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Policy Matters – January 2022

Eòghann Renfroe January 31, 2022

 

Welcome to the January edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. In this edition we cover the Executive budget, offer a preview of upcoming benefits legislation, our joint budget hearing testimony, a push for public banks, a victory for consumers, and the opening of free tax prep for Rochester-area folks. You can read an archived version here.

 

Executive Budget

Budget season is in full swing with the release of the Executive Budget (and the accompanying Briefing Book) last week, following the State of the State address at the beginning of the month.

For Empire Justice, the highlights of the Executive budget are:

  • Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP) funded at $20 million. This is the first time this important program has been included in the Executive Budget, which makes the path to full funding for the program much less rocky than in previous years.
  • Disability Advocacy Program (DAP) Executive funding has been doubled, bringing it to 5.26 million. DAP has been around since 1983 and served over 230,000 New Yorkers. DAP’s funding was cut in 2009 following the financial crisis and advocates have been working since then to restore funding to the program. The increase in Executive funding, along with a continuation of the additional $1.5 million investment from the Legislature, would ensure the program is able to tackle the influx of New Yorkers needing DAP services in the wake of COVID and the upcoming reopening of Social Security offices.
  • Liberty Defense Program funding has been increased to $12 million. After fighting for LDP funding up to the last moments of final budget negotiations in its formative years, this is a very positive place for the program at the beginning of the budget season!
  • Consumer Health Advocates (CHA) funding in the Executive budget is $3.5 million, a million dollar increase. This is good news for New Yorkers navigating the health care system, including individuals and families dealing with COVID-19 or long COVID who need help with billing issues, health care rights, or other coverage issues.
  • The creation of an Eviction Prevention Legal Assistance Program to provide legal representation to tenants involved in eviction cases outside of New York City.

We are also pleased at the Governor’s State of the State proposal to create a new office of language access.

One important thing missing from the Executive budget is gap funding for Crime Victims Services. The Office of Victims Services (OVS) has told providers to expect a 10-15% cut, due to a temporary reduction in federal funding. We are pushing for the inclusion of gap funding of $25 million dollars a year for three years to keep Crime Victims Services funded at the same level until the federal funding fully resolves.

 

Omnibus Benefits Legislation Is Coming…

Stay tuned in the coming days for some major policy updates in public benefits! Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal is championing a package that will help New Yorkers with basic necessities such as food and shelter.

 

Joint Legislative Budget Hearings

The Legislature has begun its joint legislative hearing process, and our President and CEO, Kristin Brown, submitted testimony before our first hearing, Public Protection, on January 25. We are requesting:

  • Provide $25 million in gap funding over two years (updated ask from original testimony) for Office of Victims Services victims services programs facing a temporary cut in federal funding for these life saving services.
  • Allocate the Legal Services Assistance Fund (LSAF) in the same manner as last year, including legal services for victims of domestic violence, and distribution of those funds to provide programmatic stability to legal services organizations throughout the state.
  • Dedicate all LSAF dollars to the fund’s intended purpose. Do not transfer $9.8 million to the General Fund to be used for other purposes. Instead, dedicate it to increase the provision of civil legal services in the essentials of life.
  • Support the 12.6% compounded cost of living adjustment to the $ 100 million for civil legal services programs.

We will also be submitting testimony by Senior Attorney Kirsten Keefe to the Housing hearing on January 31. Emilia Sicilia, statewide coordinator for the DAP program, will be testifying at the Human Services hearing on February 2.

 

Pushing for Public Banking

Even before COVID-19 gripped our communities, New York faced widening income inequality, banking deserts, and lack of financial and lending opportunities, especially for communities of color. As New York moves toward a post-COVID future, local governments need a new tool to ensure a just recovery for all New Yorkers – public banks.

That is why we signed onto a letter of support with over 150 other advocacy groups calling for the passage of the New York Public Banking Act (S.1762-A Sanders/A.8290 Fahy).

“Our organizations are fighting for public banks that have a clear mission to advance racial, economic, and environmental justice,” the letter supporting the New York Public Banking Act states. “With these principles at their core, public banks would reinvest in New York’s low-income and immigrant neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color, meeting critical community needs and strengthening our ability to withstand future crises.”

 

Victory for Consumers

We had one last 2021 victory when Governor Hochul signed the Consumer Judgement Interest Act (S.5724-A Parke /A.6474-A Weinstein) on December 31. This law will now protect New Yorkers from excessive interest rate on money judgments arising out of consumer debt, including medical and student debt, by capping judgment interest rates to two percent.

Thanks again to sponsors Assemblymember Helene Weinstein and Senator Kevin Thomas!

 

CASH Is Open For Tax Season!

If you’re in the Rochester area you can schedule your appointment for free tax preparation today! Call 585-900-1004 or visit https://empirejustice.org/cash for more information.

 

Immigration Help Line

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!

 

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