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Fresh from their plan to make shelter residents work for their beds, the city has found another downtrodden subgroup to push into work programs: people with HIV.

Last week, Human Resources Administration reps introduced their new plan to put victims of domestic violence, refugees and other sub-populations of welfare recipients, including the HIV positive, into street-sweeping and paper-filing workfare jobs by year's end. It's the city's push to seek out welfare recipients who, up until now, have been exempt from the Work Experience Program–a drive toward what HRA First Deputy Commissioner Mark Hoover dryly referred to as “full engagement.”

“[HRA] made up a special program to move to full engagement,” Hoover said. “We have a goal of engagement for those people who are not otherwise exempt.” HRA already started similar programs for people with physical disabilities and substance abuse problems this past spring and summer. Focusing on workfare, the programs also include some job training and basic education.

As Hoover explained to the City Council, the agency will be setting up a special HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) for welfare recipients with HIV who don't yet have AIDS-related symptoms, in order to move more of them into workfare. People with active AIDS will still be exempt from work requirements.

But advocates pointed out that since the program would specifically target HIV-positive welfare recipients, it would cause a major breach in confidentiality. Plus, some HIV positive people are actually quite sick, in part because the medications that keep them alive often has serious side effects. And even those who are not currently very sick may develop illnesses that prevent them from going to work later on-an infraction that could get their benefits docked.

“How will [HRA] deal with the fact that HIV is an episodic illness?” asks Hayley Gorenberg, coordinating attorney for HIV advocacy at Legal Services. “How are they going to make sure that people aren't sanctioned because they have a flare-up?”

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