Policy Matters – June 2020

Eòghann Renfroe June 16, 2020

Welcome to the June edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. In this edition we’ll be sharing our latest legislative and budget updates, advocacy to remove barriers for New Yorkers in need of cash and food assistance, ways to better meet civil legal needs, protections for immigrants’ health, and statements on Black Lives Matter and LGBTQ rights.



In Solidarity With Black and Brown Communities

As a statewide legal services and advocacy organization for marginalized and low-income communities, our mission is to make the law work for all New Yorkers. We say that the time for systemic change is long past due.

The Empire Justice Center is in solidarity with Black and Brown communities across New York and the United States during this time of collective rage and mourning. Read our statement here.


Legislative and State Budget Update

This legislative session continues to be unique. For the first time since the State Budget passed, the NYS Legislature finally re-convened in late May, and again in early June; first to engage in pressing issues regarding the Coronavirus pandemic, and most recently to pressing issues of police brutality and reform.

In the end the Legislature passed eleven bills, including legislation allowing the release of police disciplinary records, the prohibition of racial profiling, a chokehold ban, and a right to record. Unfortunately, another important reform bills did not advance – the Walking While Trans bill (A.0654/S.2253), which would repeal a loitering law that is disproportionately used to profile visibly transgender women in public, especial trans women of color. Empire Justice Center teamed up with other transgender advocates and Assemblymember Félix Ortiz to organize and deliver a joint panel on Walking While Trans and the Gender Recognition Act (A.3457-B/S.0056-B) at this year’s SOMOS conference in February.

The billions of dollars in potential cuts to social services programs continue to loom over New York State. State Comptroller Tom DiNapoli stated there was a 68% drop in revenue in April of this year compared to last. No definitive cuts have yet been announced, as the Governor and other state leaders continue to look to the Federal government for relief, leaving longstanding programs that serve communities in need in a state of uncertainty.

However, the State has begun delaying payments to programs and is not renewing long-standing contracts, pushing some programs into premature financial instability and threatening the well-being of the New Yorkers these programs serve.


COVID-19 Will Leave New Yorkers in Need of Civil Legal Help

Kristin Brown, our President & CEO, and NYS Senator Brad Hoylman co-wrote an op-ed for the AM New York Metro. Three Ways To Better Meet Civil Legal Needs Now makes the case that we need to build up our civil legal services in order to best deal with the lasting effects of COVID-19.


Removing Barriers to Benefits

The pandemic has disproportionally affected people in low-income and minority communities.  New Yorkers who receive public benefits face a number of challenges in receiving necessary assistance, including overcoming hurdles with the online application process, dealing with very long wait times for basic necessities, and trouble receiving Federal stimulus payments.

Our Benefits team raised 13 common problems with the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) in this letter, including waiving mandatory wait times, sanctions, illegal evictions, and child support. We will continue to work with the agency and other advocates to solve these issues and make sure New Yorkers in need are able to get the assistance they’re entitled to.


Protecting Immigrants’ Health

We participated in the SEPA Mujer informational event, Protecting Immigrants’ Health during COVID-19 and Beyond, on June 9 (in Spanish) and June 10 (in English). Cheryl Keshner, Senior Paralegal, joined other advocates to discuss immigrant access to medical care, public charge, and the Coverage 4 All campaign.


Small Business & Mortgage Lending As Civil Rights Issues

On May 28 three of our consumer advocates, Ruhi Maker, Barb Van Kerkhove, and Kirsten Keefe submitted written testimony on the impact of Covid-19 on lending in minority businesses communities, and on the impact on minority homeowners struggling to cope with foreclosure.

We recommended that Congress address structural issues in the Paycheck Protection Program to ensure that minority-owned businesses can access the program. In addition, we stressed the importance of affordable loan options for start-up small businesses, the role of community development financial institutions, and the need to fund the Homeowner Protection Program.


LGBTQ Employment Rights and Rollback of Transgender Health Care Protections

On June 12, the Trump administration promulgated a new rule that removed health care protections for transgender and gender non-conforming individuals under the Affordable Care Act. Three days after this attack on transgender lives, the Supreme Court released their decision in Bostock v. Clayton County Ga., holding that lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer employees cannot be fired on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity under Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

As we say in our statement, this historic ruling clearly delineates that protections on the basis of sex include protections for the entire LGBTQ community, whether the discrimination they face is based on sexual orientation or on gender identity. This ruling should serve as a guiding authority to render the rule promulgated on June 12th as invalid.


COVID-19 Free Legal Resources

As we revealed last edition, Empire Justice has created a series of COVID-19-related free legal resources. We have been able to translate a number of these resources into the following languages, and continue to work to translate and update more:

  • Spanish
  • Mandarin (Traditional)
  • Mandarin (Simplified)
  • Korean

A huge thank you to the Asian American Bar Association of New York (AABANY) for their pro bono services on the Korean and Mandarin translations, and to Ibero-American Action League for their services on Spanish translations!

Additionally, Lacie White, our Crime Victims Legal Network Program Marketing Manager, has been interviewing legal staff in a series of COVID-19 FAQ videos. These videos provide a look inside the work we’re doing on COVID-19 relief while providing FAQ information in a format that may be more engaging or helpful for audio/visually inclined folks. Videos so far:


Unemployment Benefits and Paid Leave

Before we wrap up we want to remind you that last month we launched our Unemployment and Paid Leave Legal Help Line. If you have questions about unemployment or paid leave, you can call the help line and attorneys will provide legal advice and counsel regarding the New York State Unemployment Insurance program (which has been recently modified and dramatically expanded to help people who are unable to work or who lost their jobs as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic) 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

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