Newspaper allowed access to welfare recipients’ names
NEW YORK–The names and addresses of welfare recipients must be made available to reporters for The New York Times, a state trial court judge in Manhattan ruled in mid-April. The Times sought the records to verify city officials’ claims that a welfare-to-work program was successful.
Judge Bernard Fried based his ruling on a 1960 amendment to the state Social Services Law that permits a news organization to inspect public assistance financial records, provided that the organization promises in writing not to publicly disclose the names and addresses of applicants or recipients.
The city argued that inspection of the names and addresses was impermissible because the request was “unconnected with any examination of disbursements, but rather for the purpose of contacting [welfare] recipients and interviewing them with regard to their experiences in the public assistance and workfare programs.”
The law was intended to allow news organizations access to the records, not only to search “financial irregularities, improprieties, or fraud,” but to promote improved understanding of New York’s welfare program, the court held.
In May 1997, The Times had asked the New York City Human Resources Administration for access to the names and addresses of welfare recipients so they could be surveyed. The newspaper gave assurances in writing that it would not print names or addresses from the records.
Lorna Bade Goodman, an attorney in the city’s Law Department, told The New York Times that the city would appeal. (The New York Times Co. v. City of New York, Media Counsel: Adam Liptak, New York)