WELFARE RECIPIENTS WIN $8.4 MILLION FROM CITY AIDS AGENCY

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The city’s 3,500 welfare recipients with AIDS symptoms soon could be seeing another $200 a month in benefits, thanks to a settlement Thursday that included the city Human Resources Administration, South Brooklyn Legal Services and the nonprofit City AIDS Actions.

In July 1997, the city expanded eligibility rules for HRA’s Division of AIDS Services and Income Support (DASIS) to include welfare recipients who have HIV-related illnesses. But the city never told these recipients, who had already been receiving enhanced housing allowances from HRA, that they also qualified for DASIS benefits. The additional benefits package includes home care, more money for nutrition and travel, and “medically appropriate” housing. As mandated by the settlement, HRA will send a mass mailing by Friday to community-based organizations that provide services to people with HIV and welfare recipients who qualify for DASIS, explaining these rights and benefits. New welfare applicants and city job centers will also receive the information.

All this notification will almost certainly increase DASIS’ growing caseload, which already tops 20,000. And if they request it, many of these new DASIS clients will be switched over from HRA automatically, instead of enduring a lengthy medical verification process.

The new payments will cost the city an additional $8.4 million a year. That price tag doesn’t include the cost of hiring new caseworkers: DASIS, unlike its parent agency HRA, cannot assign more than 34 patients for each caseworker, so new workers will be needed to deal with the new clients. “It’s going to cost the city more money and that might be part of the reluctance in getting out the word out,” explained Cynthia Schneider, HIV project director at South Brooklyn Legal Services. “They’ll have to add more staffing.”

Before the law changed, the only way to qualify for DASIS’ additional benefits was to prove evidence of full-blown AIDS or to have HIV-related illnesses severe enough to require home care. Welfare recipients who had less debilitating HIV-related conditions received extra rent money from HRA but could not get DASIS services.

City lawyers say the Giuliani administration always planned to notify welfare recipients of their new rights. “HRA intended to do it, but other things cropped up,” said Thomas Crane, head of litigation at the city’s Corporation Counsel. “We agree to do what HRA was planning to do all along.”

“The city says it hadn’t gotten around to it. And in the meantime people were losing out on cash benefits as well as services,” Schneider countered.