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Judge: City guilty of denying AIDS patients benefits
NEW YORK (The New York Daily News) -- A federal judge says the city routinely deprives AIDS patients of food stamps, medicine and housing in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
To ensure compliance, Brooklyn Federal Court Judge Sterling Johnson named a federal magistrate to oversee city programs that offer those benefits.
In a 97-page ruling issued Monday, Johnson found the city's Human Resources Administration liable for "ongoing, systemic violations of the law." The judge said HRA records show the agency often failed to meet its deadlines for processing benefit applications.
Lawyers who sued the city in 1995 on behalf of thousands of indigent AIDS patients hailed the decision, which was handed down after a five-day trial held earlier this year.
"This is a tremendous victory for poor people living with AIDS, tens of thousands of whom have suffered violations of their rights for years now," said Armen Merjian, a senior staff attorney of Housing Works, which provides housing for people with AIDS. Housing Works filed the lawsuit with the HIV Law Project.
City Corporation Counsel Michael Hess called the decision "terribly flawed," saying it ignores many recent service improvements. He said the city is appealing.
HRA data showed that the city took an average of 30 days to act on housing grant applications in one-third of the cases, Johnson said. At some HRA centers, the process took as long as 45 days.
Johnson cited the experiences of several people with AIDS, who testified about struggles with the city bureaucracy.
One of them was Henry Bradley, 51, whose case was repeatedly closed by bureaucrats. Johnson said that because of HRA's failures, Bradley "was deprived of critical subsistence benefits, to which he was fully entitled, for years."
Magistrate Cheryl Pollak was appointed to monitor the city's compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act and other laws and given the power to recommend penalties and sanctions. But Hess said the ruling merely allows the magistrate who has been overseeing legal discovery in the case to stay on the job.
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