Early this year, a 27-year-old Queens woman with cerebral palsy approached the Administration of Children’s Services (ACS), the city’s foster care agency, requesting help for herself and her infant daughter.
The woman feared that the infant, who has trouble gaining weight, might be taken away and placed in foster care if she could not find adequate housing. The two currently live in a women’s shelter.
ACS has a program that is perfectly tailored to address this emergency, the Foster Care Housing Subsidy Program. But an absurdly slow application process has made the emergency relief virtually useless to people who need it most.
Despite a recent effort to accelerate the process, the subsidy–dispensed to about 1,600 families a year–continues to be an embarrassment for child welfare officials.
In fact, the woman’s ACS caseworker didn’t even mention the fact that she was probably entitled to the $300-a-month supplement. “I asked the caseworker why he didn’t get her the rent subsidy,” says Jessica Marcus, a Legal Aid Society paralegal who represents the woman. “And he said that it takes too long and that the landlord won’t take it anyway because he won’t get it on time.”
Marcus, who requested that the woman remain anonymous, later submitted an application on her behalf. At press time, they hadn’t received an answer.
Joshua Goldfein, a lawyer at Harlem Legal Services, says it can take up to nine months for ACS to process applications that are supposed to be processed within 30 days. A 1996 report by Comptroller Alan Hevesi found that only 15 percent the Department of Housing of 130 applicants surveyed got benefits that quickly. Forty percent had to wait six months or longer.
As a result, advocates say, applicant’s kids wind up in foster care–a far more expensive option than the subsidy itself. Nearly 1,000 children entered foster care from 1991 to 1994 because their parents did not have adequate housing, according to the comptroller.
Calls to several ACS officials, including Lynn Goldfein, who oversees the subsidy program, were not returned.
Agency chief Nicholas Scoppetta has apparently recognized the need to expedite the process. In December, experts from the Community Service Society began working with ACS to fast-track applications in Queens. The agency now cuts some checks within a few days, according to Jacqueline Pitts of CSS.
“We intend to go citywide when this is going more smoothly,” she says.