Policy Matters – May 2021

Eòghann Renfroe May 26, 2021


Welcome to the May edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. In this edition we cover our remaining legislative priorities for 2021 – including bills to streamline updating identity documents for trans New Yorkers, fixing the State Supplemental Program, ending sanctions on public assistance recipients, and finalizing the unemployment benefit fix – as well as our work on Language Access around the state. You can also read an archived version here.


2021 Legislative Priorities – What’s Left?

We’re just a few short weeks away from the end of the 2021 Legislative session, and as legislators and advocates are readying for the final push, here is what Empire Justice has left on the table:


Gender Recognition Act (GRA)

88% of trans New Yorkers have not been able to update all of their identity documents, with an incredible 63% not able to update any of these documents. Unfortunately, mismatching ID leaves transgender and nonbinary New Yorkers open to discrimination in employment, housing, education, travel, and health care – in fact, 34% of trans New Yorkers who have shown an ID with a name or gender that did not match their gender presentation have been verbally harassed, denied benefits or service, asked to leave, or assaulted.

That’s why Empire Justice has been working with a robust coalition of advocates, including the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund (TLDEF), TransLatinx Network, New York Transgender Advocacy Group (NYTAG), Lambda Legal, Transgender Law Center, Urban Justice Center, New York Legal Assistance Group, Make the Road NY, New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), and many other groups to develop the Gender Recognition Act (S.4402/A.5465), a comprehensive bill that will create streamlined and privacy-protective processes for updating and obtaining accurate identification documents, such as NYS birth certificates, driver’s licenses, marriage certificates, and legal name changes.

Thanks to our sponsors, Senator Brad Hoylman and Assemblymember Danny O’Donnell, and strong advocacy from our coalition, the GRA has been gathering momentum in both houses – the bill’s gone through the Government Operations and Codes Committees in the Assembly in the past week, and is already sitting at third reading in the Senate. We’re determined to push this important bill across the finish line before the end of this session!


Fixing the State Supplemental Program (SSP) for Senior and Disabled New Yorkers

Many senior and disabled New Yorkers rely on Social Security Income (SSI), a needs-based program available only to those with very limited or no income. In New York, SSI has a federal component, administered by the Social Security Administration, and a state component, SSP, which has been administered by OTDA since 2014. Currently, New York’s SSP portion is either in the amounts of $23 or $87 each month for individuals, and $46 or $104 for couples, depending on living arrangement.

Due to delays and complexities embedded in the disability benefits applications process, a number of very low-income seniors and disabled New Yorkers are eligible for SSP only for a five- month period while waiting for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, and are no longer active SSP recipients by the time SSI benefits are awarded. Recent regulatory changes at the OTDA eliminated these recipients who rely on this small, but critical income to make ends meet.

Empire Justice has been working to develop legislation to address this issue, and we are thrilled that Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal and Senator Rachel May have filed A.7528/S.7035.  This measure would require the Office of Temporary Disability (OTDA) to continue to provide State Supplement Program (SSP) benefits to senior and disabled individuals whose eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) is for a short period only.


The Sanctions Bill Is Back

Under current law, public assistance recipients outside of New York City who miss as little as a single day of work can face an automatic suspension of benefits for up to six months due to the existing “sanctions process.” In addition, many individuals who are subjected to sanctions do not have the resources necessary to pursue a successful appeal. Those who do request a hearing remain sanctioned for months unless they have requested their hearing within ten days, resulting in hardship and homelessness.

A bill that improves response to sanctions allegations against public benefits recipients  is moving in both chambers again. This long overdue bill, A.3227/S.0668, would allow individuals in the rest of the state the same “second chance” that public assistance recipients in New York City already receive. We deeply appreciate that the bill’s sponsors, Assemblymember Pam Hunter and Senator Rachel May, are keeping up the pressure on this issue.

Long-time readers may remember the influence of the late Don Friedman on this bill. Don, who unexpectedly passed away last year just two months after his retirement from Empire Justice, was a statewide sanctions expert and championed this bill in the previous legislative session, when it passed in 2019 but was vetoed by the Governor. If signed into law, this bill will improve the process in New York State by which public benefits recipients respond to an allegation that they have failed to comply with a welfare work requirement, bringing the State process into line with NYC.


Part-Time Unemployment – The Fix Is (Almost) In

Working New Yorkers have been waiting since January for the Governor to sign the Fix Partial Unemployment Insurance (A.2355/S.1042) bill, which fixes outdated part-time unemployment insurance law. Currently, New York State’s part-time employment laws bar workers from collecting unemployment benefits if they work four or more days a week, even if a person is only working one hour a day. Similarly, people who work fewer than four days a week lose 25% of their weekly unemployment assistance for each day worked, even if they only work for one hour that day.

Once signed into law, this measure would change this outdated way of counting “days worked” and allow part-time workers to earn up to 50% of their unemployment insurance benefit before experiencing a reduction. Negotiations are currently underway with the Governor’s office to develop an interim solution to the partial unemployment payments between the signing of the bill and when the new law would go into effect.


Improving Adult English Language Program Availability

Marlene Cortés, Senior Manager, took part in Assemblymember Catalina Cruz’s Statewide Listening Tour. Cruz is the Chair of Task Force on New Americans, and Marlene shared her expertise as part of the Improving Adult English Language Program Availability session on May 6.


Language Access Webinar Series

Empire Justice co-developed and hosted a series of language access webinars across the month of May, highlighting best practices for interpretation, language inclusivity, Deaf and hard of hearing communication, and working with refugee communities.

You can still access and watch each webinar at the links below:

There will be one final webinar next week, What is Language Access? – keep an eye on our Twitter and Facebook for the link to register!


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

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