Later today, the New York City Council's General Welfare Committee will be hold a public hearing on legislation that would open the doors of city agency offices to advocates seeking to provide information and assistance to New Yorkers seeking governemnt services.
While the legislation seems like a no-brainer - allowing experts into public areas of city agencies, where people are often left waiting for hours, to help them complete their application forms, provide useful information and help people access federal benefits that benefit NY families and the city's economy - the Bloomberg Administration is not yet on-board with the idea.
Currently, New York City bars advocates from entering even the public areas of welfare offices, such as waiting rooms and hallways, except when they are accompanying an individual client. Advocates are not allowed to set up a help table to answer questions and provide basic information about public benefits programs. They can’t hand out fliers describing people’s rights in the welfare system, such as their right to receive assistance in the language they speak. And they can’t walk around and help people fill out complex benefits application forms.
Fortunately, some City Council members have come up with a solution. Last spring, NYC Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum and City Council Members Bill DeBlasio and Eric Gioia introduced the Ready Access to Assistance Act, known as REAACT. This bill would enable low-income people seeking Food Stamps, Medicaid, and other public benefits to obtain valuable assistance with the application process from volunteers and advocates inside government offices. It would require the city to allow not-for--profit organizations into the public areas of the offices at which the city accepts applications for and distributes those benefits.
This approach has been tested in other cities and has proven effective in ensuring that families receive the assistance that they need. In Buffalo, Los Angeles, and San Diego, advocates have successfully been helping low-income people inside government benefits offices for years. And New York State allows advocates into its public assistance fair hearings office in Brooklyn.
REAACT is a no-cost, common sense way to ensure that hungry families get the government help they need.
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