Housing Works announced today that it has filed a motion in federal court for a temporary restraining order against New York City and New York State in an effort to halt the implementation of devastating proposed cuts to the city's HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA). According to Housing Works, the proposed cuts are illegal because they violate both city law and a federal court order.
Filed jointly with co-counsel Matthew Brinckerhoff (Emery, Celli, Brinckerhoff & Abady), the HIV Law Project, and attorney Virginia Shubert, the motion names both Mayor Bloomberg and the City and State agencies in question.
New York City's HASA case managers provide access to life-sustaining benefits, such as cash assistance, Medicaid, and food stamps, to 45,000 poor New Yorkers and New York families living with AIDS. As part of his fiscal year 2010-11 New York City budget, Bloomberg has proposed cutting 248 caseworkers from HASA, nearly one-third of the agency's staff. The cuts would violate a federal court order, which requires HASA to maintain an overall case manager-to-client ratio of 1 to 34, and 1 to 25 in complex family cases.
Issued in 2000, that court order came in the lawsuit Henrietta D. v Bloomberg (previously Giuliani), a case in which U.S. District Court Judge Sterling Johnson ruled that HASA was "chronically and systematically failing to provide [indigent New Yorkers living with AIDS] with meaningful access to critical subsistence benefits and services, with devastating consequences." To remedy this systemic problem, Judge Johnson ordered the City to comply with the fixed case management ratios already mandated by New York City's Local Law 49, passed in 1997. The judge found the case ratios to be a reasonable accommodation of the plaintiffs' disabilities, a "ramp" to their subsistence benefits.
Henrietta D. v Bloomberg went all the way to the United States Supreme Court, which in 2004, refused to hear the City's appeal. Despite these clear and decisive judicial actions, it wasn't until 2004 -- with strict judicial monitoring and the threat of contempt -- that HASA hired sufficient staff to approach the proper ratios and make HASA a functional agency.
"In the face of widespread suffering, both the legislative and judicial branches ordered the mandatory case worker-to-client ratios to ensure access to critical subsistence benefits on behalf of 45,000 of the neediest New Yorkers," said Housing Works Senior Staff Attorney Armen H. Merjian. "In our system of democracy, the executive branch cannot simply ignore duly enacted laws and court orders. The courts have also made it clear that budgetary constraints cannot justify violating clients' most basic rights under the law."
Housing Works client Leroy Rose, a Brooklyn resident living with AIDS, welcomed the motion for a temporary restraining order. "Those benefits save lives," said Rose, who began receiving HASA benefits in 2005. "If the mayor's cuts go through, it will be like shutting down HASA altogether."