BxD’s Zoni Rockoff has Fair Hearing of the Month!
Last month, Bronx Defenders Civil Legal Advocate Zoni Rockoff was recognized by Empire Justice Center in its Fair Hearing of the Month announcement regarding the case of a Bronx Defenders client facing termination of her public benefits.
Zoni advocated in the fair hearing on behalf of Ms. Sanders (not her real name), a Bronx Defenders client who was involved with Bronx Family Court at the time. When Ms. Sanders left an outpatient drug treatment program after she felt that she was not receiving adequate support from the program, the Administration for Children’s Services (ACS) removed both of Ms. Sanders’s children from her home. Due to public assistance rules requiring that welfare agencies must be notified “within five days that it becomes apparent the children will be out of the household for over 45 days,” Ms. Sanders notified her job center of her children’s removal, even though the original foster care letters stated very clearly that the goal of both Ms. Sanders and ACS from the start was to return both children to Ms. Sanders as soon as possible. Nevertheless, the Human Resources Administration (HRA) quickly removed Ms. Sanders’s children from her public assistance case and then closed the entire case. As a result, Ms. Sanders had to return to HRA and reapply for public benefits as a single adult and go through the entire month-long reapplication interview and waiting process. Ms. Sanders was never given any notice indicating why her public assistance case was being closed.
When Ms. Sanders’s team at The Bronx Defenders raised this issue, Zoni reviewed the evidence packet for Ms. Sanders’s case and requested a fair hearing. At the hearing, Ms. Sanders was able to testify that she had made a good faith effort to notify the agency of her children’s removal, even though the foster care paperwork, which HRA possessed in its evidence packet, stated that its original goal was always to return the children to Ms. Sanders and that the removal was temporary.
The administrative law judge assigned to the fair hearing and The Bronx Defenders were able to stress on the record, despite the welfare representative’s arguments, that there needed to be some kind of original foster care service plan negating this statement in order for the welfare agency to justify its closure of the entire case. The judge’s decision also emphasized that the burden is on the agency to produce this service plan in any instances where it decides to close a case upon removal of children. Thanks to Zoni’s zealous advocacy, Ms. Sanders’s fair hearing decision resulted in her public benefits case being reopened and her much needed lost benefits being reissued.