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CityLimits: ‘Why Are You Making It So Difficult?’ NYC Cash Aid Applicants Face Denial Surge

Despite an increase in cash assistance applications in recent years, New Yorkers have seen a rise in denials from the Department of Social Services (DSS). In a recent interview with CityLimits, Deborah Berkman, a supervising attorney for NYLAG’s Public Benefits Unit, shed light on some of the reasons why. 

“Mayor Eric Adams’ administration isn’t only failing to process most requests for cash assistance on time—denials are surging as well… 

“Each quarter, people are disqualified [for cash assistance] because they have too much income or lack a qualifying immigration status. But the denial reason issued most frequently by far is for failing to complete an interview—a step that became more involved when the city launched an online application portal and separate interview-by-phone process in 2020…“[DSS] launched an on-demand interview phone line in mid-April, touting an improved customer experience—cash assistance applicants can now call in rather than waiting for, and potentially missing, an interview. Those who don’t want to wait on hold can also request a call-back… 

“But challenges have persisted. In June, responding to a federal lawsuit over processing delays and denials, Berry described plans for a computer program to more expediently reject a ‘cohort’ of cases in which applicants fail to complete their interviews within 30 days, despite receiving reminder notices—a ‘significant contributor’ to the case backlog. 

“The program is now up and running, according to DSS. Deborah Berkman, a supervising attorney at New York Legal Assistance Group, questioned its helpfulness, saying that the city is more efficiently issuing denials resulting from ‘procedural hurdles that are almost impossible to comply with.’…

“Even if an applicant makes a legitimate mistake, added Berkman of New York Legal Assistance Group, the error itself, or the path to resolve it, is seldom clear: ‘The process is confusing even for public interest attorneys.’”  

Read the full piece by Emma Whitford and Patrick Spauster in CityLimits from January 29, 2024.

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