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Federal Judge Orders Bloomberg to Restore AIDS Funding

Posted by , April 27, 2011

Federal Judge Orders Bloomberg to Restore AIDS Funding

Once again, Bloomberg can’t make cuts at HASA

In a major win for New Yorkers who depend on the city’s HIV/AIDS Services Administration, a federal judge ruled that she will not allow the Bloomberg administration to make a massive staff cut to the agency.

“There cannot be reductions in HASA staff, there just cannot be,” Magistrate Judge Cheryl Pollak announced at a hearing in Brooklyn federal court.

Earlier this month, Housing Works and co-counsel Matthew Brinckerhoff (of Emery, Celli, Brinckerhoff & Abady), the HIV Law Project, and attorney Virginia Shubert filed for a temporary restraining order against both New York City and New York State, a move meant to stop the illegal implementation of a proposed Bloomberg budget cut to HASA. That cut would have been devastating, chopping 254 case managers from the agency’s staff. Bloomberg’s HASA reductions violated both New York City’s Local Law 49 and a federal court order.

“The defendants’ repeated disregard of the Court’s order in Henrietta D. v. Bloomberg has been appalling,” said Housing Works’ Senior Staff Attorney Armen Merjian. “Thankfully, Judge Pollak reminded the defendants that the order is ‘unequivocal,’ and that the proposed cuts are plainly illegal. A catastrophe for indigent New Yorkers living with AIDS has been averted.”

“I was devastated when I heard Bloomberg was going to do this,” said Antonio Smith, a 31-year-old HASA client and a Housing Works job training program participant. Through HASA, he’s been linked to rental assistance, Medicaid and food stamps—and been able to stay healthy. “I don’t feel like they have enough staff as it is. A staff cut would have been really bad for me.”

Dozens of HASA clients filled the benches on the back wall of Judge Pollak’s courtroom. A round of applause rang out at the end of the session, just after Judge Pollak announced she would not allow Bloomberg to go through with the cut.

In court today, Judge Pollak told city lawyers that they have 30 days to demonstrate that the HASA cuts are off the table, or she will immediately issue an enforcement order. If the city fails to comply, she will hold them in contempt.

“This is a great victory for the community,” said Merjian, convening with HASA clients after the hearing. “So you go back and tell folks that HASA is not getting cut.”

HASA serves about 45,000 individuals—all of whom are low-income and living with AIDS, or are dependents of those living with AIDS—by connecting them with lifesaving benefits.

Bloomberg’s proposed staff cut would have violated a federal court order that requires HASA to maintain a case manager-to-client ratio of one to 34. That order, issued in 2001, came after a U.S. District Court judge ruled that the agency was chronically and systematically failing to provide clients with adequate services.

Last year, the mayor proposed chopping a third of the agency’s staff. Bloomberg backed down from last year’s HASA staff cut—but only after Housing Works and co-counsel filed a similar motion before Judge Pollak.

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