The City Council's general welfare committee voted unanimously last Tuesday to subpoena two Giuliani administration officials if they continue to boycott hearings on a bill that would radically expand the rights of HIV-positive people on public assistance.
Mayoral aide Ron Johnson and Sandra Glaves-Morgan of the Human Resources Administration were summoned to testify Tuesday and will likely be called again in mid-January. If they fail to appear, the council will hold them in contempt and take the case to a state judge, who could decide to fine or otherwise sanction them.
The measure, sponsored by HIV-positive Chelsea Democrat Tom Duane, would codify the continued existence of the Division of AIDS Services and create a bill of rights for AIDS patients. For the first time, the city would have to list available services, tell PWA's how long it will take for benefits to take effect, and inform DAS clients of their right to review their case file.
Duane introduced the bill to respond to what he called the attempted “dismantling” of DAS, the one agency where AIDS patients come to access all their benefits through specially- trained caseworkers.
The Giuliani administration considered eliminating the agency in 1994 and many advocates believe he is still planning to fold it back into income-support services. Giuliani opposes the measure.
Under a 1995 restructuring of the agency, individual caseworkers have no responsibility for any given client. In testimony before DiBrienza's committee several clients said the new system has left them at the mercy of social service bureaucrats. “Yesterday, without warning, my food stamps were eliminated,” said Michelle Lopez, a DAS client. “My caseworker told me that it was a systemic problem….What am I supposed to tell my kids?”
Duane's bill has 27 co-sponsors and the apparent support of Council Speaker Peter Vallone. Still, it is unclear if the measure will net the 34 votes needed to override an inevitable Giuliani veto.
HRA spokesperson Renelda Higgins said she had no idea if Johnson or Glaves-Morgan would show up at the next DiBrienza committee meeting. “We didn't come because we had no copy of [the most recent copy of the bill],” she said.