Policy Matters – July 2021

Eòghann Renfroe July 28, 2021


Welcome to the July edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. This is our only summer edition, which we will use to catch up on end of session legislative victories and our summer work. You can read an archived version here.


Victories for Poor and Marginalized New Yorkers Mark End of Dynamic Legislative Session

We had a very challenging but fruitful legislative session this year, as we continued to adapt to changing COVID protocols while advocating for and with New Yorkers who have been the most affected by the pandemic.

We worked hard to secure successes in all of our funding campaigns this year, and secured at least level funding for the Disability Advocacy Program (DAP) for very low-income disabled people, the Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP) for homeowners facing foreclosure, the Liberty Defense Program for immigrants facing removal proceedings, and the Consumer Health Advocates (CHA) program for people coping with medical debt and unfair healthcare care decisions. We also secured new funding for the Tenant Defense Program in Rochester, which will allow all Rochester-area legal services organizations to provide representation for low-income tenants facing housing instability.

On the policy front, we secured victories affecting thousands of low-income and marginalized New Yorkers, including:

  • The NYS Gender Recognition Act (S.4402/A.5465): a comprehensive bill that will create streamlined and privacy-protective processes for transgender and nonbinary New Yorkers to update and obtain accurate identification documents.
  • Fixing Partial Unemployment (S.7148/A.7959 and S.1042/A.2355): two bills which revamp New York’s partial unemployment system by relating unemployment benefits to actual earnings the worker receives from part-time employment, instead of number of days worked.
  • Reforming the Benefits Sanctions Process (S.0668/A.3227): a measure that would provide a more fair and efficient process for public benefits recipients to respond to sanctions violations allegations. This bill is waiting for the Governor’s signature.
  • Repealing the Welfare Lien: which repealed laws that require applicants for public assistance who own homes to give a mortgage to the county as a condition for eligibility for public assistance.
  • Reducing Interest Rates on Civil Judgements for Consumers (A.6474/S.5727): a measure that will reduce interest rate on civil judgements against consumers from 9% to 2%.
  • Language Access in Monroe County: A local campaign that passed a law to create a coordinator position for access to language in Monroe County.

Read more about our legislative victories, and where we’re going next, in our end of session press statement.


Landmark Transgender ID Legislation Signed by Governor

After years of legal and legislative advocacy, leading a robust coalition of trans, nonbinary, and intersex activists and organizations, the NYS Gender Recognition Act (S.4402/A.5465) was passed by the Legislature during the last days of session, and then signed into law by the Governor on June 24.

“This bill is not just about securing documents that reflect our identities as transgender, nonbinary, or intersex people, it’s about securing our safety, our housing, our education, our health – in all the situations and places where that little ID card or scrap of paper is between us and what we need to survive and thrive,” said Eòghann Renfroe, Empire Justice Center’s Policy & Communications Manager, said in coverage of the bill’s passage and signing.

The NYS Gender Recognition Act removes many of the barriers that transgender, nonbinary, and intersex New Yorkers have experienced in obtaining and updating accurate birth certificates, marriage certificates, driver’s licenses, and court-ordered name changes. It does this through the statutory creation of an X gender marker option for New York State-issued birth certificates and driver’s licenses, the implementation of a self-attestation standard for recognizing gender identity, removal of the requirement to publish in a newspaper for a court-ordered name change, addition of a requirement for justification for judicial notifications, and a host of other improvements.

You can find out more about the new laws in our factsheet and joint memo of support. We’re also working on creating materials for the community to explain the new rights and processes, and when they go into effect, which we’ll be sure to share in a future edition of Policy Matters.


Victory for Working NYers With Overhaul of New York’s Partial Unemployment Laws

Following a spirited campaign by Empire Justice and other low wage advocates, two bills improving New York’s partial unemployment system (S.7148/A.7959 and S.1042/A.2355) were signed by the Governor on July 16.

This historic reform is a meaningful step for New York economic recovery and for the 600,000 workers who currently receive part-time unemployment benefits. More than two-thirds of recipients come from low-and moderate-income industries including accommodations, food services, healthcare, social assistance, and retail and more than half are workers in Black and Brown communities.

“As a statewide legal services organization, we handle many cases where a worker inadvertently loses all of their benefits simply by working a few extra hours. The effect of the cliff is devastating and unfair. We applaud Senator Ramos, Assemblymember Stirpe and the Governor for implementing this historic reform,” said Kristin Brown, President and CEO of the Empire Justice Center in our joint release on the passage of the bills.

Read more about this important victory in this coverage from Bloomberg: New York to Overhaul Part-Time Unemployment Insurance Program.


Immigrant Eligibility for Public Benefits in New York State

The Public Benefits Immigrant Eligibility Chart, an ongoing joint project of Empire Justice Center and the NY Immigration Coalition (NYIC), has just been updated.

Empire Justice Center’s work on the chart is done by our Attorney Emeritus and former Senior Attorney in the Albany office, Barbara Weiner.


Community Discussion on Equity and Anti-Racism

A number of Empire Justice staff participated in a community discussion on equity and anti-racism convened by Pittsford Town Board member, Kevin Beckford, on July 15. Kristi Hughes, our VP for Development & Administration introduced the topics – Child Tax Credits, presented by Yversha Roman; Language Access, presented by Marlene Cortes, Foreclosure Prevention, presented by Luis Ormaechea, and the Community Reinvestment Act, presented by Barb VanKerkhove and Ruhi Maker.


Child Tax Credit Outreach

Our CASH program is busy doing outreach to help families access the new Child Tax Credit funds that began rolling out earlier this month. The child tax credit is available to households with kids under 17, that make less than $150,000 per year. Monthly installments will be paid out through the end of the year – up to $250 per child and as much as $300 for children under six.

To find out more about our CASH services visit our website here or call 585-900-1004 for help today!


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 on temporary hold as we work through a considerable backlog, but check back as we anticipate opening up again soon.  


Thank You For Reading

Policy Matters will be back in September – in the meantime, 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