Since the 1980s, the HIV/AIDS Service Administration (HASA) has enhanced the lives of thousands of New York City residents. HASA provides benefits and services to people living with HIV and AIDS as well as their families. Each HASA client is assigned a case manager who helps them gain access to employment assistance, housing, government benefits, and other services.
While HASA caseworkers provide support in a number of different areas, a lack of funding prevents them from developing close relationships with their clients. “Caseworkers have been there to make sure they get public assistance and food stamps . . .but what they aren’t able to do—because of the huge amount of people they serve—is counseling, and getting to know the tenants and their needs,” says Morgan Pepper, clinical director of the Geffner House. The Geffner House, in addition to offering supportive housing to hundreds of low-income and formerly homeless individuals, provides apartments for 40 HASA clients. Project Renewal developed the Geffner House in the 1990s to ensure that more vulnerable populations have access to safe housing and ongoing support.
In addition to providing more individualized support for clients, an investment in HASA programs can prevent the need for more costly services down the road. Mr. Pepper explains: “If you cut back on on-site case management, you increase emergency use of services—one of the things that on-site case managers do is educate and link clients to resources.” When clients have a better understanding of the medical resources available to them, they have less of a need for more expensive emergency services. In this way, HASA case managers can do more than provide basic services to people living with HIV and AIDS. Rather, staff can help their clients gain the tools they need to succeed in the future.
Although the city’s proposed budget for the fiscal year included millions of dollars in cuts to HASA programs and services, most of these cuts were restored in the final budget. Nonetheless, HASA must continually fight to maintain its funding.
HASA’s achievements and limitations—due to their large number of clients and limited staff—illustrate how vital funding is to the success of social service providers. If HASA had the funds to hire more on-site case managers, a larger number of people could improve their health and security in the long run. Still, many social service providers experienced budget cuts far worse than those of HASA. As a result, these organizations will not be able to serve people who desperately need their services and support. As Mr. Pepper points out: “We’re still going in the wrong direction. The city should not be making cuts to programs for the poor and disenfranchised.” Although this year’s budget process has ended, we must look to the future and ensure that organizations receive the funding they need to provide essential human services.