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Masks Back at Welfare Offices After Mayor Balks at Rule Reversal

A man wears a mask in the South Bronx during the coronavirus outbreak.
A man wears a mask in the South Bronx during the coronavirus outbreak, April 6, 2020.
Photo: Ben Fractenberg/THE CITY

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On Friday, the city tore down signs at welfare offices informing clients they had to wear face coverings. The move came after two visitors defied the rule and refused to don them.

On Monday, the “no mask, no entry” signs went back up.

In between, Mayor Bill de Blasio — who has repeatedly warned New Yorkers that they must wear masks inside supermarkets and pharmacies — weighed in, voicing displeasure that one of his agencies had embraced a contrary position on face coverings.

The bureaucratic backflips started with THE CITY revealing Friday that the Human Resources Administration (HRA) had ordered the removal of signs at welfare offices in all five boroughs that stated, “In order to enter this building, you must wear a face-covering or a mask.”

Two clients at an HRA food stamp office in The Bronx had shown up in recent days without masks and refused to wear free face-coverings offered by staff.

Both were ejected in the separate incidents, and one was issued several summonses after allegedly threatening to kill the officers at Crotona facility.

The city responded by ending the mask requirement rule. On Friday, the head of the HRA police sent out a borough-wide memo ordering that the signs come down and saying clients could no longer be barred entry if they refused to mask up.

‘It’s Just Not Fair’

When asked about this by THE CITY Sunday, de Blasio put the brakes on that approach, declaring his message to wear masks should apply to both private sector and public buildings.

“We’ve been abundantly clear that, for example, a supermarket, grocery, a pharmacy, you go in, if you don’t have a face covering the manager, the owner can send you right back out,” he said. “It’s just not fair to other people. So, I believe that makes sense at a public office, too.”

The Crotona Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Center in The Bronx.
The Crotona Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Center in The Bronx.
Google Maps

De Blasio noted that HRA is discouraging welfare recipients from going to offices because most transactions can be accomplished online. Still, he added, “If you do go into an office, you need to be wearing a face covering.”

On Monday, the Department of Social Services, which oversees HRA, began putting up news signs — with a caveat:

“In order to enter the building, you must wear a face-covering or a mask. Children under the age of two and people with medical conditions who are unable to wear a mask are not required to wear them.”

“Thank you for your cooperation,” the new sign adds.

Meanwhile, de Blasio announced Monday the city would be greatly expanding its distribution of masks over the coming days, handing out 7.5 million at public housing developments, schools where meals are being given out, at Staten Island and NYC Ferry terminals, in grocery stores and city parks.

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