New Yorkers facing economic crisis face a “Herculean” task in connecting with and maintaining welfare assistance, according to a new report by the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies (FPWA). The report finds the poorest New Yorkers are blocked from obtaining the financial assistance they desperately need by a never ending obstacle course of program requirements that are nearly impossible to fulfill and result in the loss of benefits through rampant and arbitrary case sanctions.
The findings are spelled out in detail in FPWA’s report Guilty until Proven Innocent: Sanctions, Agency Error and Financial Punishment within New York State’s Welfare System.
FPWA aruges that the problem of sanctions is pervasive and the process error ridden. In March 2012, 3 in 10 of those participating in work requirements were sanctioned or in the sanction process. And, the report continues, the City has a dismal record of defending its actions. In State administered fair hearings, the agency was found lacking in over 75% of the hearings.
Sanctions drive households deeper into poverty. The current full welfare grant level leaves households living in “deep poverty,” as defined by the United State Census Bureau. A case sanction means that for a parent with two children the family’s monthly cash income is cut from $753 to $502. This grant is supposed to cover all basic needs including housing, utilities, transportation, laundry, personal hygiene products, clothing, school supplies for children, incidentals, and food needs not met by food stamps.
“The agency has set up a grueling, never ending obstacle course of requirements for getting and retaining welfare assistance. This directly jeopardizes the health and safety of the poorest, most vulnerable New Yorkers,” said Fatima Goldman, Executive Director/CEO of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies. “The agency’s general mode of operation is unforgiving and they often fail in their duty to assess if there is a good reason the requirement couldn’t be met before the punishment is imposed.” “Sanctions come at a great cost to struggling households, and city and state budgets alike, since sanctions lead to need for emergency shelters when housing is lost, domestic violence survivors are stuck in shelter or are forced to return to their abusers due to lack of resources, and parents come under the scrutiny of the child welfare agency because they lack essential income to meet their children’s need,” according to Liz Accles, Senior Policy Analyst at the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies.