After five years of litigation and a bench trial on the provision of public benefits for New Yorkers living with AIDS that concluded last June, Judge Sterling Johnson of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of New York last Tuesday found that the City and State "are chronically and systematically failing to provide plaintiffs with meaningful access to critical subsistence benefits and services, with devastating consequences."

Judge Johnson ruled in the case of Henrietta D. v. Giuliani that the New York City Human Resources Administration, the Division of AIDS Services and Income Support (DASIS) and other State agencies have routinely violated federal and state laws including the Americans with Disabilities Act, and orders a federal magistrate judge to oversee HRA and its AIDS services division for the next three years.

Housing Works, in litigating the matter on behalf of all DASIS clients, argued that the City's AIDS services agency was supposed to function like a wheelchair ramp, helping eligible but disabled and frail clients overcome bureaucratic obstacles to gain easier access to needed benefits and services.

Judge Johnson ruled that DASIS "is chronically and systematically unable to fulfill its function of providing plaintiffs with a 'ramp' to the benefits and services essential to their survival." He wrote that "the evidence presented demonstrated an alarming failure to provide plaintiffs with the intensive case management and assistance that DASIS was intended to provide."

The City defendants' own data demonstrated at trial that the City fails to meet the legal time frame in providing DASIS clients with critical benefits a whopping 33% of the time. What is worse, DASIS fails to do so 45% of the time in some centers.

"In practical terms," Judge Johnson explained, "this means that thousands of indigent New Yorkers living with AIDS stand an almost fifty-fifty chance of having their rights violated by this agency ñ rights to critical subsistence benefits for which they have been determined fully eligible."

The Court ordered the City and State to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act and other federal and state statutes that outlaw discrimination against the disabled and require prompt provision of benefits. And the Court mandated oversight for three years by U.S. Magistrate Judge Cheryl Pollack. That means DASIS clients, caseworkers from AIDS services agencies, attorneys and paralegals will have access to the court to resolve benefits problems when the City drags its heels.

"This ruling means thousands of New Yorkers living with AIDS will get faster access to the benefits and services they need to survive," said Armen Merjian, of Housing Works, which brought the case against the City together with the HIV Law Project, and pro bono counsel Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts.

In a prepared statement, Winthrop, Stimson, Putnam & Roberts said "we are thrilled with the result especially because of what it will mean for our clients, who are indigent people suffering from AIDS and who will now be able timely to receive life-sustaining benefits from the City and State. Winthrop Stimson is proud to represent the plaintiff class in such important litigation."

Housing Worksí Merjian concluded "this is a tremendous victory for persons living with AIDS who depend upon DASIS to obtain and maintain their subsistence benefits, and a case of national significance for its findings with respect to welfare, AIDS, and disability."

Housing Works will work with other AIDS organizations to set up a process for handling DASIS problems through the Henrietta D. court case -- we'll publish the details soon, maybe next week.

Copies of the Henrietta D. decision are available on line at : http://www.nyed.uscourts.gov/pub/rulings/cv/1995/95cv00641mo.pdf


Judge rules against city in battle over benefits for AIDS victims

Associated Press Writer

NEW YORK (AP) _ A federal judge has ruled that the city mistreated poor people with AIDS by subjecting them to bureaucratic
mismanagement and delays in housing, health and other benefits.

In a 97-page decision handed down Monday, U.S. District Judge Sterling Johnson found that officials violated the Americans with Disabilities Act by ``chronically and systematically failing to provide (AIDS patients) with meaningful access to critical subsistence benefits and services.'' He called the consequences ``devastating.''

The judge ordered the city Division of AIDS Services to comply with rules mandating that applications for benefits be processed
within 30 days. He appointed a federal magistrate to monitor the agency over the next three years.

Johnson also found that state officials failed to review the city's administration of benefits and services, as required by federal law.

``This a tremendous victory for people living with AIDS in New York,'' plaintiff attorney Armen Merjian said Tuesday.

City officials had no immediate comment. A spokesman for state Attorney General Eliot Spitzer declined comment, saying Spitzer's office had not received a copy of the decision.

The opinion stems from a class-action lawsuit filed in Brooklyn federal court on behalf of 25,000 plaintiffs citywide who have AIDS or other HIV-related illnesses.

Johnson's ruling detailed testimony _ heard earlier this year at a bench trial _ by plaintiffs who described getting the run-around
from the Division for AIDS Services for months, if not years. One 55-year-old man, Henry Bradley, said he was denied access to thousands of dollars in medical benefits for two years _ an ordeal that caused his fingernails and teeth to fall out.

Statistics cited by Johnson showed that in one out of three cases, the city failed to meet its own 30-day deadline for responding to requests for services.

``Thousands of people have been tremendously mistreated by the very agency charged with assisting them,'' said Merjian, a staff lawyer for Housing Works, Inc., an AIDS service organization. ``This is no small bureaucratic glitch. It's a series of life-threatening violations.''

The Division of AIDS Services was formed in 1985 to help AIDS victims get welfare, home heath care, housing and other benefits. Since then, activists have clashed with Mayor Rudolph Giuliani over his attempts to overhaul the agency by cutting staff and shifting services to churches and community groups. AP-ES-09-19-00


NY Times
September 20, 2000

Judge's Ruling Puts City AIDS Agency Under U.S. Monitor

A federal judge in Brooklyn ruled yesterday that a New York City agency had failed to provide adequate services for thousands of people with AIDS and ordered the agency placed under federal oversight for three years.

The judge, Sterling Johnson Jr. of Federal District Court, ruled that the agency, the Division of AIDS Services and Income Support, had "chronically and systematically" delayed or terminated subsistence benefits, including emergency housing, rent assistance, food stamps, Medicaid and other services, that it administers for about 25,000 New Yorkers who have AIDS or H.I.V.

In his ruling, Judge Johnson wrote that the failures of the agency, an arm of the city's Human Resources Administration, had "devastating consequences." He wrote that in many cases, the agency had terminated benefits like food stamps without notifying recipients.

His ruling came three months after the conclusion of a bench trial in a class-action lawsuit brought in 1995 by Housing Works Inc., an AIDS awareness group that has long sparred with the Giuliani administration over city AIDS policies.

"I've watched every day as our clients have suffered under this callous, awful administration," said Armen Merjian, a staff lawyer for Housing Works. "This is the medication they depend upon to live, the food upon which they depend to feed themselves and their families, the housing they need to find shelter and fight off this mortal illness."

The case of Delilah Howard is typical, Mr. Merjian said. Ms. Howard, 47, a Housing Works client who is unable to work because of her illness, said in an interview yesterday that she found an apartment she could afford on her city housing subsidy, but lost the chance to rent it because the city agency took more than a month to approve her application for the benefit. On another occasion, Ms. Howard said, she found out from a grocery-store cashier that her food stamp coverage had been terminated. Her caseworker was not in the office, she said, "so I spoke to someone else, who told me there was nothing that they could do, that Albany cut my food stamps."

Under Judge Johnson's ruling, which takes effect immediately, people with complaints like hers will be able to take them to the federal magistrate judge appointed to monitor the agency, Cheryl L. Pollak, who has been overseeing the exchange of documents and other evidence in the suit.

Judge Pollak will not monitor the agency's day-to-day activities or policies. After reviewing complaints, she may recommend penalties.

Mr. Merjian said Housing Works and other advocates for people with AIDS would put together a system for reporting complaints.

Michael Hess, the city's corporation counsel, said last night that the city would appeal the decision. He said it ignored important precedents and was "confusing," because the judge did not explain what the city would have to do to comply with it. Mr. Hess said the opinion "is very flawed, with all kinds of mistakes," and was based on statistics from the mid-1990's that have little to do with how the agency operates now.

"New York City provides more money and more services for AIDS- related people than any other city in the nation," Mr. Hess said.

But Mr. Merjian called the ruling a "gigantic victory" and said it could help people with other disabilities, since the case was brought under the federal Americans With Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act, another federal law guaranteeing rights for disabled people.

"Any time you win under A.D.A., you create important precedent," Mr. Merjian said.

The suit, Henrietta D. v. Giuliani, was one of several that Housing Works has brought against the Giuliani administration. Last October, the group won a unanimous ruling from the State Court of Appeals that the city was improperly requiring eligibility reviews of welfare clients who had already been accepted by the AIDS agency.

In November, in another case brought by Housing Works, Justice Emily Jane Goodman of State Supreme Court in Manhattan found the Division of AIDS Services in violation of a city law requiring medically appropriate housing for AIDS patients and ordered it to make emergency placements within 24 hours.

The class-action lawsuit decided yesterday was filed in response to the Giuliani administrations cutbacks in the Division of AIDS Services and Income Support, which was established in 1985 at the start of the AIDS crisis, during the administration of Mayor Edward I. Koch. Mr. Merjian said that while caseworkers had had an average of 34 clients before the cutbacks, the caseloads soon reached 60 per caseworker at some of the division's 10 centers.

Judge Johnson's decision cited findings that in a third of its cases, the city took more than 30 days to provide emergency benefits that were required within 72 hours. Among applicants for housing at one location, the agency failed to meet its own deadlines on more than three- quarters of the cases. It failed to pay rent on new apartments in 32 percent of cases.

Mr. Merjian said that when the class action was filed, about 16,000 people were eligible for assistance; now, he estimated, 25,000 clients and 10,000 dependents relied on the city services.

"When you're living with AIDS, chances are you're going to be a class
member," he said. "They have no choice but to be on the dole."

Richard Torres, a plaintiff who testified at the trial, said yesterday that the decision would have "a great effect."

Mr. Torres, 46, testified that after he was forced from his apartment by water damage in 1995, his caseworker did not help him find a new apartment or secure emergency housing. He was homeless until finding a Veterans Administration shelter.

Another Housing Works client, Jan Thurman, 49, said yesterday that he had still not been notified of the termination of his food stamps last October and had been shunted from one hotel to another, choosing to go homeless instead for one stretch, without any assistance from a caseworker.

The agency is meant to help people, Mr. Thurman said, but "they act as if it's their money, their stamps."

"The main thing," he said, "is just getting people to do their jobs."


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