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NY Court Says Welfare Recipients Entitled to Enough Money for Housing

April 4, 1990

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) _ The state must give welfare recipients enough money to afford housing, New York’s highest court ruled in a decision hailed as a victory for the homeless.

″A schedule establishing assistance levels so low that it forces large numbers of families with dependent children into homelessness does not meet the statutory standard,″ the Court of Appeals declared Tuesday.

The court ordered a trial to determine whether New York state’s welfare shelter allowance is inadequate. Welfare advocates had argued the shelter allowance was set far below market rates for even the cheapest housing.

The case was brought by Barbara Jiggetts, a New York City woman who complained her shelter allowance forced her to choose between housing and food for her children.

State Social Services Commissioner Cesar Perales, in a statement, said the ruling established a requirement for a reasonable housing allowance but did not conclude the state’s welfare grants were inadequate.

″The New York state Department of Social Services is preparing for a trial on that issue,″ Perales said.

But lawyers for Jiggetts said they believed the Court of Appeals’ strong language would make it hard for a lower court not to order increased welfare rates.

″It’s a great decision and it’s very important for the welfare population of New York,″ said Allan Gropper of the state Bar Association’s Project for the Homeless of the City. He said studies have shown as many as one-third of the homeless people in New York City had been evicted.

Courts in Massachusetts and other states have made similar rulings recently, poverty law experts said.

Jiggetts, a single mother of three, sued New York City social service officials in 1987 when she was being evicted from her apartment. She’s since found housing, but other families joined the lawsuit and the state became the defendant, said Matthew Diller, a lawyer for the New York Legal Aid Society.

New York state has more than 450,000 welfare recipients, two-thirds in New York City.

Christopher Lamb, another Legal Aid Society lawyer, said the shelter allowance for a family of four in New York City is $312 a month. The Department of Housing and Urban Development reports the average market rate for a two-bedroom apartment for poor people in New York City is $566.

″People shouldn’t be sent out into the New York City market and be told you have to find an apartment for a family of four at $312 a month,″ Lamb said. ″It’s like hitting your head against the wall.″

Welfare advocates supporting the lawsuit contended that, in 1987, more than 60 percent of Aid to Families with Dependent Children recipients living in private housing were forced to pay rents higher than their shelter allowances.

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