PRESS RELEASE: New Yorkers Driven into Poverty by Shortsighted Policy

Martha Moscowitz, Susan Antos April 28, 2015

Empire Justice Center Report Calls for New York to Eliminate Its Asset Tests
So Low Income Families Can Get Out of Poverty

(Albany, NY) Today, Empire Justice Center released “Driven Into Poverty: How New York’s Asset Tests Keep People Poor,” a report documenting the problems with various “asset tests” imposed by New York State on public assistance applicants.

“All families have a right to economic security and a meaningful chance at financial independence.  New York’s asset tests go against these core American values by requiring that people drain most types of savings and assets before receiving certain public benefits,” stated Martha Moscowitz, attorney with Empire Justice Center and principle author of the report.

“After I became disabled and could no longer work, I was required to use up my IRA and other resources before I could get public assistance.  Now I have no money to replace my roof which has a hole in it and is covered by a tarp.  Without my savings and my IRA, I don’t know how I am going to repair it.  I am afraid I will lose my home,” said 61 year old Antone Lupica, who lives in upstate New York and worked for decades as a mason, carpenter, landscaper, and plumber.

The report details problems with the myriad of asset tests New York imposes on public assistance applicants, not the least of which is the additional administrative burden of verifying assets, and calling for their elimination.  “Since 1996, eight states have eliminated asset tests and achieved and administrative savings in doing so.  New York has a real opportunity to join other states in supporting asset development, helping to break the cycle of poverty for New York families, and helping county governments as well,” said Ms. Moscowitz.

In addition to highlighting ways that long term saving helps families build a path out of poverty, the report underscores the need to eliminate the “auto resource rule.”  This rule limits the value of an automobile owned by a family, and makes it harder for individuals to keep a reliable car, which according to many studies cited in the report, is critical to finding and keeping a job.

“New York must join the 28 states, plus the District of Columbia, that exempt at least one vehicle completely when making public assistance eligibility determinations.  Narrowing or eliminating the auto resource rule will allow individuals to attend job training, find employment, and take their children to safe and reliable child care, improving the overall financial stability of their families,” said Susan Antos, Senior Attorney at Empire Justice Center and co-author of the report.

“In addition to making families more economically insecure and hindering their ability to move off public assistance and out of poverty, New York’s automobile resource test is inherently unfair and may violate federal law, including the Americans with Disabilities Act.  It hurts our most vulnerable families and simply does not make fiscal sense for the state,” noted Ms. Antos.

The full report and related documents can be found HERE.


ABOUT EMPIRE JUSTICE CENTER: Empire Justice Center is a statewide, multi-issue, multi-strategy, public interest law firm focused on changing the “systems” within which poor and low income families live.  Empire Justice protects and strengthens the legal rights of people in New York State who are poor, disabled or disenfranchised through systems change advocacy, training and support to other advocates and organizations, and high quality direct civil legal representation.  Empire Justice has offices in Albany, Rochester, Westchester and on Long Island.