Budget cuts aren't the only way the Bloomberg administration is seeking to unravel New York City's AIDS services safety net. Turns out the mayor's office has stalled the meeting of a legally mandated advisory board that provides policy recommendations to the HIV/AIDS Services Administration, which links 45,000 New Yorkers to critically needed public services.
The advisory board should serve as a much-needed check on HASA, guarding against harmful policies like one enacted this month. The new policy, which alters landlord reimbursement, will make it significantly harder for thousands of people living with HIV (and their families) to find affordable housing.
The advisory group never got the chance to review the policy, though, because HASA officials have repeatedly failed to provide members with up-to-date information about policy changes and budget cuts. The board hasn't met since November.
"We weren't aware of [the policy], because if we were, we would have tried to stop it," said Shirlene Cooper, a six-year advisory board member and peer advocate at Housing Works.
The board has also been crippled by the Bloomberg administration's failure to fill three positions that have sat vacant since June. According to a 1997 city law, the board must consist of 11 individuals, and at least six are required to be eligible to receive HASA's services. When the group was created, its purpose was to provide HASA clients (and those who know them best) with a voice.
JoAnne Page, the board's chair, said she'd been waiting for the new appointments -- and the reappointment of the existing members -- to gather the board. "But since that hasn't happened, we're starting with or without the new board members," she said. The group will meet in April, she said, though she has not set a date.
Meanwhile, the Bloomberg administration is mum on when it will actually fulfill its legal duty to appoint board members.
"HASA is holding on-going interviews for these three vacant positions and will make recommendations to the Mayor who appoints members to this board," said Carmen Boon, press secretary at the Human Resources Administration, in an e-mail.
"We try to sit down and tell HASA what's wrong with it," said Cooper. "But if they're not informing us about changes, and they're not appointing new members, what are we supposed to do?"
This year -- like last -- the mayor has proposed slashing a third of HASA's caseworker staff, a move that would severely weaken the agency. The mayor backed down last year only after Housing Works filed a lawsuit. This year, it will be up to the City Council to decide if it can swing in and use its own parcel of money to save the caseworkers.