In 2014, we started our first community organizing project in response to the lack of participant voices and perspectives in the ongoing dialogue regarding citywide public assistance (also known as welfare or cash assistance) policies. These policies, many draconian in nature, affect more than half a million low-income New Yorkers each year. Using hundreds of client surveys and focus groups with public assistance recipients all over the city, we released a comprehensive report, Culture of Deterrence, documenting many of the customer service problems with the public assistance system run by the Human Resources Administration (HRA). Our report showed that the current Public Assistance system all too often strips New Yorkers of their rights and dignity while denying them the benefits that they need to support themselves.
Based on the tremendous response we received from public assistance recipients in the process of developing the report, we founded the Safety Net Activists in 2015 and decided to add organizing as a central component of our efforts to create systemic change. Many of the public assistance recipients who worked on the report are the Safety Net Activists’ founding members.
The Safety Net Activists's current campaign, New Yorkers for a Better HRA, seeks to advance respectful, professional, efficient, and equitable customer service for all New Yorkers who seek public assistance at HRA. We envision a City in which the half a million New Yorkers who seek public assistance every year receive the high-quality support and resources that they need to weather difficult times and move forward.
In 2015, the Activists organized four meetings with top HRA officials, including two with Commissioner Steven Banks. Changes that have been implemented as a result of these meetings include the purchasing of nameplates for HRA staff at all Centers to increase accountability, training for staff on emergency grants, training for staff on interview skills, and a new policy for use of security at Centers. We also conduct outreach at HRA Centers to speak to New Yorkers about their experiences within the Public Assistance system and inform them of their rights.
The Safety Net Activists meet on the first and third Wednesday of each month on 123 William St, 16th Fl. from 6-8 pm. Food and metrocards are available for attendees.