Melendez v. Wing

In 2003, Housing Works challenged a new State policy that significantly reduced public assistance benefits for HIV/AIDS Services Administration (HASA) family cases with a child receiving federal disability payments. Previously, New York City and State considered the disabled child as “invisible,” meaning that the child’s disability benefits were not counted when calculating the family’s rental allowance.

The State’s decision to include the disabled child’s payments in the family budget—in violation of New York law—led to a drastic reduction in public assistance payments for the HASA families in question, including the Melendez family, whose public assistance was reduced by a whopping $500 per month.

Ultimately, the New York Court of Appeals unanimously ruled that the state and city defendants violated the law in forcing Ms. Melendez (and hundreds of other families) to count the disabled child’s SSI payments as available family income. The decision greatly assisted a similar lawsuit brought by thousands of non-HASA welfare recipients, Doe v. Doar, which followed Melendez and ensured “invisibility” for non-HASA family cases.

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