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Homeless savings plan is ‘paternalistic,' New York pols and advocates say

2019-09-24

The city shouldn’t force Homeless New Yorkers to put big chunks of their scant income into government-controlled accounts to avoid being kicked out of shelters, say a pair of pols along with homeless advocates.

The city’s Department of Homeless Services is holding a hearing Wednesday on a rule that would require some homeless people to put 30% of their income into savings accounts. If single adults fail to do so, they could get the boot.

Councilman Steve Levin (D-Brooklyn) and Assemblyman Harvey Epstein (D-Manhattan) say the “paternalistic” rule unfairly punishes people for being homeless while doing nothing to address the root cause of the problem.

“A forced savings plan takes a one-size-fits-all approach that does not allow for variance in one’s spending lifestyle, but surveils and severely restricts a person’s needed day-to-day budget,” Levin said in a statement.

New York City has encouraged employed homeless shelter residents to put some of their income into savings accounts since 2010. But in August, the state gave the city permission to make its Income Savings Program mandatory.

The de Blasio administration plans to start the new requirements with single people whose incomes are high enough that they don’t qualify for cash assistance from the government.

It wants to expand the Income Savings Program to cover groups like families with kids around next year.

Homeless people wouldn’t be able to withdraw from their savings until they move out of shelters and into permanent housing, or can prove they’re facing an emergency.

Critics say that forcing homeless people to save could impose new expenses on them, like bank fees.

They also say the approach is flawed from the start.

“Homelessness is not a result of money mismanagement on the part of homeless adults and families, but, rather, it is a direct result of the lack of truly affordable housing for the lowest-income New Yorkers,” Josh Goldfein, a staff attorney for the Legal Aid Society’s Homeless Rights Project, said in a statement.

He called on Gov. Cuomo to nix the proposed savings program requirements and fulfill a 2016 pledge to fund 20,000 units of supportive housing and a statewide rent subsidy called Home Stability Support.