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Policy Matters – May 2023

Eòghann Renfroe May 31, 2023

Welcome to the May edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. In this edition we cover the final NYS Budget, the end of session push, SNAP application delays, legal rights for people living in mobile homes, surveys for nursing homes and pretext stops, best practices on tackling the intersection of domestic violence and animal abuse, and recognitions for outstanding work by Empire Justice staff. You can also read an archived version here.

 

Final NYS Budget Has Steady Progress in Some Areas, Gaps in Others

The need for civil legal services across New York State has never been greater. Thankfully, the final New York State budget included funding that will serve our clients and our client communities – with notable increases for some of Empire Justice Center’s key programs, including the Disability Advocacy Program (DAP), the Homeowners Protection Program (HOPP), and a cost of living adjustment for Judiciary Civil Legal Services (JCLS). However, there were also gaps created by cuts to Community Health Advocates (CHA) and the need for stronger measures to address benefits skimming.

You can read more in our press statement on the final 2023 New York State Budget.

 

End of Session Push

In the final days of session, we are pushing for a number of bills that will support our client communities. We have participated in several advocacy days with coalition partners. With the New York Legal Services Coalition, coalition members participated in a full day of meetings with legislators and staff; conversations were focused on the Notarization Bill — S.5162 (Hoylman-Sigal) / A.5772 (Lavine), which will allow litigants in civil cases to swear to a statement without having to notarize the document, removing an outdated burden to access to justice in civil proceedings, and a bill to require the state’s contracts with not for profits to be executed in a timely way — S.4877 (Mayer) / A.2740 (Paulin). We participated in a lobby day for the Gender Identity Respect, Dignity, and Safety Act A.0709-A (Rozic) / S.2860 (Salazar), which would help ensure the rights of incarcerated transgender people. We joined partners advocating for the New York Public Banking Act S.1754 (Sanders) / A.3352 (Hunter). Additionally, our President and CEO Kristin Brown spoke about the need to reform our state contracting process at a rally and press event at the Day of Action for the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NYSCADV). Melinda Fithen, together with other members of the NYS UI Coalition, has created a letter of support for a proposed bill in the NYS Senate relating to the recovery of overpayments of unemployment benefits. The bill would protect “low-income benefits claimants who are overpaid benefits through no fault of their own from punitive benefits claw backs. The bill will particularly aid people of color, limited English proficiency claimants, and claimants with limited technological access who are disproportionately burdened with unfair overpayments.”

Some additional pieces of legislation we are working to get passed:

  • Consumer and Small Business Protection Act — S.795 (Comrie) / A.7138 (Weinstein)
  • A bill to codify the Homeowners Protection Program (HOPP) — S.7297 (Kavanagh) / A.7636 (Solages)
  • A package of bills to address deed theft, introduced in partnership with the Office of the Attorney General; see the announcement — 6577(Kavanagh) / A.6656 (Weinstein) and S.6569 (Myrie).
  • Private Education Debt Registry Bill – S.5056 (Thomas) / A.5286 (Epstein)
  • Consumer Debt Bill — 4750 (Thomas) / A.5368 (Epstein)
  • Taxpayer Bill of Rights — 5213(Thomas) / A.4935 (Weinstein)
  • Private right of action for Mortgage Servicing Regulations — 564A (Kavanagh) / A.2131A (Dinowitz)
  • Ounce of Prevention — 1366 (Rivera) /A.6027 (Paulin)
  • Fair Medical Debt Reporting – S.4907 (Rivera) /A.6275 (Paulin)
  • Fair Debtor Court Bill — 4750 (Thomas) /A.5368 (Epstein)

 

SNAP Processing Delays Hitting New Yorkers Across the State

New York Focus spoke with Senior Benefits Attorney Jessica Radbord about the explosion of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) processing delays that are affecting applicants across the state. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers who have applied for SNAP have had their benefits delayed for more than 30 days, in violation of federal law.

“Applicants are subject to so much scrutiny to access a level of assistance that is astoundingly low,” Jessica told New York Focus.

We are currently analyzing county-level data on these delays in order to develop next steps to address this growing problem.

 

A Decent Home – For Whom?

Senior Attorney Kirsten Keefe appeared on the PBS program MetroFocus along with documentary film director Sara Terry on May 24 to talk about the economics of mobile home parks and the injustices experienced by residents. Terry’s film A Decent Home details how private equity firms and wealthy investors buy up parks, making sky-high returns on their investments while squeezing every last penny out of the mobile home owners who lack rights and protections under local and state laws, and must pay rent for the land they live on. Kirsten joined the conversation to discuss the legal protections New York legislators have in the works to support residents of the state’s 1,800 trailer home parks.

 

NYS Nursing Home Survey

We need your input! In partnership with Center for Elder Law & Justice and through funding made available by the New York Health Foundation, we are pleased to announce the expansion of our nursing home resident rights resource guide.

We want to hear from community members who have had personal experiences with nursing homes, whether as a resident, family member, friend or employee. In connecting with our community, we will identify issues for nursing home residents, create educational materials, and advocate for change.

To take the survey, visit Nursing Home Experience Survey.

 

Pretext Stop Questionnaire

Empire Justice Center’s newly formed Police Reform Project has collaborated with JustCause (formerly known as Volunteer Legal Services Project), University of Rochester, and Rochester Institute of Technology to launch a survey to determine the physical and mental health impacts that police-citizen interactions have on our community. If you have been stopped by the police in the City of Rochester, and are over the age of 18, we want to hear from you — fill out our  Pretext Stop Questionnaire.

Participants can enter a drawing to win one of four $100 Amazon gift cards. Check our website for more information on our Police Reform Project.

 

Tackling the Intersection of Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse

Amy Bogardus, our Regional Attorney Manager for our NY Crime Victims Legal Help Program has written an article on the intersection of DV and animal abuse with tips for practitioners on how to recognize and respond to this issue. The article, “What Lawyers Can Do When Pet Abuse and Domestic Violence Intersect” is featured in the May/June edition of the New York State Bar Association Journal.

 

Cheryl Keshner Honored by Women’s Diversity Network

On April 29 Senior Paralegal Cheryl Keshner was honored at the Women’s Diversity Network’s 2023 Annual Diversity Summit. Cheryl has been an active advocate for racial and economic justice, police reform and for language access on Long Island.

Cheryl coordinates the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition, which works to ensure that all people receive equal access to programs and services, regardless of English proficiency. She also contributed to The People’s Plan, collaborative effort which contains numerous recommendations to reimagine policing and public safety and address bias in law enforcement in Nassau and Suffolk County. Congratulations Cheryl!

 

Jill Paperno Receives Rodenbeck Award

Our Chief Strategy Officer, Jill Paperno, received the prestigious Adolph J. Rodenbeck Award, presented by the Monroe County Bar Association! Jill is a former Monroe County Public Defender who has dedicated her career to improving access to justice for underserved communities.

The Rodenbeck Award, the Bar Association’s highest honor, recognizes improvements in the administration of justice; encouraging the public understanding of the history and traditions of the law, the courts, and the legal profession; promoting the responsiveness of legal institutions and the legal profession; and community service. Congratulations Jill!

 

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.

If you need civil legal help, you can find contact information for each of our offices here.

 

The Empire Justice Policy Team