Policy Matters – February 2021

Eòghann Renfroe February 25, 2021


Welcome to the February edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. In this edition we cover our disappointment in the lack of indictments in the Daniel Prude case, a victory for part-time workers, updates on all of our state budget campaigns, a victory for language access in Monroe County, and a chance to have some fun while supporting a good cause – us! (You can also read archive version here)


Statement on Daniel Prude Grand Jury

On Tuesday, February 23, the grand jury convened in response to the death of Daniel Prude voted not to indict officers involved. Prude stopped breathing and lost oxygen to his brain while being pinned to the ground by police; he was revived, but died a week later.

Our President & CEO, Kristin Brown, released the following statement: “I am deeply disappointed in the grand jury’s vote not to indict any of the police offers involved in the death of Daniel Prude. As the leader of a legal services provider in Rochester whose mission is to make the law work for all New Yorkers, I respect the decision of the grand jury. However, this outcome feels neither just nor does it provide a resolution for the events on March 22 leading to Daniel Prude’s death.” Read the rest of the statement on our website here.

The Attorney General also released a 204-page Report on the Investigation into the Death of Daniel Prude, which was completed prior to the grand jury’s decision.


Victory! Fix Part-time Unemployment Bill Passes Legislature

In a victory for part-time workers, the first of our 2021 Priorities has passed the New York State Legislature – Fix Partial Unemployment Insurance (A.2355-A/S.1042-A)!

Currently, New York State’s part-time employment laws bar workers from collecting unemployment benefits if they work four or more days a week, even if a person is only working one hour a day. Similarly, people who work fewer than four days a week lose 25% of their weekly unemployment assistance for each day worked, even if they only work for one hour that day.

If signed into law by Governor Cuomo, this bill would change this outdated way of counting “days worked” and allow part-time workers to earn up to 50% of their unemployment insurance benefit before experiencing a reduction.

Empire Justice Center is grateful for Senator Ramos’ and Assemblymember Stirpe’s leadership in championing these reform efforts.


State Budget Campaigns

The budget season is moving swiftly forward and our funding campaigns are in full swing. Over the past month Empire Justice advocates have participated in numerous legislative and executive meetings, partnered with other organizations in virtual lobby days, and offered testimony in the following Joint Budget Hearings:

  • Human Services: This testimony covers funding needs for the Disability Advocacy Program (DAP), which serves disabled New Yorkers going through the appeals process for SSI/SSD benefits; the Liberty Defense Project (LDP) and other immigration legal services funding; Managed Care Consumer Assistance Program (MCCAP), which provides seniors and people with disabilities critical assistance in accessing Medicare services and reducing health care costs; support for the Governor’s proposal for Affordable Child Care; and our proposal to End the Benefits Cliff, which would help low income New Yorkers to escape the cycle of poverty caused by the sudden reduction of benefits once they are able to move to work.
  • Housing: This testimony, delivered by Senior Attorney Kirsten Keefe, covers a growing crisis in mortgage delinquency rates in New York State, which is currently at numbers three times greater than the Great Depression; the disproportionate impact on homeowners and communities of color; and the need for permanent funding source for the Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP), which protects the rights of homeowners and helps them avoid foreclosure.
  • Public Protection: This testimony, delivered by President & CEO Kristin Brown, covers the civil legal services needs of New Yorkers; the rise in civil legal needs during the COVID-19 pandemic; how advocates are working to create new outreach, educational, and legal advocacy strategies in response; and the need for stable funding for the Legal Services Assistance Fund (LSAF). At Empire Justice Center, the funds support our approach to providing individual legal representation in immigration, employment and civil rights; trainings for attorneys and advocates in emerging areas of poverty law, and in providing legal analysis in pursuit of systems change.

Kirsten also appeared on the Capitol Pressroom on February 10 to talk about mortgage delinquency, resources for homeowners who have been affected by the pandemic, and the importance of funding for HOPP.

Manager of Policy & Communications, Eòghann Renfroe, appeared on WOOC’s The Hudson-Mohawk Magazine on February 4 to talk about the barriers disabled New Yorkers face trying to access SSI/SSD benefits and the importance of funding for DAP.


Victory! Language Access Bill Passes in Monroe County

Folks who are Deaf/Hard of Hearing, or with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) experience huge gaps in accessibility for basic services, because that access is often predicated on the ability to communicate in spoken and written English.

On February 9 Monroe County committed to tackling this problem by passing a bill which will create a new position in the county to focus on language access concerns. Empire Justice Center is proud to have been part of the Monroe County Language Access Coalition which advocated for and helped pass this important bill.


Paycheck Protection Program Webinar

Empire Justice Center Senior Attorney, Ruhi Maker, joined Five Star Bank’s David Leggio and Genesee Co-Op FCU’s Melissa Marquez for the Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program Webinar on February 11. Even though the webinar has passed you can still register and get access to watch the recording on-demand!


Don’t Tell Comedy Trivia Night

Join us on March 11 for another night of comedy and trivia, for a good cause! What better way to spend a Thursday evening than by helping to make the law work for all New Yorkers? $20 to play – 100% of the proceeds are donated to Empire Justice. Sign up here!


Legal Help Lines

Don’t forget! Our Long Island Immigration Legal Help Line is available every Tuesday from 2:00-4:00 pm, at 631-533-2238 to speak to an immigration attorney from Empire Justice Center who will answer your questions on your legal rights. You can also email us at EJCimmigrationhotline@gmail.com to make an appointment. ¡Se habla Español!

Our Unemployment and Paid Leave Legal Help Line is available every day from 9:00am-5:00pm, at 800-724-0490 ext. 5827. If you have questions about unemployment or paid leave, you can call the help line and attorneys will provide legal advice and counsel regarding unemployment benefits, paid leave, and job protections.


Thank You For Reading

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.

You can find all of our COVID-19 free legal resources on our website, and if you need help, you can find contact information for each of our offices here.


The Empire Justice Policy Team