On May 24th, Public Advocate Gotbaum joined with City Council Members Eric Gioia and Bill DeBlasio to introduce the Ready Access to Assistance Act into the City Council (REAACT). This proposed legislation is an important initiative that will enable New Yorkers who are applying for Food Stamps, Medicaid and other government benefits to obtain assistance and information from advocates and organizers inside government offices.
Applying for government benefits is a scary and confusing process. Often, New Yorkers arrive at government offices to apply for benefits, such as Medicaid, precisely when their lives are in crisis. Unfortunately, instead of help and support, low-income New Yorkers often encounter overwhelmed caseworkers, confusing bureaucracy and misinformation. The Bloomberg Administration currently bars advocates from setting up help desks within government offices to answer questions or to help low-income New Yorkers navigate the bureaucracy.
Like the Bloomberg Administration's recent decision to not seek a federal waiver to the requirement that Food Stamps recipients be employed because of New ork City's high unemployment rate, this policy is a hold-over from the mean-spirited welfare policies of the Giuliani Administration. Back then, HRA Commissioner Turner needed to lock advocates out of government offices, so that the City could break the law. Back then, the Human Resources Administration lost numerous class action lawsuits for failing to comply with City, State and federal law. Notwithstanding the fact that the Bloomberg Administration has ended this pattern of illegal behavior, they are still clinging to Giuliani's policy of exclusion.
The REAACT initiative would change this. It would open the doors of government offices and welcome community organizations to collaborate with government and facilitate New Yorkers accessing the government benefits for which they are eligible. This Act would bring New York City into line with other cities, like Buffalo, Los Angeles and San Diego who already allow advocates to set up help desks and distribute information to people seeking benefits. Similarly, in New York City, advocates are already allowed to help the public in Housing and Family Courts.
REAACT would ensure fairness and accountability in the administration of government benfits. The Bloomberg Administration should follow the lead of the City Council on this one.
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