Policy Matters – July 2020

Eòghann Renfroe July 27, 2020


Welcome to the July edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. In this edition we’ll update you on the state of New York’s budget issues, share how we’re advocating for small businesses and homeowners adversely affected by COVID-19, celebrate several victories for immigrant New Yorkers, show how we’re pushing back against harmful Trump administration rules that are taking food off the tables of New York families.


State Budget Update

The budget situation in New York State remains acute. Tax receipts remain low due to the effects of the coronavirus – down 9% or $766.9 million in June, according to state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. Governor Cuomo has made it clear that absent additional federal funding a 20% cut for social service programs across the state will be very likely. Many local governments are in a state of limbo, awaiting word on the possibility of direct aid from the federal government or cuts from the State.

If cuts go through, programs providing social services to New York’s poorest are among those set to be hardest hit. Our CEO, Kristin Brown, discussed these challenges on the Capitol Pressroom on June 16.


Impact of COVID-19 on Black and Brown Communities

We delivered testimony to the NYS Assembly hearing on the federal response to the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on small businesses on Jun 25. This testimony was written by Senior Attorney Ruhi Maker and policy analyst Barb Van Kerkhove and focuses on the impact of COVID-19 on lending to mom or pop micro businesses, to minority businesses, and to businesses in communities of color.

Our research indicates that Black-owned businesses have benefitted less from federal programs, including the Paycheck Protection Program. There are also grave issues regarding language access for business owners who have limited English proficiency. Ruhi and Bard include a list of recommendations, including:

  • Increase the Use of and Support for CDFIs
  • Increase Access for LEP and Immigrant Business Owners
  • Expansion and enhancement of CRA small business lending data
  • Passage of legislation modeled on the Small Business Borrowers’ Bill of Rights (BBoR)

You can read the full testimony here.


Victory for ICE Out of Courts

In a victory for the sanctity of NYS courts and safety of immigrant communities, the Legislature passed the Protect Our Courts Act (A.2176/S.0425), which bars federal immigration officers from making civil arrests in state courthouses without a judicial warrant. We are proud to have been a part of pushing for this important legislation!


Immigration Legal Help Line

We are very pleased to announce our new Immigration Legal Help Line! Every Tuesday from 2:00-4:00 pm you can call our Long Island team 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!


Impact of COVID-19 on Mortgage Lending and Foreclosure

Senior Attorney Kirsten Keefe, appeared on The Sanctuary for Independent Media’s Upstate Housing Program on July 23 to talk about disproportionate effects of COVID-19 on New York’s homeowners. Due to the ripple effects of COVID-19, 14% of New Yorkers missed their last mortgage payment. But when you break that down by race you see something even more alarming:

  • White Homeowners – 11% missed their last payment.
  • Black and Brown Homeowners – 35% missed their last payment.

Thankfully, the Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP) can help people keep their homes. If you’re a homeowner in need of help, you can find more information on the HomeSave website, or you can call the statewide HOPP help line: 1-855-466-3456.


Fighting for Food Security

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is key to food security for nearly three million New Yorkers. That’s why we are standing up against harmful work rules finalized by the Trump administration late last year, which drastically expand the number of people who are subject to the harsh work requirements, take away discretion needed by states to respond quickly to economic downturns, and put hundreds of thousands of people across the country at risk of losing essential support in the middle of a historic public health and economic crisis.

Empire Justice Center joined the National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ), the Legal Aid Society, Greater Hartford Legal Aid, and the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute to file an amicus brief in support of the Plaintiffs in District of Columbia et.al. v. U.S.D.A. The litigation was filed by fourteen state attorneys general, the City of New York and the Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia, challenges these work rules.

In March, the Court ordered that implementation of the work rules be halted during the litigation. The Plaintiffs now seek to permanently block the rules.

Our amicus brief highlights the difficulties SNAP recipients in New York, Connecticut, and Massachusetts will face if the rules are allowed to go into effect. You can read our brief here.


Unemployment Benefits and Paid Leave

And one last reminder that our Unemployment and Paid Leave Legal Help Line is still active – 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 and new laws enacted by the federal and NY state governments to provide additional paid leave and job protections to New Yorkers.

To be connected with an attorney on these issues, please call 800-724-0490 ext. 5827.


Thank You For Reading

We’re planning to take August off for Policy Matters, so keep an eye out in September for our next edition. 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