Mayor Backs Down From Illegal Staff Cuts; HASA Saved

Bloomberg won't cut 248 case managers from the HIV/AIDS Services Administration.
Bloomberg won't cut 248 case managers from the HIV/AIDS Services Administration.

In a quick legal victory for clients of the city's HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA), counsel representing Mayor Bloomberg announced today that the mayor has decided to withdraw his proposed massive cuts to that agency.

"This is wonderful news," said Armen Merjian, Housing Works' senior staff attorney. "Forty-five thousand indigent New Yorkers and their families living with AIDS can breathe an enormous sigh of relief."

On Tuesday, Housing Works and co-counsel Matthew Brinckerhoff (Emery, Celli, Brinckerhoff & Abady), the HIV Law Project, and attorney Virginia Shubert filed for a temporary restraining order against both New York City and New York State, attempting to halt the implementation of devastating staff cuts at HASA. According to the legal papers, Bloomberg's proposed cuts violated both city law and a federal court order, and were therefore illegal.

In the face of this legal challenge, federal Magistrate Judge Cheryl Pollak gave the city 48 hours to decide whether to proceed with the proposed cuts.

Today, the city backed down.

HASA serves 45,000 individuals -- all of whom are indigent and living with AIDS or are dependents of those living with AIDS -- by providing them with access to life-sustaining benefits such as cash assistance, Medicaid, and Food Stamps. In his 2010-2011 fiscal year budget, Bloomberg had proposed cutting 248 of the case managers charged with linking HASA clients to their services -- about one-third of the case management staff.

City advocates for people with HIV/AIDS have vociferously opposed the move, protesting at rallies and from within City Hall.

The cuts would have violated a federal court order that requires HASA to maintain an overall case manager-to-client ratio of one to 34. That order, issued in 2001, came after a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the agency was "chronically and systematically" failing to provide its clients with adequate services, "with devastating consequences."

"If the cuts had gone through, this would have eviscerated and dismantled HASA," said Cynthia Knox of the HIV Law Project. Knox, who testified in the Henrietta D. trial in 2000, remembers what HASA was like at its worst. She feared that if the proposed staff cuts went through, those conditions would return. "It was abysmal, people couldn't see caseworkers, they couldn't get access to records, they would wait for hours -- sick -- in filthy rooms. ... It was a completely callous system."

The parties are now working on creating a written order confirming their agreement in writing, something that Merjian said he hopes to have completed in a matter of days.