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Starting this month, families on welfare in New York City who receive an eviction notice will have a choice: apply for “Jiggetts,” a monthly benefit that helps pay their rent, or opt for the Family Eviction Prevention Supplement (FEPS), a new subsidy launched on May 2.

If the new program succeeds, it could ultimately replace Jiggetts, a fact that worries some advocates. While FEPS offers $200 more per month, they say, it also has several new restrictions, including a five-year time limit.

Jiggetts stems from an 18-year-old lawsuit, Jiggetts v. Dowling, in which the Legal Aid Society argued that the state’s shelter allowance for welfare recipients doesn’t adequately cover the cost of New York City housing. Until it does, state supreme court Judge Karla Moskowitz ruled in 1997, families facing eviction are eligible for a monthly supplement, now known as “Jiggetts” for the original plaintiff in the case. About 13,000 households now receive it.

The state raised its shelter allowance rates in 2003, but when the Legal Aid Society filed a motion saying it still wasn’t enough, the state Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance came up with FEPS. OTDA Commissioner Robert Doar told the New York State Assembly last December that he envisions FEPS replacing Jiggetts. For that to happen, however, the state must reach an agreement with the Legal Aid Society.

“More families will be able to save their housing because of FEPS, so that’s a good thing,” said Susan Bahn, staff attorney with the Legal Aid Society and lead counsel for the plaintiffs in the Jiggetts cases. Under FEPS, a family of four gets $900 per month, $200 more than it would under Jiggetts. Families of five get $1,000 and larger families get more.

There are other differences. If a family on Jiggetts needs extra help, for instance, third parties such as relatives, roommates and charities can contribute. Under the new program, third parties are not allowed to help pay the rent. OTDA did not return calls seeking clarification on this provision.

When a client’s rent rises beyond the Jiggetts limit, Bahn’s team can go to court and ask Moskowitz for an increase for that tenant. If FEPS replaces Jiggetts, that recourse won’t be available. The state hasn’t indicated whether the new supplements will change over time. Currently, the federally established fair market rent for a one-bedroom in New York City is $966, which is more than either Jiggetts or FEPS will pay for a family of four.

The FEPS program also doesn’t pay back rent if a welfare case is closed and reopened later, while Jiggetts does. That, Bahn said, amounts to a “full-family sanction” that leaves children vulnerable to homelessness.

New York State Assembly member Deborah Glick, chair of the Committee on Social Services, also expressed concern about FEPS. “I’m not an attorney, but my guess is that [with] increasing housing costs and the restrictions associated with the supplement, a court would not find the supplement program sufficient to meet the standard that Jiggetts sets,” she said.

Families now receiving Jiggetts will be able to keep it for at least two years or more, depending on what happens in court. Mariame Touré, 29, is one of many Jiggetts recipients who could eventually be asked to make the switch. Even though Jiggetts is $15 short of covering her $665 rent, Touré said she has mixed feelings about FEPS. “You say the new program ends in five years?” she said. “I’m going to think about what I’m going to do.”

Bahn said the FEPS amounts are a big step forward and she hopes that the remaining issues can be fixed. “If we’re not able to negotiate some of the major problems, then we would have to litigate,” Bahn said. “And the state would appeal it and it would go on for another 18 years.”

Alyssa Danigelis

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