Monday, October 26, 2009

Bloomberg, The Elderly and the Disabled

There is an old saying about politicians that has in it more than a grain of truth.

" A politician is someone who tells you to go to hell and actually makes you look forward to the trip." Does this describe Mike Bloomberg? Some of the disabled and senior citizens who live in New York City might be excused for coming to this conclusion. Consider the following bland announcement that can be found in the maze of the web site.

Senior Citizen Rent Increase Exemption (SCRIE) Program Transferred to the Department of Finance

Effective Friday, September 18, 2009, the SCRIE program has been transferred from the Department for the Aging to the New York City Department of Finance. The transfer will make it easier for seniors to apply for this important benefit. The eligibility rules have not changed.

What is the truth behind the scenes? The City Finance Department also administered a program called the Disability Rent Increase Exemption. (DRIE) like SCRIE, it protected those who were approved for it from increases in rent. Those who got either SCRIE or DRIE were exempt from increases in their rent. The landlord of a SCRIE or DRIE recipient would get a tax credit for the ammount of rent that he would have gotten as an increase. Under the program, the landlord had more money in his pocket, the disabled and senior citizens had more money to spend, and the City did not have to issue a check.

The recipients of SCRIE had a fairly simple page to fill out under the old system. The DRIE application, on the other hand was four pages. Now, senior citizens and the disabled have nine pages to fill out and read, and only the staff of DRIE to help them and to process the application.

A friend of mine whose job is helping citizens navigate the city bureaucracy tells me that the effect of the skillfully packaged program consolidation has been to create a bureaucratic maze and obstacle course that has proven daunting to people who attempt to navigate it. My friend, (I'll call him Shimon) deals all day with the elderly, people who are sick with AIDS and people who are out of work who come to him with their problems. He told me of one elderly woman who came to him with a SCRIE application that was going nowhere.

After navigating the form and sending it in with required documentation, she got a notice back that required documentation was missing. She sent in the documentation again and got back another computer generated letter saying that supporting documentation was missing. A third time, she brought in documentation and actually confirmed with an employee that all missing documents were received. The next letter she got informed her that her application was denied on the grounds of missing documentation.

The description of the experience of Shimon's client sounded like an obstacle course. many people who must apply for SCRIE and DRIE are in weakened conditions. They are often bewildered and exhausted when they must go against the bureaucracy. These are people who often times have paid into the system for their entire working lives.

Is the Bloomberg administration merely saving labour costs by consolidating redundant bureaucracy? Or is it trying to shake off fiscal liabilities by making it hard to apply for benefits?

What will be the human costs of the Bloomberg administration's callous treatment of the disabled and the elderly? In tough times, you need to sometimes have less people doing more, but what will be the cost in human suffering? How much job consolidation can you do before there is a melt down in job performance?

There is a gritty reality that does not show up in Bloomberg campaign materials. The illusions that are created by the inane pursuit of smokers and of transfats covers up relities that are far more pressing. Mayor Bloomberg has had eight years to apply his economic genius to New York City's high rents that have made SCRIE and DRIE so essential to those who apply for them.

New York City is well fed and well clothed. But there is a city across the river from the Manhattan skyline that contributes to its wealth and character. It is the parts of the city that look from afar at the Manhattan skyline that are being ignored. After all the talk, all the glossy brochures and obscene spending, there are still problems that must be faced with candor.

What average New Yorkers can see with their own eyes is not being broadcast on Bloomberg radio. If this is how mike bloomberg is treating the elderly and the disabled before November 3, how will he treat them on November 4 ?

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