AIDS BILL OF RIGHTS MEANS 120 MORE DAS CASEWORKERS

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The new AIDS Bill of Rights the mayor is likely to sign this week is being hailed as a symbolic victory for people with AIDS–but it also contains immediate real-world benefits for PWAs, including the hiring of 120 caseworkers for the city’s strapped Division of AIDS Services.

The measure, which passed 45 to 4 in the City Council last Wednesday, could also prove to be a valuable tool for lawyers suing to force Mayor Giuliani to provide mandated services for low-income PWA’s, advocates tell City Limits.

“It will make the lives of people with AIDS and HIV significantly less horrible,” said Jeanne Bergman, a lobbyist with Housing Works.

The bill, sponsored by HIV-positive Manhattan Councilman Tom Duane, provides PWAs with a roster of rights which city bureaucrats must respect. It also mandates that no DAS caseworker have a caseload of more than 36 clients.

The caseworker mandate drew criticism from the administration in public hearings earlier this month, as did the Council’s demand that DAS return to its old policy of maintaining one-on-one caseworker-to-client relationships. During the last few years, most DAS clients have been assigned to a pool of caseworkers, rather than one individual bureaucrat. Some AIDS advocates said this policy made gaining access to the most basic housing, welfare and medical services a chore for terminally ill people.

“I have friends who’ve died waiting for processing,” said Hector Arroyo, who works on the emergency hotline for the People with AIDS Coalition, a group that provides counseling and referral services.

Council sources say the mayor’s lobbyists eventually agreed to accept these controversial provisions.

The bill also mandates that the city provide clients with access to medically-appropriate housing, nutrition aid, transportation and other benefits. These provisions are expected to provide major ammunition to groups pursuing lawsuits against DAS. In a still-pending action brought in 1995, the HIV Law Project and Housing Works sued DAS, claiming the agency’s clients were not receiving appropriate benefits.