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New York City Launches One-Stop Benefits Web Portal

New York City started the long-awaited rollout Wednesday of an online portal where residents can apply for all city benefits and services, beginning with child care assistance.

New York City
(TNS) — New York City started the long-awaited rollout Wednesday of an online portal where residents can apply for all city benefits and services, beginning with child care assistance.

Mayor Adams proposed the platform, dubbed MyCity, on the 2021 campaign trail to help trim bureaucracy and repetition across city agencies. Nearly 15 months into his term, its first phase will allow tens of thousands of parents to complete eligibility screeners and a streamlined child care application, and track their status online.

The child care portal is expected to remedy dysfunction that plagues the current process, during which officials revealed Wednesday that the majority of paper applications are rejected by education and children’s services agencies due to missing documents.

“When you’re dealing with a crisis, why do you have to have another crisis by dealing with government?” said Adams at a press conference at City Hall. “No more. It’s time that government works for working people.”

Research by the Citizens’ Committee for Children last week found that 41% of local parents reported issues accessing applications for subsidized care. Many reported a need for more guidance about the process or difficulty gathering the documentation necessary to prove eligibility.

Adams said the ultimate goal of MyCity is to make it “a one-stop shop” for a range of purposes, from filing municipal job applications and paying off parking tickets to applying for food stamps and child care. The platform will also store personal data such as dates of birth and social security numbers to make it easier to navigate city benefits and services.

“Why are we tormenting, harassing the public to give basic information and knowledge — and that is the concept of MyCity,” said Adams.

For now, all other components of MyCity are still being developed. Adams and his chief technology officer, Matt Fraser, declined to provide a timeline for how soon they expect to roll out those components.

“I was dealing with asylum seekers, I was dealing with coming through the pandemic,” Adams said of the delay. “When Matt first came to me with the first version and said, ‘Time to rock n roll,’ I said, ‘I got to have my users try it.’ Because what’s good for me as a computer geek might not be good for mommy.”

Still, Adams acknowledged application systems for many city benefits remain in tatters. “I mean this stuff is just a mess,” he said — even calling it “torturous.”

That includes food stamps and cash assistance benefits, applications for which have surged during the pandemic. More than half of all claims for those benefits have exceeded mandated processing timeframes, leaving low-income New Yorkers without the critical aid, sometimes for months.

Left-leaning Democrats have blasted Adams for not doing more to address Department of Social Services staff shortages that they believe are to blame for the welfare processing delays.

At Wednesday’s press conference, Adams said some of the delays can be attributed to New Yorkers filing redundant applications that unnecessarily burden the system — an issue he believes MyCity could help resolve.

“People apply for some services that we know at the beginning they are not eligible for,” said Adams. “So instead of saying right away in the system, ‘This body of people is not eligible for it,’ we go through the whole process of analyzing when we know they’re not eligible. And we have some cases where people put in duplicate applications, and what do we do? We process both,” he said.

“Because we were just laying layer upon layer of bureaucracy, no one paused for a moment to say, ‘Does this make sense?’” he said. In his administration, Adams said, “We ask ourselves: ‘Does this make sense?’ And far too often we’ve been coming up with what?”

Fraser chimed in: “No.”

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