New York, NY – The Progressive Caucus of the New York City Council, in partnership with General Welfare Chair Stephen Levin, held a press conference today to push the passage of the #JusticeForJazmine package. Several members of the Caucus had bills in package, which focused on reforms to improve treatment of clients and quality of service at the City’s Human Resource Administration (HRA) centers.The bills are expected to pass at today’s Council stated.
Progressive Council Members introduced the bills in response to an incident that occurred on December 7, 2018, when Jazmine Headley, a Black woman and mother, was unjustly arrested at an HRA office in Boerum Hill after seeking services for herself and her 1-year old son. The bills met many of the Progressive Caucus’ preliminary recommendations regarding Jazmine Headley’s ordeal, with a recognition that Black women and other low income women of color deserve better from our City in regards to service delivery – i.e. support, not criminalization or suspension of services.
“The abuse Jazmine Headley experienced was abhorrent. Jazmine should never have had her child taken from her. She never should have been at Rikers. And she should never have had to wait hours for her benefits to be reinstated after being wrongly terminated. In response to what Ms. Headleyfaced, the Council advanced 13 bills including Int. 1359, a bill I am sponsoring to require DSS to issue a public report on instances in which public assistance for a recipient was terminated and the recipient reapplied for such public assistance.” said Chair of General Welfare and Progressive Caucus Member Steve Levin “Transparency is key in identifying issues and enacting systems-wide change at DSS. What occurred to Jazmine did not take place in a vacuum – and today we are taking concrete steps to address serious gaps in our City’s social services system. This change is long overdue and I thank the Speaker, my Council colleagues, and the advocates who fight for new Yorkers like Jazmine Headley every day.”
“As a former recipient of public assistance, I am well aware of the indignity and humiliation New Yorkers receiving government benefits are subjected to. Unfortunately, Jazmine Headley’s traumatic experience is illustrative of a system that has gone unchecked for too long. This package of legislation will trigger necessary reforms to ensure recipients are never again treated the way she was. I am proud to co-sponsor these bills and look forward to swift implementation by HRA,” said Council Member Diana Ayala, Co-Chair of the Progressive Caucus, Member of BLAC and Women’s Caucus.
“After the unfortunate escalation at an HRA center in the case of Jazmine Headley and so many others I am proud to join my colleagues in this package of legislation to ensure that incidents like these do not happen again,” said Council Member Adrienne Adams, Member of the Progressive Caucus, Women’s Caucus, BLAC. “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 passed Introduction 1333 which will increase transparency for this agency.”
“Of course, New York City should be tracking the length of time residents spend claiming benefits like SNAP, from the moment they check-in and begin waiting to when they leave, it is the only way we will improve efficiency decrease wait times,” said Council Member Ben Kallos, Co-Chair of the Progressive Caucus. “Another way we can cut wait times is by enacting automatic benefits legislation that would grant New Yorkers the benefits they qualify for based on information the City already has about them like tax records and income statements. Thank you to Council Member Levin for taking on this issue with the Human Resource Administration and to Ms. Headley for being brave enough to call out the City on what it did wrong.”
“Over the years we have received many accounts of the poor treatment of New Yorkers who visit NYC HRA/DSS 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 residents are forced to endure. A full review is needed of client treatment at these City-run centers, and how this impacts the assistance received. I’m proud to join my colleagues in pushing forward this package of legislation, including my bill which requires the City to audit client wait times, staff-to-visitor ratios, and other key metrics. 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, Chair of the Committee on Women and Gender Equity, Member of the Progressive Caucus.
“Intro 1389-A would provide much needed transparency for both affected constituents and their elected leaders by ensuring that public assistance is not summarily terminated without explanation,” said Public Advocate Williams, Member of the Progressive Caucus, of his bill. ” Jazmine Headley’s experience clearly demonstrated the need for reform. We cannot allow people to slip through the flaws in our system and lose vital benefits without just cause and explanation.”
“New Yorkers receiving public assistance are some of our most vulnerable residents and deserve special care and attention” said Council Member Antonio Reynoso, Member of the Progressive Caucus. “When folks engage with City government to secure benefits, their experience should be one that recognizes their dignity and acknowledges the diverse and often traumatic experiences that led them to seek help. What happened to Ms. Headley was appalling and revealed that there are significant gaps in the way we deliver assistance to those who need it most. The package of legislation we are voting on today will close these gaps and ensure that no one else experiences the disgraceful treatment Ms. Headley was forced to endure.”
“Jazmine Headley’s traumatic experience in that HRA office illustrates the urgency for our City to create a safe space for New Yorkers receiving public assistance that is inclusive, equitable and respectful. I’m proud that our Council rose to the occasion,” said Council Member Margaret S. Chin, Member of the Progressive Caucus. “The legislative package we will pass today will bring reforms that address the treatment of New Yorkers – especially women of color – who access critical services. I am proud to be part of an effort that fights to protect the dignity of our most vulnerable communities.”
“We must do better to ensure that New Yorkers receiving public assistance are treated with fundamental respect for their humanity, for their time, and for their families. This package of legislation takes important steps towards eliminating the indignities that low-income New Yorkers face while trying to access vital services. Today’s vote is a promise to Jazmine Headley that no other parent will have to experience the trauma that she did while seeking help for her family,” said Council Member Brad Lander, Member of the Progressive Caucus.
“What happened to Jazmine Headley must never happen again,” said City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, Progressive Caucus Vice-Chair for Civic Engagement and Member of the BLAC. “Only with transparency can we have accountability, and this package of bills by my colleagues is a powerful step in that direction. I’m proud to support them and hope no one suffers like she did ever again when seeking City assistance.”
“Today’s legislative package is long overdue, and brings us one-step closer to slowly closing our city’s institutional racist system. I will continue to reject the criminalization of poverty and I will always use my voice to create change. I believe that all people seeking services should be entitled to professional, compassionate and efficient care; no one ever should be treated in a manner that is verbally, physically abusive or cruel. Equally, our municipal workforce must receive the same level of respect, and be paid fairly for their experiences and education in their field of service. I am proud to pass Introduction 1347, which creates an innovative approach to allow clients access to alter appointments over the phone. In addition, I will pass a resolution calling on the State Legislature to provide a grace period before terminating public assistance or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits due to a change in income and or employment,” said Majority Leader and Member of BLAC and Women’s Caucus Laurie A. Cumbo.
“Instead of a helping hand, Jazmine Headley was handcuffed and imprisoned for being one of nearly 3 million New Yorkers who rely on social services to support their families. No one, regardless of income or background, should ever be shamed for accessing City programs and resources. It is our responsibility to empower, not penalize low-income New Yorkers in need of support on their path towards self-sufficiency. The #JusticeforJazmine legislative package will mandate efficiency, transparency, and greater accountability to elevate the client service within the Human Resources Administration. Jazmine Headley may not have been the first to be treated inhumanely, but with this legislative package, she must be the last,” said Council Member Farah N. Louis, Member of the BLAC and Women’s Caucus.
:Our City needs to guarantee that New Yorkers receiving public assistance are never treated in the appalling way that Jazmine Headley was, and the way that many others are treated everyday- with no respect,” said Council Member Andy Cohen. “The incident involving Ms. Headley cannot be just another reminder of the gaps that exist for low-income members of our community, this must serve as a call to action. I’m proud to work with my colleagues at City Council on this package of legislation and to demand #JusticeForJazmine.”
“The passage of the eleven City Council bills related to reforms of the City’s predominant Social Services Agency (HRA) this week marks an important step in the right direction for the treatment of low-income and poor New Yorkers seeking basic government benefits. We commend the City Council on creating and passing legislation that aims to reform how clients are treated at HRA offices and holds HRA accountable. And yet, we remember that these reforms are far from exhaustive and this legislation is a first step in the right direction. While these reforms are necessary, we believe that what they have achieved — transparency by a government agency in its treatment of poor people, basic access to social workers at welfare centers, space for children, and better complaint processes, to name a few — are ultimately the baseline for what we would expect of New York City’s social service agency in the administration of benefit programs. We extend our appreciation to the General Welfare Committee and the Progressive Caucus for holding the hearing on the Client Experience at HRA Centers earlier this year, to all the Council members who put forth or co-sponsored these bills, and to City Council for passing them into legislation.” said Kiana Davis, Safety Net Project Policy Advisor.
Caucus members have put forward several pieces of legislation focused on HRA Client Experience, including:
- Caucus Member and General Stephen Levin: Requiring the dept of social services/human resources Administration to Report on Termination Bill (Intro 1359)
- Caucus Member Adrienne Adams’ Reporting on arrests at of social services/human Resources Centers Bill (Intro 1333)
- Caucus Member Alicka Ampry Samuel: Pilot program for the provision of social work services at social services/human resources administration job centers Bill (Intro 1335), De-escalation and Trauma-informed Training Bill (Intro 1336), Requiring A Sanitary Space for Children Bill (Intro 1337)
- Majority Leader Laurie Cumbo: Bill Requiring the DSS and HRA to create a system in which clients may schedule appointments online and over the phone (Intro 1347)
- Council Member Vanessa Gibson: Bill requiring the commissioner of social services to implement the recommendations and plan to address complaints (Intro 1350)
- Council Member Helen Rosenthal: Bill Requiring DSS to Conduct an Audit Analyzing Wait Times, Staff-to-Visitor Ratios, and Access to Technology at Job Centers and SNAP Centers (Intro 1382)
- Public Advocate Jumaane Williams’ Bill Requiring DSS/HRA to Issue a Quarterly Report on Instances in which Public Assistance had been Terminated (Intro 1389)
- Council Member Chaim Deutsch: Bill Requiring the DSS and HRA to report annually on the number of complaints by clients (Intro 1403),
- Council Member Laurie Cumbo: Resolution on Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) (Res 0721).