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New York City Is Sued for Silencing Advocates for Recipients of Public Benefits

May 28, 2002

For Immediate Release
May 28, 2002

Contact Information:
Amanda Cooper, 212 998–6282

Media Alert: New York City is Sued for Silencing Advocates for Recipients of Public Benefits
May 30 Summary Judgment Argument in Sanchez v. Turner

When: Thursday May 30, 2002 – 10:00 a.m.

Where: Daniel Patrick Moynihan United States Courthouse
Courtroom of Judge Allen G. Schwartz
500 Pearl Street
New York, NY

Courtroom 14C

Who: Laura Abel, Associate Counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice and lead counsel for the plaintiffs.

Janice Birnbaum, Assistant Corporation Counsel for the City of New York.

What: The hearing is the latest development in the case of Sanchez v. Turner. This case seeks to ensure that New York City welfare offices will be open to advocates so that they can provide information that enables public benefit claimants to better understand the benefits that they are entitled to under the law.

The judge will hear argument on motions for summary judgment. If Judge Schwartz grants the request from either side, he will decide the case at this stage and there will be no trial.

On March 6, 2000, the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, the New York Legal Assistance Group, and the Welfare Law Center filed a complaint asking a federal court to declare unconstitutional New York City’s rules barring welfare advocates from welfare offices. Plaintiffs in the case are the membership-based community organization Make the Road by Walking and two welfare recipients who went through terrible hardships as a result of being denied benefits while the City gave them partial and/or inaccurate information regarding their cases. Plaintiffs seek an injunction requiring the City to allow advocates to enter welfare offices in order to provide information enabling interested individuals to learn about their rights.

“Welfare centers are not dungeons, and claimants cannot be kept in the dark,” says Laura Abel, staff attorney at the Brennan Center. “The City should allow the welfare claimants who go there to get the information they need. Letting advocates in is the right thing to do in a democratic society and not something the City should fear.”

Oona Chatterjee, a Co-Director of Make the Road by Walking, adds, “The sad truth is that the City’s welfare system routinely violates poor New Yorkers’ rights. We go to welfare centers to promote a city government that is accountable to the people. That’s what democracy is all about. The City could use an elementary civics lesson.”

Plaintiffs and attorneys are available for comment or interview. Get more information, including briefs filed, by calling Amanda Cooper at 212.998.6736 or visiting

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