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Fact Sheet on Public Benefits and Domestic Violence in New York State

July 1, 2004

Author: Amy Schwartz-Wallace

If I am a victim of domestic violence, are there any special protections available to me when I apply for or receive public assistance benefits?

Yes.  Under the Family Violence Option in New York, everyone who applies for or receives public assistance benefits should be screened for domestic violence.  During intake or re-certification, the caseworker should ask you to answer a series of questions on a domestic violence screening form regarding whether or not you are a victim of domestic violence.  Completion of the screening form is voluntary and confidential and will not affect your eligibility for benefits.  If, during screening, you answer "yes" to any of the questions on the screening form, the caseworker should immediately refer you to the Domestic Violence Liaison (DVL), prior to scheduling any other assessments such as for child support collection, drug and alcohol treatment, or employment.  If you tell DSS about your domestic violence concerns even after your benefits case has been opened, you should still be referred to the DVL for assistance and evaluation.  If you identify yourself as a victim of domestic violence, you have the right to refuse the DVL's assistance.      

Who is the Domestic Liaison (DVL) and how can he/she help domestic violence victims?   

Every DSS office in New York employs one or more Domestic Violence Liaisons or DVLs.  DVLs are specially-trained in domestic violence issues and their job requires them to further investigate your claims of domestic violence.  In some counties, the DVL may work for a community agency, rather than DSS.  After reviewing your claims, the DVL must determine if certain welfare program requirements would place you or your children at further risk of abuse or make it more difficult for you or your children to escape from the domestic violence.   If so, the DVL can grant you a temporary waiver excusing you from participating with certain welfare requirements.  In order to determine this, the DVL may ask you for other evidence to corroborate the abuse, such as medical, police or court records, pictures of injuries, copies of orders of protection, a signed statement from a domestic violence counselor or shelter, or a letter from your attorney.  However, if you have no other corroborating evidence of the abuse, the DVL can accept a sworn statement from you alleging the abuse.  The DVL should also refer you to domestic violence counseling or other supportive services in your community that can assist you. 

What types of welfare requirements can be waived by the Domestic Violence Liaison?

Welfare requirements that can be waived include: cooperation with child support collection and paternity establishment, alcohol and substance abuse treatment, work and job training requirements, residency rules, alien and minor parent eligibility requirements, real property lien requirements, exemption from the 60-month time lifetime limit for benefits, and other program requirements as necessary.  Waivers can be full or partial—they can either completely exempt you from certain programmatic requirements or require you to comply with some, but not all, of the requirements.        

Why would I need a waiver?

Some welfare requirements have the potential to jeopardize a domestic victim's safety.  For example, if filing for child support against your abuser may make it possible for your abuser to discover your location or may trigger anger and retaliation toward you or your children, you might need a waiver from the child support cooperation requirements.  If you are recovering from domestic violence-related injuries or are afraid that your abuser will stalk or harass you at a job site, an employment waiver might be necessary.  If your abuser would threaten or harass you if you sought alcohol or substance abuse counseling services, a waiver from this type of screening, assessment, and treatment might be appropriate.

If I receive a waiver from the Domestic Violence Liaison, how long will it last?

Waivers must be granted for an initial period of not less than four months, however all waivers are subject to on-going and periodic review by the DVL at least every six (6) months.  When a waiver is set to expire, the DVL must notify you and re-evaluate your need to have the waiver continue.  Waivers can be extended, modified, or terminated based upon these periodic reviews.  There is no maximum time limit on the length of a waiver and waivers should be granted for as long as necessary.      

Can the Domestic Violence Liaison make me follow through with her/his referrals and recommendations?

Every time the DVL grants a waiver, he/she must develop an appropriate services plan with your input.  This services plan should let you know what waivers were granted, as well as provide you with a list of recommendations, referrals and/or options available to assist you and help keep you safe.  Your participation with these counseling and supportive services is completely voluntary and you cannot be sanctioned for failing to comply with the DVL's referrals and suggestions.  The DVL must respect your safety concerns and your evaluation of how risky or useful any option may be for your situation.   

Is the information I provide regarding domestic violence confidential?

All of the information collected through the screening, intake, assessment and referral process is generally confidential.  The information may be released only with your written approval or if disclosure is required under the law.  Because all DSS caseworkers, including the DVLs, are mandated reporters of child abuse and neglect, if you offer information to a worker that gives them reasonable cause to suspect that your children are being abused or maltreated, this information will be reported to CPS and investigation m.

What if I ask for a waiver and I am denied?

If you are denied a waiver or are granted a partial waiver and believe you need a full waiver, you can appeal the DVL's decision by requesting a fair hearing either in person, by mail (NYS OTDA, Office of Administrative Hearings, P.O. Box 1930, Albany, N.Y. 12201-1930), phone (1-800-342-3334), fax (1-518-473-6735), or online (Office of Administrative Hearings Home Page.).  While your case is being appealed, you can also ask your lawyer or your domestic violence counselor to advocate for you by writing a letter further explaining your situation and submitting any additional, relevant information that the DVL might not have considered.

Can I get a waiver from the welfare time limits because I am a victim of domestic violence?

If you have received more than sixty months of TANF/family assistance in your lifetime, you will not be eligible for further TANF/family assistance in New York State.  However, in New York you will still qualify for non-cash safety net assistance.  But if you are a domestic violence victim, you can qualify for an exception to this 60 month welfare time limit if you are experiencing one of the following when you are about to hit your sixtieth month on TANF/family assistance:

  • you have a physical or mental impairment that is the result of domestic violence and it will last three months or more
  • your child is experiencing a physical or mental impairment that is the result of domestic violence and it requires you to stay in the home to care for your child

If one of the above applies to you, when you are notified that you are close to your sixtieth month on TANF/family assistance, you should speak with the domestic violence liaison about your impairment.  The domestic violence liaison will only ask you for medical verification and then can give you a waiver from the welfare time limit requirement for at least four months.   


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