On Friday, Feb. 23, 2012, Vocal New York, a community organization that advocates for the homeless, mentally ill, drug addicts and AIDS victims, held an emergency meeting. Many of the participants were concerned about the cutbacks to HASA, a welfare program administered by New York City’s Human Resources Administration. HASA essentially paid for the housing of AIDS victims, gave them food stamps and medicaid, and gave them monthly cash assistance. Some HASA clients lived in private residences, others lived in welfare motels where the city paid upwards of $1500 a month for their rent. Many of these people were apparently drug addicts, and this came to the attention of the Bloomberg administration. HASA will now require a verbal intake that screens its clients for use of drugs . Recipients who test positive for drugs will lose their eligibility to receive assistance from the city. While they have the option of going to rehab, after completing the program they cannot test positive for drugs or else they will lose all their benefits.
Participants at Vocal discussed their anger and outrage and event protested at the home of HRA commissioner Robert Doar. They protested outside the HRA’s commissioner’s home, and they protested outside HRA headquarters. But some leaders at vocal essentially told the crowd to be resigned to these cuts being permanent, and to prepare for them and deal with them.
NYC is making other cuts to AIDS programs, as the fees they pay brokers have been reduced in half. Many brokers no longer work with HASA. Other welfare programs which have nothing to do with AIDS are also being cut. New York’s City Advantage Program, a welfare program that paid the rent of clients who previously lived in shelters for two years, was terminated in March 2011. Advocates for the poor sued the city in order to force it to continue payments, but court system sided with Mayor Bloomberg and allowed him to terminate the program. On Nov. 1st food stamp benefits were cut for all clients at a rate of about 5%. Sequestration has cut funds to all federal programs and agencies by 11%. The House and the Senate are negotiation further reductions. The Democratic controlled Senate has agreed in the most recent farm bill to reduce food stamps by 3.9 billion, while the Republican controlled house has decided to cut food stamp spending by 39 billion. Both houses are now negotiating on what the actual size of the cuts will be. And similarly, additional cuts for other welfare programs will be negotiated between now and January.