HRA Commissioner Robert Doar just released another major HASA policy announcement under the radar, this time through a far-right think tank. According to the Manhattan Institute, 1,300 dependents of HASA clients will now be required to work, which will change the overall household budget for HASA clients and presumably result in sanctions for people living with HIV/AIDS who have dependents unable to work. Like other recent policy changes, we assume HRA and HASA have given little thought to unintended consequences or how this will work in the real world. Doar previewed this policy change during the City Council General Welfare Committee budget hearing last month and a Huffington Post op-ed in December.
The op-ed is beyond the pale for many reasons, including it’s suggestions that there is less need for housing assistance and other supports now that most new HIV infections are among Blacks and Latinos rather than whites; people with HIV/AIDS are to blame for becoming infected rather than policy decisions that have denied access to syringes, condoms, housing and other tools that help fight the epidemic, not to mention other factors like mass incarceration and pervasive homophobia and gender inequality; and repeating the canard that supportive housing case managers perform the same duties as HASA caseworkers (it’s an apples and oranges comparison).
While the Manhattan Institute Fellow who authored the op-ed has a history offensive commentary and discredited positions, it’s newsworthy because it says what Commissioner Doar seems to be thinking – that people with HIV/AIDS are to blame and we no longer need a safety net now that the epidemic is concentrated in low-income communities of color. Even then, it’s mystifying why Doar would use a far-right outlet like this to make a major new policy announcement.
The Manhattan Institute op-ed is available online. It specifically singles out advocacy by VOCAL-NY and our allies at Housing Works too:
“But the advocates and their city council allies don’t appear to believe that the laws of basic math, personal responsibility, or even medical science should apply to them. At a February hearing of the city council’s General Welfare Committee, Councilman James Van Bramer chastised HASA and HRA officials for “punishing people”—meaning AIDS patients, not taxpayers—by screening for drug use. Wanda Hernandez, board chair of VOCAL-NY, one of the most aggressive of the dozens of AIDS advocacy groups, denounced the policy as “a violation of the individual.” Strangely, though, any mention of individuals is hard to find on the group’s website, where we learn that “homelessness, poverty and mass incarceration,” rather than people’s taking intravenous drugs or having unprotected sex, are the “causes” of the HIV/AIDS epidemic. Housing Works, VOCAL-NY’s comrade in arms, is equally unresponsive to current fiscal and moral realities. Redundant case managers? They’re apparently a necessity for this population, and required by law—an assertion the city disputes. Reduce rental broker fees to half a month’s rent? Clients, it seems, would then sell their HIV medication or prostitute themselves to get the money for the other half of the fees. AIDS victims may be individuals deserving of both compassion and dignity, but according to advocates, they have no free will.”