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Paterson Vetoes Bill To Aid AIDS Patients With Rent, Utilities

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Governor David Paterson vetoed on Sunday a bill designed to help thousands of New Yorkers with AIDS and HIV pay their rent and utilities, saying the state could not afford the program, but local health and housing advocates are condemning his decision. NY1's Erica Ferrari filed the following report.

The State Assembly and Senate passed a bill that demanded that New York's government pay more of the rent and utilities of people on welfare with AIDS and HIV, so they would not have to pay more than 30 percent of their income on housing.

On Sunday, though, Governor David Paterson vetoed the bill, saying it was a difficult decision.

"By all rights, there is a need for expanded rent protection for people on social services who are also afflicted with the AIDS virus," said the governor. "Unfortunately, the cost to the city and state would be more over $20 million."

Wanda Hernandez, a resident of Belmont, Bronx, is one of approximately 11,000 city residents who the governor's veto directly affects.

For the past 15 years, Hernandez has lived with HIV. She survives on Social Security checks, but after paying her rent, she has little remaining money to make ends meet.

"Every single month, I have no money left," she said. "If I get to pay four bills, that's a lot."

Paterson's veto was also condemned by health and housing advocates.

"I'm appalled and I'm incredibly disappointed. Governor Paterson had last December made a promise that he would sign this bill into legislation," said President Charles King of Housing Works. "Frankly, he's lied to people who are living with AIDS."

The governor said if the Legislature can come up with the funding, he would sign the bill.

Opponents of the governor's decision said it will ultimately cost the city and state more money than the veto saved.

"Right now, they're paying twice for [single room occupancies], while if they help people maintain their homes, it would be a lot cheaper," said Hernandez.

"I don't understand why Governor Paterson vetoed it and I don't understand why Mayor [Michael] Bloomberg opposed it," said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn.

Bloomberg claimed the the legislation was too costly. In a statement, he said, "Governor Paterson has made a difficult and wise decision that will save the taxpayers of the state and the city millions of dollars."

Opponents maintained the veto only highlights an inequity of the local welfare system.

"If this bill had gone into law, this group of folks with HIV and AIDS in New York City would have been getting some amount of rent that other people on welfare and other social services programs get in New York City," said Quinn.

Hernandez and other New Yorkers with HIV and AIDS said that would be help they desperately need.

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