AIDS WELFARE HURDLE FALLS

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A New York State Supreme Court judge has made life a little bit easier for the 18,000 HIV-positive New Yorkers who are on public assistance.

In July, the New York City Council passed a law to exempt people with AIDS and HIV from having to endure intense and intrusive re-certification proceedings. Three years ago, the city inaugurated the Eligibility Verification Review (EVR) procedure in a stepped-up effort to confirm that people in the city applying for welfare were truly in need. The council vote came in response to complaints from AIDS advocacy organizations who charged that EVR erected higher hurdles than state and federal eligibility standards.

In an early January ruling, Judge Emily Goodman required the city to comply with the law. The Human Resources Administration (HRA) has the option of appealing the decision. Calls to to the agency were not returned.

People with AIDS and HIV are already required to establish eligibility for housing subsidies and other public assistance. But under EVR, applicants were also forced to make a pilgrimage out to a verification office in Brooklyn. They were then told to cool their heels for the next two weeks while they waited for a city official to pay them an at-home certification visit. Although HRA eventually eliminated trips to Brooklyn, advocates say the city still mandates home visits–a requirement that has created much anxiety and has been a real threat to preservation of benefits.

“It’s like waiting for the cable guy for two weeks,” says Helder Coelho, staff attorney for Housing Works, which brought the suit on behalf of five DASIS clients. “[EVR] was started by Giuliani as an extra hurdle for all people on public assistance to jump through…. But what ends up happening is people are wrongfully knocked off the rolls.” It is unclear how many people with AIDS have lost benefits because of EVR.

“Certainly the judge decided that EVR is a burdensome addition to the requirements for public assistance and could be applied in other cases,” says Maura Keaney, legislative aide to Councilman Tom Duane, who along with Councilman Stephen DiBrienza wrote the law. “It bodes well for the elimination of EVR for all New Yorkers on public assistance.”