October 26, 2022
Thank you, Chair Rosenthal, and members of the Committee on Social Services for the opportunity to submit written testimony on behalf of New Destiny.
Founded in 1994, New Destiny is a New York City-based nonprofit committed to ending the cycle of violence for low-income families and individuals experiencing homelessness and domestic violence. We build and manage supportive, affordable housing and through our rapid rehousing program, HousingLink, we connect survivors with safe, permanent housing. New Destiny also advocates for housing resources for domestic violence survivors and their families.
One in 3 women and more than 1 in 4 men experience violence and/or stalking by an intimate partner in their lifetime in the United States.1 In 2021, New York State had the highest demand for domestic violence services in the country, especially for emergency shelter and housing.2 In New York City, domestic violence has been the main driver of family homelessness for years, followed by evictions. The violence is not limited to physical and emotional harm, but it is also financial. Most survivors report enduring economic abuse and being stripped from their social safety nets, which directly impacts their ability to heal and regain self-sufficiency.3 Housing resources and low-barrier financial assistance, paired with support services, are critical for survivors.
New York State public assistance programs, overseen by the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, provide financial help to families and individuals who meet the eligibility criteria. Public assistance benefits are intended to cover food, utilities, and housing expenses, while clearing a path to economic stability. Yet, the amount of the benefits, which depend on the household’s available income and the standard of need, have not kept up with rising inflation and fail to meet the needs of recipients.
At the federal level, Social Security’s general benefits are indexed to inflation, as measured by the Consumer Price Index, and increased annually. This is referred to as a cost-of-living adjustments, or COLAs. On October 12, 2022, the Social Security Administration announced that the COLA for 2023 will be 8.7%, the highest since 1981.4 Unlike Social Security, public assistance benefits, which are determined by New York State, have not been raised for years, with some remaining the same for decades: the basic allowance, intended to cover food and other necessities, was last increased in 2012; the home energy allowance, which pays for electric and heating utilities, has not increased since the 1980s; and the shelter allowance has remained the same for adult-only households since 1988 and for families with children since 2003. Meanwhile, the cost of living continues to rise dramatically. From September 2021 to September 2022, the Consumer Price Index for All Urban consumers increased 8.2%, the largest 12-month increase since January 1982.5 Rents are no different. Across New York State, there is no county or locality where a renter earning minimum wage can afford a one-bedroom apartment.6 Over the past three years, the median rent for a one-bedroom apartment has risen 20% to $3,267 in New York City, and in Manhattan it surpassed $5,000 in June of 2022.7 Yet, a single mother with two children residing in Manhattan would receive a shelter allowance of $400 per month.
In addition to the inadequacy of the benefits, there are parallel significant systemic issues that must be addressed. Undocumented individuals, for instance, are not eligible for public assistance unless they have a one minor child with an immigration status. For those who are eligible, administrative errors and poor communication at the Human Resource Administration (HRA), the agency that administers the program in New York City, delay accessibility and disrupt benefits. One of the biggest challenges for survivors of domestic violence is the child support requirement. While domestic violence liaisons are supposed to help applicants access waivers when appropriate, they are not consistently available. Another issue relates to streamlining processes for emergency assistance requests, including Family Homelessness and Eviction Prevention Supplement (FHEPS) rent subsidy, as well as the requirement to maintain an active public assistance case to retain FHEPS. Financial abuse makes survivors particularly vulnerable to these administrative hurdles. We witness this firsthand with our clients repeatedly. One example of this is a survivor whose abusive partner had set up an investment retirement account under her name without her consent, one of the various forms for economic violence. She only became aware of the account’s existence when her public assistance case was abruptly closed, and she lost her FHEPS voucher.
New Destiny is grateful to Chair Rosenthal, the State Legislature, and Governor Hochul for taking steps over the last twelve months to help mitigate barriers to public assistance and increase FHEPS to fair market rents (FMR). Yet, there continue to be legislative opportunities to improve public assistance and expand resources:
- A9130/S9513 would increase the standards of monthly need and home energy allowances to account for inflation
- A8900A/S8632 would ensure that individuals can access safe and stable housing by allowing those receiving shelter allowance to receive up to 100% of the FMR for their area
- A10510/S9416 would authorize New York City to expand eligibility of CityFHEPS, a city rental assistance program, to individuals and families regardless of immigration status
- A3701B/S2804B would create a state rental subsidy that mirrors the federal Housing Choice Voucher program, also known as Section 8, which would be available to individuals and families regardless of immigration status
We commend Chair Rosenthal and the Committee members for examining the current public assistance benefits in light of the economic instability cause by the COVID-19 pandemic and rising inflation. We are grateful for the opportunity to submit written testimony and look forward to working with the Assembly and the administration.
We welcome any questions you may have.
Gabriela Sandoval Requena
Senior Policy Analyst at New Destiny Housing
gsrequena [at] newdestinyhousing . org
2 National Network to End Domestic Violence (2022). 16th Annual Domestic Violence Counts Report. Retrieved from https://nnedv.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/03/16th-Annual-Domestic-Violence-Counts-Full-Report-FINAL.pdf
3 Postmus, J., Plummer S., Mcmahon, S., Murshid, N., & Kim, M. (2012). Understanding economic abuse in the lives of survivors. Journal of Interpersonal Violence, 27(3), 411-430.
4 Miller, M. (2022, October 13). Social Security’s Cost-of-Living Increase: Everything You Need to Know. The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/explain/2022/10/09/business/social-security-cola
5 Bureau of Labor Statistics (2022). Consumer prices for shelter up 6.6 percent for year ended September 2022. Retrieved from: https://www.bls.gov/opub/ted/2022/consumer-prices-for-shelter-up-6-6-percent-for-year-ended-september-2022.htm
7 Brand, D., Faye, M., Mariam, Q., Lozano-Velez, M., Rahman, N., Soto, T., & Jimenez, J. (2022, September 13). It’s Not Just Manhattan: Rents Are Still Rising Across NYC. City Limits. https://citylimits.org/2022/09/13/its-not-just-manhattan-rents-are-still-rising-across-nyc/