New York, NY – On Thursday, January 24, 2019, a month after the Progressive Caucus’ preliminary recommendations regarding the Jazmine Headley incident in December, the Speaker and six Progressive Caucus members along with their colleagues in the Council have introduced bills to improve treatment of clients and quality of service at HRA centers.
Channeling the need for justice and accountability over the incident, Speaker Johnson, Caucus members Adrienne Adams, Alicka Ampry-Samuel, Stephen Levin, Donovan Richards, Helen Rosenthal, Jumaane Williams, along with colleagues Council Members Gibson, Cumbo, and Deutsch introduced bills that mandate new reporting, staffing, and training requirements for Human Resources Administration (HRA) and Department of Social Services (DSS).
The bills are in response to an incident that occurred on December 7th, 2018, when Jazmine Headley, a Black mother with a young son, was arrested at an HRA office in Boerum Hill. HRA staffers called the police after Headley sat on the floor with her 1-year-old son to wait for her appointment because there were no available chairs, after which officers arrested Headley and ripped her child from her arms. After the incident, the Progressive Caucus issued a statement with recommendations regarding the incident and held a rally with advocates on the steps of City Hall to demand #JusticeforJazmine. A few hours after the rally, Jazmine Headley was released on her own recognizance. However, the Progressive Caucus recognized that the incident reflected larger and more systemic issues in our city’s social services system, and we remain committed to fighting for the decriminalization of poverty and reforms with HRA and law enforcement.
“After the unfortunate escalation in the case of Jazmine Headley and so many others we must take steps to ensure that this does not happen again,” said Council Member Adrienne Adams, member of the Progressive Caucus. “What is happening inside HRA offices in the name of law and order is in desperate need of reform. Vulnerable New Yorkers go to HRA offices for help and should not have to second guess how they will be treated. I am proud to have introduced a bill that will increase transparency for this agency.”
“I’m proud to join my colleagues in introducing this package of legislation. Over the years we have received many accounts of poor treatment of persons visiting HRA centers in need of assistance. This remains absolutely unacceptable, and what happened to Jazmine Headley is a stark reminder of the indignities and injustices that low-income New Yorkers are forced to endure. A full review is needed of how New Yorkers are treated when they visit HRA centers, and that’s why I’ve introduced a bill requiring the City to conduct an audit analyzing wait times, staff-to-visitor ratios, and access to technology at HRA job centers and SNAP centers. At the end of the day, Ms. Headley was punished for her need to seek assistance and for her crime of poverty. As a society, that is our failure, not hers,” said Council Member Helen Rosenthal, member of the Progressive Caucus.
The bills include:
Int 1333-2019, introduced by Council Member Adrienne E. Adams, that would require HRA, DSS, and NYPD reporting on any use of force incident occurring in a department of social services/human resources administration office.
Int 1335-2019, introduced by Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, requiring full-time social workers at every department of social services/human resources administration job and SNAP center.
Int 1336-2019, introduced by Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, requiring DSS to conduct de-escalation and trauma-informed training for all employees that work in Job Centers or Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Centers, where individuals may apply for public assistance benefits.
Int 1337-2019, introduced by Council Member Alicka Ampry-Samuel, requiring a sanitary space for children at department of social services/human resources administration job and SNAP centers. The bill would require DSS to create a poster containing information on the availability of such space and report to the Council on the list of locations where such spaces are available.
Int 1359-2019, introduced by Council Member Stephen T. Levin, requiring DSS and HRA reporting on the termination of public assistance and reapplication for a recipient.
T2019-3668, introduced by Council Member Donovan J. Richards, requiring the DSS to provide every individual who visits a job center or a SNAP center with a client satisfaction survey when each individual checks-in at a center.
T2019-3656, introduced by Council Member Helen K. Rosenthal, requiring DSS to conduct an audit analyzing wait times, staff-to-visitor ratios, and access to technology at job centers and SNAP centers.
T2019-3676, introduced by Council Member Jumaane D. Williams, requiring DSS/HRA to issue a quarterly report on instances in which public assistance had been terminated.
Int 1332-2019, introduced by Speaker Corey D. Johnson, creating an Office of the Special Handler at DSS. The Office would establish a system for DSS to receive comments, questions and complaints with respect to the termination of public benefits, conduct a review of all cases where public benefits have been or will be terminated, coordinate to ensure that policies are in place to communicate with clients in a timely manner about the termination of benefits, and develop strategies and recommendations regarding such client communication.
Int 1350-2019, introduced by Council Member Vanessa L. Gibson, requiring the commissioner of social services to implement the recommendations and plan to address complaints, as required under a local law in relation to implementation of a plan based on findings of the audit of department of social services/human resources administration job and SNAP.
Int 1347-2019, introduced by Council Member Laurie A. Cumbo, requiring the DSS and HRA to create a system in which clients may schedule appointments online and over the phone. This bill would also require DSS and HRA to notify clients if a service they are requesting does not require an in-person visit to a DSS or HRA office.
T2018-3440, introduced by Council Member Chaim M. Deutsch, requiring the DSS and HRA to report annually on the number of complaints by clients. Complaints would be disaggregated by social service area—career services, health insurance, energy assistance, HIV/AIDS services, adult protective services, homelessness prevention, child support enforcement, temporary cash assistance, domestic violence services, home care and long term care, and the supplemental nutrition assistance program and food program. The report would also include the methods that DSS/HRA would undertake to better resolve complaints and its progress in resolving complaints.