Low-Income New Yorkers Represented By Legal Aid Sue City For Denying Food Stamps for Disaster Survivors; Several Elected Officials Join Them

Because the Bloomberg Administration limited the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, thousands of individuals and families who were income eligible and who lost their homes, property, power, heat, and income because of Sandy were unlawfully denied assistance, Ellen Davidson, Staff Attorney for the Civil Law Reform Unit of The Legal Aid Society, told the Wall Street Journal. Several elected officials joined the group of low-income New Yorkers represented by Ms. Davidson in a lawsuit against the Bloomberg Administration.

Wall Street Journal
Suit Hits City Over Limits On Sandy Aid
January 10, 2013
by Michael Howard Saul

Several elected officials have joined a group of low-income New Yorkers affected by superstorm Sandy in filing a lawsuit against the administration of Mayor Michael Bloomberg, accusing the city of unlawfully denying them access to federal food-stamp benefits designed to assist disaster survivors.

In December, the city's Human Resources Administration, which administers the food-stamp program, decided that residents in 10 ZIP Codes and parts of two others would be eligible for the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

This zone of eligibility was dramatically smaller than the 82 ZIP Codes that the city designated for a similar program in November.

The Bloomberg administration "limited the program to those included within some arbitrary line on the map while denying assistance to thousands of individuals and families who were income eligible for the program and who lost homes, property, power and heat and income but who simply lived in the wrong communities," said Ellen Davidson, an attorney for the Legal Aid Society, a nonprofit representing the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.

Connie Ress, a spokeswoman for the Human Resources Administration, said the city will contest the lawsuit.

"In concert with our state and federal partners, we administered a program that met the needs of those most impacted by the storm," Ms. Ress said.

According to state data provided by the city, 26,123 households received the disaster benefit automatically, and another 4,772 received it through the application process. In total, the program has provided $5.7 million in aid.

But the lawsuit claims "tens if not hundreds of thousands" of people have been excluded from the benefit, and potentially more than $100 million in federal aid has been left on the table.

Daniel Coffey, 42 years old, said the flood from Sandy destroyed his family's home in Hamilton Beach, Queens, and nearly all their possessions. Mr. Coffey's ZIP Code was excluded from the program.

"Friends of mine are getting it and we're all in the same situation—we suffered the same effects of the storm," said Mr. Coffey, who, along with his wife, is taking care of five children. "I just feel like the city forgot about the neighborhood."

In a statement, Council Member Lew Fidler of Brooklyn, another plaintiff in the suit, said he was "aghast" at the decision to limit the program to roughly a dozen ZIP Codes.

The lawmaker said he reached out directly to Robert Doar, commissioner of the Human Resources Administration, and that Mr. Doar was "completely unable to articulate any rationale for the exclusion" of many of the city's hard-hit communities.

Mr. Doar told The Wall Street Journal last month that the program has been targeted specifically to those areas "most affected" by the storm.

"You need to balance both your effort to help people, which we do a lot of, with what is a reasonable and appropriate claim on the taxpayers," Mr. Doar said.