Policy Matters – December 2019

Eòghann Renfroe December 24, 2019


Welcome to Policy Matters – Empire Justice Center’s newsletter to catch you up on all of our policy advocacy efforts to make the law work for all New Yorkers!

In this December 2019 edition of Policy Matters we’ll be covering victories for language access and survivors of domestic violence; setbacks for low income New Yorkers; how protections against wage theft are hanging in the balance; a round-up of some of 2019’s important consumer finance and housing legislation; and recognition for our staff!


Victory! Unveiling of New Language Access Policy for Monroe County

Empire Justice Center has collaborated with Monroe County Clerk Adam Bello and Legal Assistance of Western New York (LAWNY) in the development of a language access plan for customers of the Monroe County Clerk’s Office. The plan is designed to close the gap for residents who are Limited English Proficient to obtain essential public information and services.

The language access plan provides interpreter and translation services free of charge, in any language necessary, in order for non-English speaking and limited English speaking customers to meaningfully access services under the County Clerk’s jurisdiction, including services offered at the Clerk’s Downtown Filing Office, and most transactions at the DMV offices.

Marlene Cortés, Senior Paralegal, appeared on WXXI to talk about the effort, which was inspired by an incident that another Empire Justice employee witnessed at the DMV office in Henrietta in which a customer was denied services due to limited English proficiency and was not offered interpretation services.

Marlene and Maggie Robb, Unit Director and Senior Attorney, both worked on the policy, which you can read more about in our joint press release here.


Victory! Governor Signs the DV Victims’ Rights Notice Bill!

Governor Cuomo signed the Victims’ Rights Notice bill on December 16, which will provide easy to understand, comprehensive, and necessary information about victims’ rights as they plan for safety, including information that can prevent abusers from possessing a firearm, information about arrest, access to family courts, and protections for pets and service animals.

This important legislation will also require the Victim’s Rights Notice to be written and translated in a plain and easily accessible way, in languages most commonly spoken in New York State.


Victory! Governor Signs Tax Foreclosure Waiting Period Bill!

Governor Cuomo also signed the Tax Foreclosure Waiting Period bill, which addresses community blight by reducing the redemption period (the time provided to a homeowner of cure a tax delinquency and “redeem” the property) for vacant and abandoned homes from two years to one year.

The two year waiting period makes sense for properties where someone is living, or intending to live, but for abandoned properties this waiting period becomes a frustrating hurdle for neighborhoods trying to address community blight, declining property values, and fire, criminal, and other hazardous conditions caused by vacant, decaying buildings. You can read more about the bill in this op-ed by Assemblymember (and bill sponsor) John T. McDonald here.


Cuomo Deals Blows to Kinship Families, Working Parents, and Low Income New Yorkers with Vetoes

Unfortunately, several other important bills had a different fate this past month.

Approximately 195,000 children in New York State live in families in which their primary caregivers are grandparents, aunts, uncles, or family friends – kinship families. Due to arcane public assistance rules, middle class caregivers have an easier time accessing “non-parent” cash assistance grants than many poor caregivers who need the assistance the most.

That is why we were extremely disappointed when, on November 25, Governor Cuomo vetoed legislation (A.4256/S.4809) that would have updated public assistance rules to allow each eligible child living in a kinship family to receive equitable assistance. You can learn more about the issue in this Democrat & Chronicle op-ed, written by Empire Justice President & CEO Kristin Brown, AARP NYS Director Beth Finkel, and NYS Kinship Navigator Senior Director Gerard Wallace.

Governor Cuomo also vetoed three other important bills for low income New Yorkers: the Treating Physician bill (A.4236/S.4641), the Sanctions and Conciliation bill (A.2455/S.3840), and the Child Care Cost Estimation Study bill (A.0580/S.0245A).

The Child Care Cost Estimation bill calls for the state to conduct a study on the cost of quality child care, in order to help planners and policymakers improve child care quality and increase the number of low-income children in quality child care.

The Treating Physician bill and the Sanctions and Conciliation bill are both familiar to Policy Matters readers, and many of you have participated in our call to get involved by sending messages to the Governor to ask him to sign both bills into law.

Despite these setbacks, Empire Justice is pleased to note the veto messages for several of the bills seem to show a willingness to engage with at least some of these issues in the upcoming state budget process. We will continue to push forward.


Protections Against Wage Theft Hang in the Balance As SWEAT is Sent to the Governor’s Office for Signature

Securing Wages Earned Against Theft (SWEAT) (A.0486/S.2844) was sent to the Governor’s office for signature on December 20, and workers and advocates are working to get the word out – especially in light of the signature of an unrelated wage theft-related bill last week (A.0453/S.2734).

While the unrelated legislation clarifies law regarding the responsibility for unpaid wages by the top ten members of a Limited Liability Company (LLC), it does not address one of the biggest hurdles to collecting unpaid wages – namely, how easy it is for both employers and shareholders to transfer and hide assets while a lawsuit or investigation by the Department of Labor is taking place. Without tools to halt the transfer of assets during this process, workers and the state are left with unpaid judgements and bad faith businesses are free to open again under a new name and continue to exploit workers and compete unfairly with businesses that pay their employees properly. SWEAT is the only legislation that addresses this problem.

Workers rallied outside Governor Cuomo’s office on December 23 to call for him to sign SWEAT, and plan to continue to rally every weekday after Christmas through the end of the year, until the bill is signed.

You can get involved too – send a message directly to the Governor at our website: Please sign SWEAT into Law TODAY!


New Child Care Report Details the Methods Counties Use to Stretch Inadequate Funding

Did you know that at an annual cost of $15,394, quality child care is unaffordable for 90% of New York families? New York State ranks 6th out of all 50 states for the most expensive infant care. In fact, a minimum wage worker would have to work for 35 weeks just to pay for one infant’s child care! Yet subsidized child care is underfunded and increasingly unavailable.

Our new report, Shouldering the Strain: How Counties Cope with Inadequate Child Care breaks down the top methods that counties across New York State employ to deal with this chronic and worsening underfunding.

Stagnant funding, a growing low wage work force, and the steadily increasing cost of child care have created a perfect storm, straining New York’s child care subsidy program to the breaking point. This report is a must-read for anyone who is trying to understand the complex patchwork of child care subsidy programs across the state!


2019 Consumer Finance & Housing NYS Legislative Wrap-up

Wondering how 2019 shook out on consumer finance and housing issues? Look no further – Senior Attorney Kirsten Keefe has put together an article that rounds up of all the bills that passed the State Legislature this year and how they’ve fared since June. Please note: the final status of several bills is still outstanding; don’t forget to check back in in January for the last word.


Office of Victim Services 2019 Conference

Staff Attorney Stephanie Woodward, VOCA Paralegal Carrie Roman, and Unit Director Maria DeGennaro attended the Office of Victim Services 2019 Conference in Albany, November 19-21. (with NY State Office of Victims Services Director Elizabeth Cronin, pictured far left.)

People often have legal needs as a result of being a victim of crime. For many crime victims, the problems they face after a crime can be challenging, especially when they have several legal needs and are unsure where they can turn to. If you or someone you know is a victim of a crime, please visit crimevictimshelpny.org or visit our website at empirejustice.org.


Staff Recognition

Congratulations to our Grants and Development Manager, Shannon Swiatek (back row, eighth from the right), for graduating from the United Way of Greater Rochester’s Emerging Leaders Development Program!


And finally…


We Can’t Do This Without You!

We’d like to ask you to consider making a gift to Empire Justice Center this holiday season, to help support us in continuing efforts like those you’ve read about above, as well as so much more.

When you make a gift to Empire Justice Center, you make the law work by helping families with their legal troubles; training advocates on important legal issues; and changing the law (that’s the policy part!) to advance our mission: to make the law work for ALL New Yorkers.

Thank you for your consideration!


Thanks For Reading!

Have a safe and warm holiday season, and we’ll be back in January with our 2020 Legislative Agenda!

If you’d like to keep up with our policy work, follow us on Twitter and Facebook, or visit the Policy Central page on our website.


The Empire Justice Policy Team