Policy Matters – March 2020

Eòghann Renfroe March 10, 2020


Policy Matters – March 2020

Welcome to Policy Matters – Empire Justice Center’s newsletter to catch you up on all of our policy advocacy efforts to make the law work for all New Yorkers!

In this edition we’ll be catching you up on our state budget advocacy, the importance of foreclosure protection, the Gender Recognition Act, pushing back against harmful proposed Social Security regulations, and more.


Budget Testimony and Advocacy

If you’ve been at the Capitol during this budget season you’ve probably seen at least one of our policy team members pounding the pavement for our various budget priorities, meeting with legislators, organizing lobby days, and delivering testimony in following areas:

Human Services – Budget Testimony 2020: The big one. We go all in on funding for the Disability Advocacy Program (DAP); the need to improve the New York State Supplement to the Federal SSI Program; support for addressing the growing crisis of homelessness with Home Stability Support; the need for continued funding for immigration legal services; and continued funding for Consumer Health Advocates (CHA), and the Managed Care Consumer Assistance Program (MCCAP); and go deep into the numbers around access to child care low income families. For folks who followed our campaigns on the Treating Physician bill and the Sanctions bill, you’ll find we’re continuing to push for them here.

Public Protection – Budget Testimony 2020: In 2019, the Office of Court Administration found that 58% of civil legal needs of low to moderate income New Yorkers continue to go unmet each year. Studies have shown that civil legal aid is a fundamental force in building family and community stability as well as providing cost effective services, leveraging an estimated $10 for every $1 invested.

Housing – Budget Testimony 2020: Since 2012, the Home Owner Protection Program’s (HOPP) network of 87 housing counseling and legal services programs have helped well over 100,000 families statewide and have saved homes in around 34 percent of those cases by loan modification. HOPP needs $20 million to continue these critical services by March 31, or two thirds of these services will immediately be forced to end, with further cuts expected.


Saving Homes From Foreclosure

Senior Attorney Kirsten Keefe has been working hard to raise awareness about the importance of continued funding for HOPP. In addition to lobby days, where advocates have met with legislators such as Assembly Ways & Means Chair, Helene Weinstein, (pictured above), Kirsten co-wrote this New York Daily News op-ed with Senator Zellnor Myrie, and Jacob Inwald from Legal Services NYC, and appeared on the Sanctuary for Independent Media’s daily news podcast to talk HOPP and foreclosure prevention with Mark Dunlea of the Hudson Mohawk Radio Network.


Gender Recognition Act

Access to accurate identity documents can be key in many areas of life, whether you’re trying to get a job, enroll your children in school, rent an apartment, or see the doctor. But for transgender and nonbinary New Yorkers there are a multitude of legal, financial, and logistical barriers to updating their documents with the correct name and gender.

The Gender Recognition Act (A.3457/S.0056) seeks to change that, introducing streamlined and privacy-protective processes for updating birth certificates, driver’s licenses, and legal name changes. Read our Joint Memo of Support and our GRA Fact Sheet.

On February 5, our Policy Coordinator, Eòghann Renfroe, spoke on Assembly Update with Assistant Speaker Félix W. Ortiz, Assembly sponsor for the Gender Recognition Act, to talk about the bill and how it would affect the transgender and nonbinary community. You can watch that video on Assistant Speaker Ortiz’s website (just scroll down the list videos until you get to “Gender Recognition Act”).


Consumer Protection Hearing in Rochester

On February 20th, the Department of Financial Services Superintendant, Linda A. Lacewell, held a consumer protection hearing in Rochester, focused on issues around predatory debt collectors, subprime auto loans, for-profit schools, and student loans. Ruhi Maker, Senior Attorney with Empire Justice Center (pictured center, above), Anna Anderson, Supervising Attorney with Legal Assistance of Western NY (LAWNY), and Kelly Miterko, Director of Policy for the City of Rochester all testified.


A Bank For People Who Don’t Trust Banks

Why is there such a disparity in banking rates among low income and people of color communities? Structural racism and racial disparities in lending are a big part of the story. Our Consumer Policy Analyst, Barb van Kerkhove, lays it out in this article in the Rochester City Newspaper:

“It’s partly the legacy of red-lining that’s been happening since Reconstruction. But I also think there’s a lot of racism that’s still happening in our community and the way things are structured.”

You can read more about racial and income disparities in lending in Rochester in our 2018 report, Too Big to Fail… Too Poor to Bank.


Home Stability Support

We’ve put together an updated memo for Home Stability Support (HSS) (A.1620/S.2375), the powerful bill which would help address rampant homelessness in New York State by creating a new rent and heating supplement to enable low-income New Yorkers to remain in their homes. We also attended the rally for HSS on February 24, where sponsors Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi and Senator Liz Krueger spoke, along with advocates, about the impact this bill would have on New York.


Pushing Against Harmful Proposed Social Security Regulations

Empire Justice Center is the statewide coordinator of the Disability Advocacy Program (DAP), which provides legal assistance to low income, disabled New Yorkers seeking Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Social Security Disability (SSD).

Statewide DAP Coordinators Kate Callery and Emilia Sicilia (pictured above, with colleagues from Community Legal Services and Legal Aid Chicago), were among six advocates nationally who were invited to provide a briefing to federal staff on new proposed regulations for the Social Security Administration (SSA) that would negatively impact the way SSA conducts Continuing Disability Reviews (CDRs). The meeting on January 6th included staffers from the House Ways & Means Social Security Subcommittee, Ways & Means Worker and Family Support Subcommittee, the Senate Finance Committee, and the Senate Aging Committee. Empire Justice will continue to advocate against these harmful proposed regulations.

You can read the comments we submitted to SSA here:


Consumer Protection Task Force

We are very pleased to share that Senior Attorney Kirsten Keefe has been named to the newly formed Consumer Protection Task Force within the Department of Financial Services (DFS) that will further DFS’s mission to protect consumers as the federal government rolls back important consumer protections.


Thanks For Reading!

For more information on any of our 2020 legislative priorities, please reach out to Vice President for Policy & Government Relations, Eden Forsythe (eforsythe@empirejustice.org, 518-935-2843) or Policy & Government Relations Coordinator, Eòghann Renfroe (erenfroe@empirejustice.org, 518-935-2856).

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.


The Empire Justice Policy Team