Administrative Law Judge
When New York City residents have a gripe with the Human Resources Administration/Department of Social Services (HRA/DSS), they are likely to cross paths with Wendy Phillips—or one of her colleagues.
Phillips is one of about five dozen administrative law judges working for the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance’s (OTDA) office in Brooklyn. She presides over “fair hearings,” proceedings conducted by OTDA when social services recipients appeal what they consider to be an adverse action by HRA/DSS. The adverse actions include denial, discontinuance or reduction of benefits ranging from public assistance to medical assistance to food stamps—and a full menu of ancillary benefits administered by HRA/DSS.
The New York State Public Employees Federation member says it’s her job to see that the regulations are enforced in an objective and honest manner. She collects evidence, records testimony and then recommends a decision to the OTDA commissioner. Impartiality is the cornerstone of her job.
“At times, that’s difficult,” says Phillips, who joined OTDA in August 2000. “We are all human. But that is what we have to do. We have to put our personal feelings aside and conduct our hearings without bias or prejudgment toward the issue.”
ALJs in Phillips’ office have more than 30 cases on their calendar every day, and may conduct as many as 25 hearings in one day.
“At times, you have situations that literally make you want to cry,” she says. “You see helplessness. You see hopelessness. We have a lot of appellants who are disenfranchised, including people who are homeless. I have real human conditions that I am faced with every day. People who are dependent on the system; and if the system fails them, they have nothing.”
The result of Phillips’ work, however, is priceless. She provides due process. “I like helping people,” says Phillips, “and making sure people’s rights are preserved, and their needs and concerns are dealt with. It is just what I do.”