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City Limits Exposes Bloomberg Administration's Half-Baked Welfare Data

January 25, 2011

Incomplete data allows the city to ignore the neediest cases.

Incomplete data allows the city to ignore the neediest cases.

A scathing article in Tuesday's City Limits reveals that New York City's Human Resources Administration is not keeping complete records of who is applying for welfare and why applicants are approved or denied.

The soft record keeping has allowed the Bloomberg administration to brag that it's kept welfare rolls down in an economic recession, while not actually examining why the city turns thousands away from benefits.

Worse, the chief of the Human Resources Administration, Commissioner Robert Doar, says he's satisfied with the less-than-complete data his agency gathers. "I think that the data system that we've developed at HRA is as detailed and sophisticated as any in the country," he told City Limits. "And over the years, it has helped us help hundreds of thousands of applicants and recipients of cash assistance find employment."

Among other revelations, the report shows that HRA isn't tracking the specific reasons that thousands of people are denied welfare. It's also not tracking the number who are cut from the program due to computer-related recording-keeping errors. And the article shows some shoddy data-tracking of the administration's Back-to-Work job training program, which Doar has touted as a key tool in getting people off welfare.

The program has a 60 percent drop-out rate. Doar has said that many of those people leave because they find work. But HRA isn't tracking those dropouts to see if that's actually true.

Doar's satisfaction with the data is indicative of the way he's run the administration, focusing on building programs that get individuals off welfare rolls -- a laudable goal -- but not actually verifying that New York's neediest residents are getting the help they require to thrive.

His Human Resources Administration is the umbrella organization for the HIV/AIDS Services Administration, the agency that links 45,000 low-income New Yorkers with AIDS to crucial benefits like food stamps and housing assistance. That agency has been plagued with problems. Clients complain that it does a woeful job at serving them, forcing many to wait hours in HASA offices, unexpectedly cutting off benefits and accidentally not paying rent.

It would be nice to think Bloomberg and Doar aren't tracking certain information because they don't have the time. ("Sometimes when you run programs that are complicated, you can get overwhelmed by the minutiae," he told City Limits). There's a chance, though, that they just don't want to.

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This article was provided by Housing Works. It is a part of the publication Housing Works AIDS Issues Update. Visit Housing Works' website to find out more about their activities, publications and services.
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