NY Criticized for Exception in Child Welfare

ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) – A woman who has been caring for her daughter’s child all his life claims in a class action that New York unfairly budgets its neediest children and discriminates against nonparent caregivers on public assistance.

Lisa Johnson filed the Dec. 28 complaint in Albany County Supreme Court as the primary caregiver of a grandson, L.R., who turns 5 this year. L.R.’s mother is not in the picture, Johnson says, noting that the boy belongs to an increasing population of children cared for by adults other than their parents as a result of “parental incarceration, drug addiction and mental health issues.”

Regardless of the income or resources of their caregivers, these children are usually entitled in New York to a form of special public assistance called child-only grants.

Johnson says L.R. was unfairly denied his full grant, however, because of her history of taking public assistance.

“Instead of giving the child a public assistance grant for one person, the defendants treat the caregiver and the child as one economic unit and prorate the child’s public assistance grant,” the complaint states. “This means that a child such as L.R. receives one half of a grant for a household of two – an amount much smaller than a grant for a household of one – solely because he lives with a grandmother who receives public assistance benefits rather than a grandmother who has any other source of income. This violates the law.”

Though the Albany County Department of Social Services started reducing Johnson and L.R.’s grants in February 2016, Johnson notes that she stopped getting public assistance so L.R. has been receiving his full grant since April 2016.

Johnson complains, however, that it was unfair to reduce L.R.’s grants in February and March 2016.

She wants the decision by the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance reversed, and she wants to represent a class of similarly situated individuals.

Johnson is represented by Susan Antos with the Empire Justice Center, a nonprofit law firm. Antos has not returned an email requesting comment.

Census figures show that 2.7 million grandparents are raising grandchildren nationwide. Like Johnson, who was found eligible for Supplemental Social Security Income this past March, about a quarter of them have a disability.

The complaint names as defendants Samuel Roberts and Michele McClave, commissioners respectively of the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance and the Albany County Department of Social Services. Neither office has responded to a request for comment.