendations are the culmination of dozens of comprehensive budget hearings and reflect the needs of all New Yorkers while also planning for our City’s future,” said City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, <a href="http://council.nyc.gov/html/pr/040416br.shtml" target="_blank">in a Monday statement</a> accompanying the Council’s budget response, which will form the agenda over the next three months as it negotiates a final budget with the mayor’s office by the June 30 deadline. “This is a budget that is smart, fair and fiscally responsible, all while greatly expanding opportunities to New Yorkers across the City,” Mark-Viverito wrote.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Council identified eight major priorities in its response: increased investment in city youth; investment in healthcare, education, jobs and legal services for immigrants; specific funding for the diverse communities; capital investment in infrastructure; creating a Rainy Day Fund and adding to existing reserves; baselining essential city services; expanding criminal justice, community support, and human services; and more accurately tracking city agency performance.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Council is proposing $790 million in new spending and tax reductions but estimates that the increase to the budget would ultimately be only about $127 million once larger agency savings and changes to debt service payments are included. Even with additional spending, the Council estimates a budget surplus of $258 million in fiscal 2017.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Council identifies $91.2 million in agency savings that the preliminary budget did not account for. A majority of this amount, $80 million, would come from reducing the city’s contribution to fringe benefits for the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) and the Human Resources Administration (HRA), which have received increased state and federal funding for these costs, the Council says.</p> <p dir="ltr">The response also calls for reduction in the city’s data processing equipment budget by $14 million and a $6 million reduction in Other Than Personal Services costs at the Department of Transportation. All of these savings figures were arrived at through analysis by the Council’s budget office, which is under the supervision of Mark-Viverito, Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland, who chairs the finance committee, and Finance Director Latonia McKinney.</p> <p dir="ltr">Although the state budget no longer haunts the city’s fiscal future, the Council recognizes risks remain. An economic slowdown is widely expected by city officials, economists, and budget watchdogs, and the Council’s budget response notes the consequences it could have on consumer spending, tax revenue, real estate prices, and cost of living.</p> <p dir="ltr">“These preliminary budget recommendations reflect a central challenge in government: making our city more equitable while also planning prudently for the future,” said Ferreras-Copeland, in a statement. “The proposals included address inequality in New York City while remaining fiscally responsible, and I believe they represent the diversity of needs across our city. As the budget process advances, I will continue to ensure that the Council is an equal partner and that the Administration’s investments are transparent.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The budget is due before the start of the next fiscal year on July 1. Along with the state budget, Mayor de Blasio will take the Council’s feedback into consideration as he crafts his executive budget, due out later this month. The release of that updated spending plan, which the mayor has indicated will likely include a more robust agency savings plan, will trigger another round of hearings at the City Council. Then, the two sides will negotiate out of public view until a deal is struck.</p> <p dir="ltr">Asked to respond to the Council’s preliminary budget response, Office of Management and Budget spokesperson Amy Spitalnick, recounted by email that “Budget monitors and rating agencies have all applauded this administration's fiscal prudence and focus on targeting investments and protecting against economic uncertainty – and investors agree,” while providing a link to <a href="http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-02-08/on-wall-street-new-york-city-mayor-de-blasio-is-getting-respect" target="_blank">a Bloomberg news article</a> on the subject.</p> <p dir="ltr">Spitalnick outlined that the administration has “unprecedented” reserves while restoring “funds cut under the prior administration.” Even with billions already in savings, she wrote, “the Mayor has made clear, we’ll continue to build on those savings in the Executive Budget.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“We look forward to continuing to work with the Council throughout the budget process,” she said.</p> <p dir="ltr">

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Report Propels Debate Over City's Welfare Reforms 2016-03-17T02:39:26+00:00 2016-03-17T02:39:26+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6227:report-propels-debate-over-citys-welfare-reforms Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/banks_levin.jpg" alt="banks levin" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>CM Levin, left, &amp; HRA Commissioner Banks (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>A new report on the city's reengineered public assistance system concluded, among other findings, that it's too soon to tell whether the wide-ranging reforms put in place by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks are working. The updated analysis from the city's Independent Budget Office (IBO) not only leaves unanswered whether the Banks/de Blasio reforms are working, but how exactly to judge a system now geared towards long-term change rather than short-term reward.</p> <p>Earlier this month, IBO, a nonpartisan city-funded agency, released <a href="http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/changing-course-on-public-assistance-march-2016.pdf" target="_blank">a report</a> on how the de Blasio administration changes to the welfare system, making it less punitive and refocused on education and employment for welfare recipients, rather than stressing work experience programs. Conservative critics of the changes, including Banks' predecessors from previous administrations, say that the city is becoming too lax and encouraging people to rely on government assistance. The administration says it is both taking a more humane approach and playing the long game, with greater payoffs down the road when people move off of assistance and don't need to return to it.</p> <p>The IBO looked at the effects these reforms have had on welfare caseloads and the city budget. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6177-in-departure-from-predecessors-de-blasio-administration-overhauls-city-welfare-system" target="_blank">Caseloads have increased</a>, in particular one-time grants, which also mean increased budget outlays projected for the coming year. One-time grants are cash assistance benefits to those who apply due to the most temporary hardship.</p> <p>The report notes that over the course of December 2015, there were a total of 597,347 unduplicated welfare recipients, a slight increase from 591,544 in May 2014. It attributed this increase to one-time grant recipients, one group among welfare classes, which went up by 34,339, translating into $133 million over the course of a year ($60 million of which is city funds).</p> <p>"The idea was that people would get better jobs and stay out there," said Paul Lopatto, the IBO analyst who authored the report, on the reforms. "The prediction that HRA is making now is that after a while, the caseload will decline, and that the increase is only temporary," Lopatto said. "It's not a surprise," he added. "It's a question of how long and how high it gets."</p> <p>Alex Armlovich, a policy analyst at the conservative Manhattan Institute, said the IBO report echoes what he <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6177-in-departure-from-predecessors-de-blasio-administration-overhauls-city-welfare-system" target="_blank">has already said</a> about the new welfare system, that the increase in the cash assistance caseload is "policy driven, not driven by weakness in the local economy or by disenfranchisement of low-skilled workers. It does not look promising on its face but we still have to see how it plays out," he said.</p> <p>Armlovich emphasized that one of the potential concerns about the system's new direction was "rubber stamping" in the education and training programs and that there was no way to tell if there was substantive improvement. "That's the fear," he said, insisting that HRA should put out tracking metrics for particular outcomes. He cited GED enrollment and completion as an easy figure to track and analyze.</p> <p>"If you're directly and quantitatively accountable, that assuages any fear about the nature of the program," he said. "I don't think it's time to panic. It's just something we need to keep an eye on."</p> <p>The need for metrics is one that City Council Member Stephen Levin, chair of the general welfare committee, which has oversight of HRA, agrees with. "We need strong metrics, strong data and strong measures in place to ensure that policy in New York City is working," he said of the welfare system reforms.</p> <p>Levin was less concerned about the increase in caseloads or the resulting budget burden, although he said it was especially necessary to keep an eye on the latter. The increase in welfare recipients, he said, was to be expected after years of previous administrations artificially suppressing the rolls.</p> <p>"The previous administrations spent a lot of money trying to knock people off the rolls," he said of the Bloomberg and Giuliani years, noting that HRA's new, more conciliatory approach is correcting these past policies. "If the numbers have gone up, we would expect that."</p> <p>At a preliminary budget hearing on Tuesday, the general welfare committee heard testimony from Commissioner Banks on HRA's progress on these reforms. Council members asked few critical questions, if any, on the specifics. Levin chalked this up to the fact that HRA's plan was still being implemented and that the committee had little time as they were focused on a litany of other pressing issues. General welfare also has oversight of HRA's other programs, the Department of Homeless Services, and the Administration for Children's Services.</p> <p>When asked about the IBO report, an HRA official cited similar reasoning. In a statement emailed to Gotham Gazette, HRA press secretary Lourdes Centeno said, "As part of our employment plan that is being phased in over two years, HRA is in the process of reforming its employment services through new RFPs and other program enhancements and continues to expand services that put recipients on a career pathway to long-term employment and self-sufficiency, which will replace the past policies that often resulted in only short-term employment and return to the caseload."</p> <p>Centeno added that the fluctuation in caseloads was in part because of increasing one-time assistance to prevent evictions and utility shutoffs, and noted that the unduplicated recurring caseload was largely flat for eight years. "We are monitoring our budget to ensure that we are using our resources effectively to help as many New Yorkers in need as we can," she added.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6177-in-departure-from-predecessors-de-blasio-administration-overhauls-city-welfare-system" target="_blank">In Departure From Predecessors, De Blasio Administration Overhauls Welfare System</a>]</p> <p>

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
<p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/banks_levin.jpg" alt="banks levin" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p>CM Levin, left, &amp; HRA Commissioner Banks (photo: William Alatriste)</p> <hr /> <p>A new report on the city's reengineered public assistance system concluded, among other findings, that it's too soon to tell whether the wide-ranging reforms put in place by Mayor Bill de Blasio and Human Resources Administration Commissioner Steven Banks are working. The updated analysis from the city's Independent Budget Office (IBO) not only leaves unanswered whether the Banks/de Blasio reforms are working, but how exactly to judge a system now geared towards long-term change rather than short-term reward.</p> <p>Earlier this month, IBO, a nonpartisan city-funded agency, released <a href="http://www.ibo.nyc.ny.us/iboreports/changing-course-on-public-assistance-march-2016.pdf" target="_blank">a report</a> on how the de Blasio administration changes to the welfare system, making it less punitive and refocused on education and employment for welfare recipients, rather than stressing work experience programs. Conservative critics of the changes, including Banks' predecessors from previous administrations, say that the city is becoming too lax and encouraging people to rely on government assistance. The administration says it is both taking a more humane approach and playing the long game, with greater payoffs down the road when people move off of assistance and don't need to return to it.</p> <p>The IBO looked at the effects these reforms have had on welfare caseloads and the city budget. <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6177-in-departure-from-predecessors-de-blasio-administration-overhauls-city-welfare-system" target="_blank">Caseloads have increased</a>, in particular one-time grants, which also mean increased budget outlays projected for the coming year. One-time grants are cash assistance benefits to those who apply due to the most temporary hardship.</p> <p>The report notes that over the course of December 2015, there were a total of 597,347 unduplicated welfare recipients, a slight increase from 591,544 in May 2014. It attributed this increase to one-time grant recipients, one group among welfare classes, which went up by 34,339, translating into $133 million over the course of a year ($60 million of which is city funds).</p> <p>"The idea was that people would get better jobs and stay out there," said Paul Lopatto, the IBO analyst who authored the report, on the reforms. "The prediction that HRA is making now is that after a while, the caseload will decline, and that the increase is only temporary," Lopatto said. "It's not a surprise," he added. "It's a question of how long and how high it gets."</p> <p>Alex Armlovich, a policy analyst at the conservative Manhattan Institute, said the IBO report echoes what he <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6177-in-departure-from-predecessors-de-blasio-administration-overhauls-city-welfare-system" target="_blank">has already said</a> about the new welfare system, that the increase in the cash assistance caseload is "policy driven, not driven by weakness in the local economy or by disenfranchisement of low-skilled workers. It does not look promising on its face but we still have to see how it plays out," he said.</p> <p>Armlovich emphasized that one of the potential concerns about the system's new direction was "rubber stamping" in the education and training programs and that there was no way to tell if there was substantive improvement. "That's the fear," he said, insisting that HRA should put out tracking metrics for particular outcomes. He cited GED enrollment and completion as an easy figure to track and analyze.</p> <p>"If you're directly and quantitatively accountable, that assuages any fear about the nature of the program," he said. "I don't think it's time to panic. It's just something we need to keep an eye on."</p> <p>The need for metrics is one that City Council Member Stephen Levin, chair of the general welfare committee, which has oversight of HRA, agrees with. "We need strong metrics, strong data and strong measures in place to ensure that policy in New York City is working," he said of the welfare system reforms.</p> <p>Levin was less concerned about the increase in caseloads or the resulting budget burden, although he said it was especially necessary to keep an eye on the latter. The increase in welfare recipients, he said, was to be expected after years of previous administrations artificially suppressing the rolls.</p> <p>"The previous administrations spent a lot of money trying to knock people off the rolls," he said of the Bloomberg and Giuliani years, noting that HRA's new, more conciliatory approach is correcting these past policies. "If the numbers have gone up, we would expect that."</p> <p>At a preliminary budget hearing on Tuesday, the general welfare committee heard testimony from Commissioner Banks on HRA's progress on these reforms. Council members asked few critical questions, if any, on the specifics. Levin chalked this up to the fact that HRA's plan was still being implemented and that the committee had little time as they were focused on a litany of other pressing issues. General welfare also has oversight of HRA's other programs, the Department of Homeless Services, and the Administration for Children's Services.</p> <p>When asked about the IBO report, an HRA official cited similar reasoning. In a statement emailed to Gotham Gazette, HRA press secretary Lourdes Centeno said, "As part of our employment plan that is being phased in over two years, HRA is in the process of reforming its employment services through new RFPs and other program enhancements and continues to expand services that put recipients on a career pathway to long-term employment and self-sufficiency, which will replace the past policies that often resulted in only short-term employment and return to the caseload."</p> <p>Centeno added that the fluctuation in caseloads was in part because of increasing one-time assistance to prevent evictions and utility shutoffs, and noted that the unduplicated recurring caseload was largely flat for eight years. "We are monitoring our budget to ensure that we are using our resources effectively to help as many New Yorkers in need as we can," she added.</p> <p style="text-align: center;">[Related: <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/index.php/government/6177-in-departure-from-predecessors-de-blasio-administration-overhauls-city-welfare-system" target="_blank">In Departure From Predecessors, De Blasio Administration Overhauls Welfare System</a>]</p> <p>

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

</p>
Through Committee, Bill to Create Office of Civil Justice Heads Toward Law 2015-05-26T18:42:12+00:00 2015-05-26T18:42:12+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5740:through-committee-bill-to-create-office-of-civil-justice-heads-toward-law Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/MMV_Levine_and_co.jpg" alt="MMV Levine and co" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Mark-Viverito, front, &amp; Levine, behind her, are the lead sponsors (photo: William Alatriste)</span></p> <hr /> <p>New York City is one step closer to having a new Office of Civil Justice. On Tuesday, the City Council's Committee on Courts and Legal Services unanimously passed a bill that would create the office, to be tasked with assessing, coordinating, and helping reform the civil legal services available to low-income New Yorkers. Among the most pressing concerns are ensuring legal representation for immigrants facing deportation and tenants facing eviction.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/MMV_Levine_and_co.jpg" alt="MMV Levine and co" height="400" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">Mark-Viverito, front, &amp; Levine, behind her, are the lead sponsors (photo: William Alatriste)</span></p> <hr /> <p>New York City is one step closer to having a new Office of Civil Justice. On Tuesday, the City Council's Committee on Courts and Legal Services unanimously passed a bill that would create the office, to be tasked with assessing, coordinating, and helping reform the civil legal services available to low-income New Yorkers. Among the most pressing concerns are ensuring legal representation for immigrants facing deportation and tenants facing eviction.</p> New Guide to Public Assistance Aims to Help Neediest Navigate System 2015-04-30T19:10:45+00:00 2015-04-30T19:10:45+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5705:new-guide-to-public-assistance-aims-to-help-neediest-navigate-system Super User <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/snp_cup_hra.jpg" alt="snp cup hra" height="450" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">At Thursday's guide release (photo: @DMirandaSNP)</span></p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">New Yorkers in need of public assistance provided by the city must navigate a maze of bureaucracy and paperwork. In an attempt to provide clarity and ensure that the neediest access available benefits, the Safety Net Project at the Urban Justice Center in collaboration with the Center for Urban Pedagogy today released a visual guide to the city’s welfare system.</p> <p dir="ltr">Titled “<a href="http://welcometocup.org/file_columns/0000/0670/snp_web_download_setup.pdf" target="_blank">Your Guide to Welfare NYC</a>,” the poster is designed to help the 350,000 city residents <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/hra/downloads/pdf/facts/hra_facts/hrafacts_2015/hra_facts_2015_03.pdf" target="_blank">who rely</a> on public cash assistance to access benefits and protect themselves when those benefits are in danger of being revoked.</p> <p dir="ltr">The guide was created over the last year through feedback from recipients of public benefits and advocacy groups. The city’s Human Resources Administration (HRA) also helped review the poster drafts and its commissioner, Steve Banks, was at Thursday’s launch event.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Safety Net Project has printed 2,000 copies, a portion of which will be distributed today throughout the five boroughs while the online version of the guide is disseminated through social media and other channels.</p> <p dir="ltr">“With over 350,000 people relying on public assistance, there aren’t enough resources to ensure everyone has access,” said Denise Miranda, managing director of the Safety Net Project. “There’s an urgent need to help those people who rely on benefits for their survival.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Going forward, Miranda hopes that they can translate the multi-page poster into different languages and print and distribute on a larger scale. “We’re hopeful that the city might participate in raising funds for distribution,” she said. “It’s a resource tool that will be invaluable to New Yorkers.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The poster - in red, white and blue - has a step-by-step visual guide divided into three easily readable sections with graphics. The first section lays down the basics of eligibility for benefits, how they are disseminated, and where to apply. The second section gives simple instructions for how to apply, including the documents needed and tips for visiting HRA centers. The final section shows people how to retain benefits, avoid sanctions, and settle disputes with HRA.</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/nyc_welfare_guide_via_safey_net.jpg" alt="nyc welfare guide via safey net" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" height="324" width="350" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Showing renewed cooperation between HRA and advocacy groups, the release was held at HRA’s Waverly Job Center in midtown. “We have been partnering with community groups all over the city,” Commissioner Banks told reporters. “Over the past year we’ve been making dramatic reforms in the agency and we think efforts like this are helpful to get information out to our clients. We look forward to continue to partner with the Urban Justice Center and other efforts to make sure our clients are aware of the services that we have and help them navigate that process.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Under Banks, who was appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, HRA has seen significant changes from past administrations. “After 20 years of administrations that showed disregard, some might say disdain, for people in need of assistance, there’s been a shift in outreach, policy and culture in the new administration,” said Safety Net Project’s Miranda.</p> <p dir="ltr">HRA has also been making efforts in easing the process of accessing benefits. Just last week, the city <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/blaz-pushes-raise-food-stamp-enrollment-article-1.2192318" target="_blank">announced</a> a new website, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/#Mary" target="_blank">foodhelp.nyc</a>, to help people apply for &nbsp;Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, also known as food stamps. The city estimates that more than half a million New Yorkers qualify for SNAP but have not availed of them.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Anything that helps people know about and navigate the complicated process [of public assistance] is important,” said Liz Accles, executive director of Community Food Advocates. “The administration has taken big steps forward. But there have been 20 years of policy and public practice in place that make it nearly impossible to access public assistance. It takes the full effect of both the city administration and advocacy organizations to see that people are able to get assistance and navigate the process.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Wendy O’Shields has volunteered at Safety Net Project for the last year and worked on the new guide. Her perspective is doubly relevant considering that during the Great Recession, she had to reluctantly apply for public assistance. “There was nothing I could reference to learn the rules that HRA goes by,” she told Gotham Gazette after today’s press conference. “I had to learn by the experience, the school of hard knocks. It would have been very helpful going through crises if there was something I could have referenced so I could have not made the learning curve beginner mistakes.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The new poster does just that. Perhaps more aptly called a pamphlet, it translates legal technical information into conversational language and has a flow-chart-like design. “We often think of it as building a narrative that helps people move through the information in a way that’s accessible,” said Christine Gaspar, executive director of the Center for Urban Pedagogy. “The process is about bringing those pieces together.”</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/samarkhurshid" target="_blank">@samarkhurshid</a></p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/snp_cup_hra.jpg" alt="snp cup hra" height="450" width="600" /></p> <p><span style="font-size: 10pt;">At Thursday's guide release (photo: @DMirandaSNP)</span></p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">New Yorkers in need of public assistance provided by the city must navigate a maze of bureaucracy and paperwork. In an attempt to provide clarity and ensure that the neediest access available benefits, the Safety Net Project at the Urban Justice Center in collaboration with the Center for Urban Pedagogy today released a visual guide to the city’s welfare system.</p> <p dir="ltr">Titled “<a href="http://welcometocup.org/file_columns/0000/0670/snp_web_download_setup.pdf" target="_blank">Your Guide to Welfare NYC</a>,” the poster is designed to help the 350,000 city residents <a href="http://www.nyc.gov/html/hra/downloads/pdf/facts/hra_facts/hrafacts_2015/hra_facts_2015_03.pdf" target="_blank">who rely</a> on public cash assistance to access benefits and protect themselves when those benefits are in danger of being revoked.</p> <p dir="ltr">The guide was created over the last year through feedback from recipients of public benefits and advocacy groups. The city’s Human Resources Administration (HRA) also helped review the poster drafts and its commissioner, Steve Banks, was at Thursday’s launch event.</p> <p dir="ltr">The Safety Net Project has printed 2,000 copies, a portion of which will be distributed today throughout the five boroughs while the online version of the guide is disseminated through social media and other channels.</p> <p dir="ltr">“With over 350,000 people relying on public assistance, there aren’t enough resources to ensure everyone has access,” said Denise Miranda, managing director of the Safety Net Project. “There’s an urgent need to help those people who rely on benefits for their survival.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Going forward, Miranda hopes that they can translate the multi-page poster into different languages and print and distribute on a larger scale. “We’re hopeful that the city might participate in raising funds for distribution,” she said. “It’s a resource tool that will be invaluable to New Yorkers.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The poster - in red, white and blue - has a step-by-step visual guide divided into three easily readable sections with graphics. The first section lays down the basics of eligibility for benefits, how they are disseminated, and where to apply. The second section gives simple instructions for how to apply, including the documents needed and tips for visiting HRA centers. The final section shows people how to retain benefits, avoid sanctions, and settle disputes with HRA.</p> <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2014/03/nyc_welfare_guide_via_safey_net.jpg" alt="nyc welfare guide via safey net" style="display: block; margin-left: auto; margin-right: auto;" height="324" width="350" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Showing renewed cooperation between HRA and advocacy groups, the release was held at HRA’s Waverly Job Center in midtown. “We have been partnering with community groups all over the city,” Commissioner Banks told reporters. “Over the past year we’ve been making dramatic reforms in the agency and we think efforts like this are helpful to get information out to our clients. We look forward to continue to partner with the Urban Justice Center and other efforts to make sure our clients are aware of the services that we have and help them navigate that process.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Under Banks, who was appointed by Mayor Bill de Blasio, HRA has seen significant changes from past administrations. “After 20 years of administrations that showed disregard, some might say disdain, for people in need of assistance, there’s been a shift in outreach, policy and culture in the new administration,” said Safety Net Project’s Miranda.</p> <p dir="ltr">HRA has also been making efforts in easing the process of accessing benefits. Just last week, the city <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/blaz-pushes-raise-food-stamp-enrollment-article-1.2192318" target="_blank">announced</a> a new website, <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/#Mary" target="_blank">foodhelp.nyc</a>, to help people apply for &nbsp;Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits, also known as food stamps. The city estimates that more than half a million New Yorkers qualify for SNAP but have not availed of them.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Anything that helps people know about and navigate the complicated process [of public assistance] is important,” said Liz Accles, executive director of Community Food Advocates. “The administration has taken big steps forward. But there have been 20 years of policy and public practice in place that make it nearly impossible to access public assistance. It takes the full effect of both the city administration and advocacy organizations to see that people are able to get assistance and navigate the process.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Wendy O’Shields has volunteered at Safety Net Project for the last year and worked on the new guide. Her perspective is doubly relevant considering that during the Great Recession, she had to reluctantly apply for public assistance. “There was nothing I could reference to learn the rules that HRA goes by,” she told Gotham Gazette after today’s press conference. “I had to learn by the experience, the school of hard knocks. It would have been very helpful going through crises if there was something I could have referenced so I could have not made the learning curve beginner mistakes.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The new poster does just that. Perhaps more aptly called a pamphlet, it translates legal technical information into conversational language and has a flow-chart-like design. “We often think of it as building a narrative that helps people move through the information in a way that’s accessible,” said Christine Gaspar, executive director of the Center for Urban Pedagogy. “The process is about bringing those pieces together.”</p> <p dir="ltr">***<br />by Samar Khurshid, Gotham Gazette<br /><a href="https://twitter.com/samarkhurshid" target="_blank">@samarkhurshid</a></p>