AIDS agency to clients’ families: start pulling your weight

The city’s agency assisting low-income people with HIV and AIDS is looking for help in paying for its clients’ ­costs of living — from the family members and other people who live with them.

This month, the city HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) issued a rule requiring all household members living with people receiving benefits from the agency to sign up to participate in a work program. The city projects the move will save about $3 million in the coming year.

Members of the advocacy group VOCAL-NY demonstrate for housing aid in Albany. Photo courtesy VOCAL

Members of the advocacy group VOCAL-NY demonstrate for housing aid in Albany. Photo courtesy VOCAL-NY

In July 2013, more than 30,000 New Yorkers living with HIV or AIDS were receiving HASA benefits. Those with families were entitled to extra benefits, such as increased rental assistance or more food stamps. In all, 11,400 household members get such aid. VOCAL-NY, an advocacy group that works with people with HIV/AIDS, estimates that between 10 to 20 percent of these are of working age and were not required to participate in any work program — until now.

If someone living in the household refuses to work or participate in a training program, an HIV/AIDS client may see cuts in his or her aid. But those who work for pay can expect to be penalized too: As noted in a City Council analysis earlier this year, when the family member is already working, “cases will be re-calculated to reflect the additional income.” Benefits, such as rental assistance, could be decreased as a result. HASA clients currently get between $300 and $1,500 a month in rent subsidies.

In addition, some people with HIV/AIDS may no longer be entitled to what the agency calls “intensive case management,” which often includes home care and mental health and substance abuse treatment.

A spokesperson for HRA indicated the administration is  bringing its HIV/AIDS Services program in compliance with longstanding state rules, and that it would be in each family’s best interest to encourage adult members capable of working to do so.

Terri Smith-Caronia, a Housing Works’ vice president, said that the new rule could damage relationships among family members whose benefits are cut. “They are cash- strapped, looking for nickels and dimes,” she said. “The only way to save money is to kick people out. You keep your savings by disrupting households.”

“Our issue is the punitive aspect of the policy,” said Jason Walker, a VOCAL-NY community organizer and coordinator of the New York HIV/AIDS Housing Advocacy Network. “A HASA client would be penalized because of what someone else [in the household] may or may not be doing.”

In March, Human Resources Administration (HRA) Commissioner Robert Doar said that HASA, a division of HRA, would be reaching out soon to clients whose children are now adults and require them, when appropriate, to take part in the agency’s employment programs.

In July, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Annabel Palma, chair of the Council’s general welfare committee, expressed concern that the new rule might result in “improper reductions” of benefits.

While the council asked HASA to explain how clients will be assessed and how exemptions will be determined, the agency hasn’t offered any clarification. Palma’s office said it would wait to see how the rule is affecting HASA clients before taking further action.

Affected household members will be given the opportunity to present evidence of barriers to employment such as physical or mental health issues, according to HRA. The evidence will then be evaluated according to state guidelines on a case-by-case basis.

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