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A push to expand rent relief to New Yorkers with disabilities has been at least temporarily waylaid, thanks to Mayor Rudy Giuliani.

In early June, the state Assembly passed a bill to expand the state’s Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) program to also cover low-income people with disabilities living in rent controlled, rent stabilized or Mitchell-Lama apartments. Currently a $63.5 million a year program covering 45,000 seniors, the expansion of SCRIE would add an estimated 36,000 New Yorkers. Those who qualify would be exempt from rent hikes, as the city sends subsidies to landlords to cover the difference.

A few weeks ago, however, just as the Senate’s rules committee was expected to pass the legislation and send it to the full house for a vote where, advocates say, they had enough votes for a pass, in jumped Giuliani. In a memo to Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, the mayor outlined concerns of cost and the possibilities of fraud. The bill’s progress halted.

“Everyone was taken aback by the mayor,” said Shelly Nortz, a policy director for the Coalition for the Homeless. Assembly members were even certain they had the governor on board.

According to Independent Budget Office estimates, the expanded program would cost the city $4.3 million a year by its fifth year in operation. The city’s math is slightly different, however. At a recent meeting with advocates, Department of Finance Commissioner Andrew Eristoff argued administrative costs would require $3.5 million on top of that, a burden Eristoff said the city does not want to bear.

For the legislation’s supporters, this logic does not compute. Staff at the city’s Department for the Aging already process SCRIE applications, they argue, so a larger caseload would only require a slight increase in staffing.

Advocates also argue that the new costs to the city would still be small change compared to the alternative: A year at a homeless shelter, points out Patrick Markee of the Coalition for the Homeless, runs upwards of $23,000 a year. And anyway, he added, the city is already saving close to $2 billion on SCRIE: A recent report by the IBO claimed that only one-third of eligible seniors actually participate in SCRIE, a result of inadequate advertising and an unwieldy application process.

For now, the bill’s sponsors, Assemblymember Scott Stringer and Senator Roy Goodman, are trying to work out a next step. “We can’t do [this program] without the city, and none of Giuliani’s arguments really hold water,” said Susanna Vickers, a spokesperson for Stringer. And the advocates are not ready to give up, either. “I think [Giuliani] saw the bill as a slippery slope, but we are trying to compromise,” said Linda Gutmann, of the Eastern Paralyzed Veterans Association.

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