New York State Proposes to Limit Free Park Access by those Receiving Disability Benefits

December 09,2014
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Last month, New York State’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation proposed eliminating or limiting two categories of qualified persons under its Access Pass program, which gives reduced or free admission to parks, campsites, golf course and other state-operated recreational facilities. One category is the “semi-ambulatory.” The other is people receiving any of several federal disability benefits: Social Security Disability, Supplemental Security Income and Railroad Retirement Board Disability. (For more information, see “No More Free Golf for the Not-Quite Disabled.”)

While the impetus for this action was the abuses of the Disability system by former Long Island Railroad Employees, widely reported in the New York Times in 2008, the execution of the plan is faulty.

The proposed change states that while certain categories of people will still be automatically entitled to Access Passes (including the blind, the deaf, the nonambulatory, amputees, disabled veterans and the mentally disabled), people receiving Federal disability benefits, including the railroad benefit, would no longer automatically be qualified to receive the Access Passes.

It seems to me that whatever money might be saved by cutting off peoples’ free access to walking and hiking trails, pools, boating— and, yes, golf courses and snowmobile trails—will be substantially offset by the legal fees that will occur when the state has to defend a decision not to grant an Access Pass to a person determined to be “Disabled” by a federal agency such as Social Security or the Railroad Retirement Board who must now again prove ‘disability’ to a park ranger or some other employee of the state’s Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

Gabe Hermann