People with Disabilities in Suffolk County Will Receive Better Access to Public Benefits

Contact for questions and comments:
Jordan Berger, NCLEJ Skadden Fellow,, 646-680-8906
Saima Akhtar, Senior Attorney,, 646-558-6152
Linda Hassberg, Senior Attorney, Empire Justice Center,, 631-533-5272

Suffolk County, NY — A federal judge in the Eastern District of New York has approved the settlement of a class action lawsuit for Suffolk County residents with disabilities alleging that the Commissioner of the Department of Social Services discriminated against applicants and recipients with disabilities by failing to provide the reasonable accommodations they needed to participate in public benefit programs in violation of the federal Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act.

Plaintiffs in the case, Newkirk v. Pierre, have been unable to access programs like Medicaid, SNAP (commonly known as Food Stamps), Temporary Assistance, and Temporary Housing Assistance because the Suffolk County Department of Social Services (SCDSS) did not make accommodations. The plaintiffs have been represented by the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, Empire Justice Center, and Dentons US LLP.

Barriers to access included individuals with mobility impairments being forced to repeatedly travel to SCDSS offices in person and stand in line, and individuals who are blind or have serious visual impairments not receiving appropriate conversion of written materials into alternate formats or reading forms. Additionally, the SCDSS did not assist with obtaining information and providing additional supports to individuals with cognitive impairments that are necessary for them to participate and have their eligibility determined.

This class action settlement resolves litigation and requires SCDSS to update and enhance its policies and procedures to ensure people with disabilities are able to access public benefits.

“This win ensures that every eligible Suffolk County resident has a fair and equal opportunity to obtain critical and sustaining public assistance benefits,” remarked Linda Hassberg, Senior Attorney, Empire Justice Center.

“This settlement is uniquely comprehensive. It is a real victory for thousands of Suffolk County residents with disabilities,” said Sandra Hauser, Partner, Dentons US LLP.

“Having a disability should never be a barrier to benefits and services that provide food, healthcare, housing, and assistance,” said NCLEJ Skadden Fellow Jordan Berger. “This settlement revamps the Suffolk County’s benefits system so that residents with disabilities can access benefits, accommodations, and file grievances at any point if they are denied accommodations. Other counties should follow these best practices.”

The settlement agreement requires SCDSS to update its ADA policies and trainings, requires the agency to train all staff on the new ADA policies, and modifies SCDSS’s computer system to track accommodation requests. The settlement clarifies the internal agency’s processes for promptly responding to accommodation requests including situations of immediate need. It also clarifies that applicants or recipients who are denied a request for accommodations by the SCDSS have the right to file a grievance. And the settlement affirms the rights of applicants and recipients with disabilities to request accommodations verbally or in writing at any point in their dealings with the agency.