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New York City’s 209,000 welfare families should soon see a substantial boost in their housing allowance checks, thanks to an Appeals Court decision last week. It may also be the end of one of the oddest creatures in the state’s social services bestiary: the Jiggetts rent supplement system.

The decision upheld what other courts have found: that $286 a month, the current housing allowance for a family of three on welfare, is nowhere near enough money for a New York City apartment. The state welfare agency is now supposed to conduct research and propose new shelter allowances.

“The courts are saying ‘This is ridiculous,'” explained Susan Bahn, the Legal Aid attorney on the case. “Now, it’s time for the Department of Social Services commissioner to do the right thing. He’s got his marching orders, and he’s been told both on the law and on the facts he’s wrong.” Bahn said she thought it was unlikely that the state would appeal.

Jiggetts v. Dowling, first filed by attorneys from the Legal Aid Society in 1987, charged that the official welfare housing grant fell far short of actual rents in the city. A long and winding legal process ultimately found that the state was obliged to provide a reasonable shelter allowance, and that current rates were woefully insufficient. It also spawned one of welfare’s most complex and confounding systems.

Under Jiggetts, a welfare recipient only becomes eligible for an increased shelter allowance when he or she is in Housing Court and on the verge of eviction. At latest count, about 25,000 families were getting the Jiggetts subsidy.

They need it: There haven’t been any hikes in the allowance since 1988, and this year, Governor George Pataki has proposed to keep the allowance rates frozen and prevent new families from getting the Jiggetts supplement. “We’re hoping the legislature will do the right thing, and not vote for that proposal,” said Bahn. “Or the governor could do the right thing, and realize that there’s more than enough money in the budget, with the welfare rolls down, and fund a decent shelter allowance right now.”

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