December 18, 2015
Albany, NY

Governor Cuomo Signs Legislation to Revamp New York City's Troubled Public Assistance "Sanctions Process"

Governor Cuomo Signs Legislation to Revamp New York City's Troubled Public Assistance "Sanctions Process"

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today signed into law a bill that will revamp the “Sanctions Process” for public assistance recipients in New York City. This bill (S.3596/A.4250) creates a new “conciliation process” whereby a person on public assistance will have an opportunity to re-engage with their work requirements before being subject to debilitating sanctions.

“This is a sensible, much-needed measure that will help ensure people on public assistance are not unjustly penalized and forced to go hungry or live on the street,” said Governor Cuomo. “This is another way that New York State is leading by example, striking the right balance between offering a robust work program and eliminating unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles. I thank the sponsors and advocates for their work on this important issue, and am proud to sign it into law today.”

Under current law, New Yorkers who are on public assistance and miss as little as a single day of work can face an automatic suspension of benefits for six months due to the existing “sanctions process.” The status quo also includes “auto-posting” whereby a recipient is sent an automatic computer generated sanction, without any human review as to whether the sanction being imposed is warranted. Furthermore, many individuals who are subjected to sanctions do not have the resources necessary to pursue a successful appeal.

In addition to stopping an individual’s public assistance checks, sanctions also mean that the recipient is no longer permitted to participate in work, education and training programs and sanctions also result in the loss of child-care and transportation assistance. Without resources and occupation during the day, for many low income New Yorkers sanctions mean going hungry and turning to life on the street.

The overwhelming majority of public assistance sanctions do not stand up to scrutiny. According to the Office of Temporary Disability Assistance in 2015, out of 21,474 cases brought to fair hearing after an employment sanction, only 242 of the underlying sanctions were deemed correct. In more than 90 percent of current sanction cases, the head of the household is a female.

This bill will amend this system in New York City so that a person who misses work may re-engage with work programs more quickly and efficiently. This bill also requires that a human being analyze individual cases prior to sanctions being imposed.

Senator Diane J. Savino said: "I would like to applaud Governor Cuomo for recognizing the importance of signing this legislation and commend him for taking the steps towards improving the lives of struggling New Yorkers. This new law means individuals who receive public assistance will be able to take proactive measures concerning their work requirements without the fear of being penalized and allows them to receive the support and engagement they need to continue collecting their benefits.”

Assemblyman Keith L.T. Wright said: “Today is a great day for New York as we help to bring justice and expediency to public services. It's simple: sanctions are ineffective to clients, costly to taxpayers and create a large burden on local social service agencies. The implementation of this legislation means that a single mother who takes a day off from work to care for her sick child can do so without fear of missing rent. It means that recipients have rights, responsibility and a greater chance of moving away from poverty and achieving permanent self-sufficiency. It means a better quality of life for so many New Yorkers. I thank and commend Legal Aid of New York City for their steadfast advocacy on this issue. I also thank Governor Cuomo for extending a hand to this diverse population of New York State residents who will now see a clearer path to financial stability.”

Adriene Holder, Attorney-in-Charge of the Civil Practice of The Legal Aid Society, said: “The Legal Aid Society serves thousands of clients affected by welfare sanctions, including those facing eviction in Housing Court and those already in the homeless shelter system when we meet them. Too often the sanctions were arbitrary, excessively punitive and a driver of homelessness. We are grateful to Governor Cuomo for signing S.3596/A.4250 into law. His leadership will help our clients avoid homelessness in the first place and help families in shelter to get into permanent housing more quickly.”

Jennifer Jones Austin, CEO/Executive Director of the Federation of Protestant Welfare Agencies, said: “FPWA applauds Governor Cuomo’s signing of S.3596/A.4250. This bipartisan law will give New York City another critically important tool to combat poverty and homelessness, by preventing erroneous welfare sanctions and giving struggling New Yorkers an opportunity to reengage in work activities. The changes made by the bill are both common sense and cost effective.”

Helen Schaub, New York State Director of Policy and Legislation for 1199SEIU United Healthcare Workers East, said: “We commend Governor Cuomo for signing S.3596/A.4250 into law. Like the Governor’s leadership on raising the minimum wage, his leadership on this law will help struggling low wage workers. When workers comply with public assistance rules, they will be able to maintain access to work and training programs that can lead to better jobs and economic independence.”

Julie Kushner, Director of United Auto Workers Region 9A, said: “The UAW applauds the Governor for signing A.4250/S.3696. This legislation will enable low-income New Yorkers access to jobs, work programs and work supports, such as child care, without interruption. Simply put, this legislation is pro-work.”

Liz Schott, Senior Fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities said: “I applaud this common sense and pro-work change made by S.3596/A.4250that will help those receiving public assistance to engage in work activities, without delay. Allowing immediate re-engagement furthers the work focus of welfare and uses sanctions smartly, to increase compliance and participation in work activities. This change is an improvement over the approach that mandates a period of disqualification, locking the recipient out of work activities. Reduction or loss of benefits during the mandatory sanction disqualification period can create a crisis for the family leading to destabilization and, in a number of instances, increased homelessness. If the goal of work requirements for welfare programs is to connect recipients to work activities, then allowing them to re-engage immediately, as this legislation would do, is the far better approach.”

David R. Jones, President and CEO of the Community Service Society, said: “By signing this common sense legislation, Governor Cuomo will make it possible for the City to promptly restore essential public benefits to recipients who comply with the rules. The end result will be to help families avoid homelessness and keep the child care that enables them to hold onto their jobs.”

Mary Brosnahan, President & CEO of the Coalition for the Homeless, said: “Huge kudos to Governor Cuomo for signing this important legislation into law. This change in law will help fight homelessness on two fronts: It enables those on welfare to comply with work activities right away, so they can avoid the loss of benefits and risk of homelessness. It will also protect homeless New Yorkers living in shelters from prolonged and overly-punitive sanctions – ensuring they’ll have access to the housing subsidies critical to moving into a home of their own.”

Rev. Frederick A. Davie, Executive Vice President of Union Theological Seminary, said: “As a faith leader, I look to Governor Cuomo to advance the goals of economic justice. By signing this legislation, he has done just that. This bill will change the lives of many individuals and families in New York City by ensuring they are not unfairly sanctioned and can continue to receive their benefits and participate in work activities in order to work towards economic independence.”

Susan Dooha, Executive Director of the Center for Independence of the Disabled, said: “We thank Governor Cuomo for signing S.3596/A.4250. The bill recognizes the rights of people with disabilities. It lets those who can work access help without delay. It ensures that people with disabilities who are unable to work are not mistakenly sanctioned with the loss of their benefits.”

Emily Kutner, Director of Public Relations for the UJA-Federation of New York said: "UJA applauds the Governor for his leadership on enacting an important change in the law that will help low-income parents who want to help themselves obtain self-sufficiency by complying with the rules. This is a humane policy befitting the great State of New York.”

Liz Accles, Executive Director of Community Food Advocates said: “Community Food Advocates applauds Governor Cuomo's support of S.3596/A.4250, the bipartisan bill that eliminates the misguided and arbitrary penalty system that too often is the last straw that pushes many of New York City poorest households over the brink into hunger and homelessness”

Contact the Governor's Press Office

NYC Press Office: 212.681.4640

Albany Press Office: 518.474.8418