Welfare Checkmate

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New York City’s 209,000 welfare families should see a substantial boost in their checks, thanks to a May court decision in a lawsuit that had been bouncing between state courts for 12 years. The decision in Jiggetts v. Dowling upheld earlier rulings 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 under court order to recalculate shelter allowances, which have been frozen since 1988.

Unfortunately, checks can take so long to process that families may end up evicted anyway. “The interface between the Department of Social Services and housing has never been worse,” says Ken Rosenfeld, director of legal services at the Northern Manhattan Improvement Corporation. “It takes us a minimum of six weeks to get the check. And without an advocate making three or four faxes during that time, it doesn’t come at all.” NMIC used to see a few families evicted each month because of slow checks. Now they see about three a week.

The families that NMIC counsels get their benefits through the Dyckman Center, one of the city’s largest–and some say slowest–local welfare centers, recently converted into a “Job Center.” Rosenfeld suspects that the delays have gotten worse because Dyckman employees are busy focusing on getting welfare recipients into jobs.

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