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N.Y. Governor Vetoes HIV/AIDS Rent Cap

N.Y. Governor Vetoes HIV/AIDS Rent Cap


Citing the imperiled finances of New York, governor David Paterson angered activists with his veto of a bill that would have capped the percentage of income that public assistance recipients who are HIV-positive or living with AIDS may spend on rent.

The bill, which passed the senate and assembly by wide margins, would have prevented individuals receiving assistance from New York City's HIV/AIDS Services Administration from having to spend more than 30% of their income on housing. Advocates for HASA clients say this group is alone among public assistance recipients in lacking a rent cap, which forces them to choose between paying their rent or other essentials like groceries, transportation, utilities and medical expenses.

"Federal dollars require that if federal dollars are implicated, then contributions be capped at 30%," said Charles King, president and CEO of Housing Works, which led a protest with 75 people outside Paterson's Midtown Manhattan office Monday morning. "This funding stream is purely city and state, so they are not bound by federal regulations. They are the only people in New York State who receive any kind of subsidized housing who pay more than 30% of their income."

Paterson, a vocal advocate of LGBT rights, announced the veto Sunday in a statement tinged with regret. The veto follows his rejection of 6,000 items this past summer in an attempt to close the state's $9.2 billion budget deficit.

"This is my most difficult veto," he said. "I recognize, sadly, the history of the inadequacy of services government has brought to bear for those with HIV/AIDS. But, unhappily, this is not the only veto decision I have had to make that could adversely affect innocent New Yorkers who are seriously ill or disabled and who look to government for assistance. Yet, I am duty bound."

The state division of budget estimated the measure, expected to help about 10,000 people, would have cost the cash-strapped state and city at least $20 million. Paterson said he would sign the bill if the legislature can identify adequate funding through budget cuts or appropriate revenue in the final months before his term ends.

State senator Thomas K. Duane, the gay and HIV-positive sponsor of the bill, issued a statement decrying the veto as "an incredible injustice." The senator delivered an impassioned speech for the bill, at times screaming, on the senate floor at 3 a.m. last year.

"Governor Paterson's veto of the HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) 30% rent cap bill is an incredible tragedy," said Duane. "Thousands of New Yorkers living with HIV/AIDS who receive housing assistance from HASA will continue to be forced to live on $11 and change a day because all the rest of their monthly income -- in some cases upwards of 70% -- must go towards paying rent.

"While people in all of New York's other rental assistance programs have their rents capped at 30% of income, these women and men will continue to worry about how they are going to survive each month instead of focusing on staying well. It is inexcusable that New York would make these people who are ill decide between buying winter gloves or underwear, between buying toilet paper or a Metrocard to get to a doctor's appointment, between buying toothpaste to brush their teeth or laundry detergent to wash their clothes," he said.

In his statement, Senator Duane challenged a claim from New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, an opponent of the bill, who said it would cost the city $16 million. The senator cited an analysis by Shubert Botein Policy Associates that projected savings of over $19 million from prevented housing evictions because of the rent cap bill.

Mayor Bloomberg released a statement that commended Governor Paterson for issuing the veto.

"This is not the time for unfunded mandates, no matter how well-intentioned," said Bloomberg. "In vetoing this costly legislation, Governor Paterson has made a difficult and wise decision that will save the taxpayers of the state and the city millions of dollars, demonstrating the courage to control spending in this difficult fiscal climate. The state and the city will continue to work together to provide quality services to people with HIV/AIDS, without having to make some of the painful choices that a new mandate would have forced. I commend the Governor for his actions."

King, whose Housing Works organized the Monday protest with the New York AIDS Housing Coalition, said that the groups' options included continuing to pressure Paterson, urging legislative leaders to override the veto, or appealing to attorney general Andrew Cuomo, the likely next governor of New York.

"We are going to continue to single out Governor Paterson, but we have at least three other audiences that we hope are listening to us," he said. "We're really hoping that the two houses will come back in session and override the governor's veto. They could certainly do that. Failing that, the constituent we would really like to have hear this message is attorney general Cuomo. We'd like for him to pledge as part of his campaign not just to sign it if the legislature passes it, but that he incorporate it into his base budget so that it is guaranteed to become part of the budget next year."
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