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Policy Matters – November 2023

Empire Justice Center November 30, 2023

Welcome to the November edition of our newsletter Policy Matters. In this edition we cover: the signing of a deed theft bill into law; the other outstanding bills we’re watching through the end of the year; the HOPP Advocates’ conference – with a big headliner; protections for Medicaid recipients; concerns about the funding to provide services crime victims and more. You can also read an archived version of the newsletter here. 

 

Signed into law 

Governor Hochul recently signed a bill to help protect New York homeowners who have been victims of deed theft (S.6577 Kavanagh /A.6656 Weinstein). This law will streamline procedures for a federal, state or local government when the owner was the victim of deed theft. We applaud the governor, and we thank the sponsors and the attorney general for their work on this.  

Staff Attorney Lisa Milas presented testimony at a hearing on deed theft in October ’22, proposing a three-pronged approach – 1) enforcing existing laws; 2) creating a strong, new consumer protection law that covers all scams; and 3) support for the Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP).  

HOPP is often the first line of defense for low-income New Yorkers targeted by deed theft scams. The most effective way to combat deed theft and foreclosure rescue scams in New York State is to ensure to the greatest extent possible that homeowners can’t fall prey to these scams in the first place. 

 

Awaiting the Governor

We’re closely monitoring the following bills that passed both chambers this session and will have a positive impact on our client communities when signed by Governor Hochul.

  • Decoupling Bill (S.5327 Brisport/A.4986A Hevesi): Will provide equitable access to child care for children whose parents work non-traditional hours. Read our memo in support. 
  • Fair Medical Debt Reporting Act (S.4907 Rivera/A.6275 Paulin): Will prohibit medical debt from being collected by a consumer reporting agency or included in a consumer report. Read our memo in support 
  • Private Education Debt Registry Bill (S.5056 Thomas/A.5286 Epstein): Will require the NYS Department of Financial Services to establish a registry of private student loan debt owed by New York State residents. Read our memo in support.  

 

Connect at the Capital 

A record number of advocates will be in Albany for the annual statewide convening, HOPP (Homeowners Protection Program) Year 12 Connect at the Capital! 

In addition to training sessions, the NY Office of the Attorney General will be presenting on their recent comprehensive report “Racial Disparities in Homeownership. We are thrilled that Leah Rothstein, co-author with Richard Rothstein of Just Action – How to Challenge Segregation Enacted Under the Color of Law, will be delivering the keynote address. There will also be a panel discussion on challenges to protecting homeownership for Black and Brown New Yorkers. We look forward to connecting with colleagues across the state and honing skills to serve New York homeowners.  

 

Protecting Medicaid Recipients

As you read in the last Policy Matters, our Health team has been part of a coalition raising concerns about the NYS Dept of Health’s planned expansion of the NY Independent Assessor Program to include routine reassessments; these assessments are required annually in order for Medicaid recipients to maintain home care services. We urged delay of the rollout and changes to the program to help protect Medicaid recipients as they try to access and keep necessary home care services. We are relieved to report that NYDOH has announced they are postponing the rollout. We applaud this pause and look forward to working with DOH to help ensure Medicaid recipients continue to be able to access the care they need.    

 

Pets in Domestic Violence Situations

Regional Attorney Coordinator with the Crime Victims Legal Network Amy Bogardus, recently interviewed with the Sheltering Animals and Families Together (SAFeTy) Chronicles about the importance of considering pets when supporting victims of domestic violence. She discussed legal tools and resources available, and how animal abuse links to family violence. This follows article Amy authored for the New York State Bar Association, What Lawyers Can Do When Pet Abuse and Domestic Violence Intersect 

 

Protecting Consumers

Empire Justice Center and 20 other economic justice advocates from across New York met at the annual meeting of New Yorkers for Responsible Lending (NYRL). During the meeting, NYRL presented Senator Kevin Thomas with the Bob Martin Consumer Justice Award for the Senator’s longtime support of NYRL. The group also heard from Erin Witte of the Consumer Federation of America about defending the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.  

At the meeting, NYRL identified the Consumer and Small Business Protection Act S795 (Comrie) / A7138 (Weinstein) as a top priority for the 2024 session. The bill will protect consumers by bringing New York in line with 42 other states by banning unfair practices – currently New York only bans deceptive conduct.  

Regarding the Consumer and Small Business Protection Act, former senator David Carlucci published an opinion piece in the Buffalo News: Hidden clauses in everyday consumer contracts are unfair. Also, an AARP volunteer published a letter to the editor in the Times Union about the importance of passing this act.  

 

Growing Concerns about Funding to Support Victims of Crime in NYS

On November 14, the Office of Victims Services gave a presentation that was an Overview of State and Federal Funding Sources. As early as last spring, OVS has been raising concerns about the changes in federal funding sources, including in the Crime Victims Fund End of Year Balance and Crime Victims Fund Annual Receipts, and how that might impact agencies who support victims of crime, and the victims themselves. 

In this presentation, OVS shared concerns that Year three of current grant may by reduced by 10-15% . The conversation also raised concerns about funding for future contracts. The Times Union also reported last month on concerns from advocates that the funding may decrease 

At Empire Justice Center, the OVS funds both direct services to clients who were impacted by crime and work on the Crime Victims Legal Network, which is a partnership that works to connect victims of crime with civil legal information, resources, and assistance.

At Empire Justice Center, the OVS contract funds both direct services to clients who were impacted by crime and the work of the Crime Victims Legal Network Team, which leads the partnership of organizations that works to connect victims of crime with civil legal information, resources, and assistance, and provides technical assistance and support to civil legal attorneys funded by OVS.

Empire Justice has been working with the New York Legal Services Coalition, and other coalitions that serve victims, to raise concerns about the importance of these funds.

 

National Attention on the Health Impacts of Pretext stops 

At the annual conference of the American Society of Criminology this month, Dr. Catherine Cerulli of the University of Rochester and one of our partners in studying the effects of pretext stops , presented an academic poster and facilitated a round table:  The Physical and Mental Health Impact of Non-Safety Walking, Biking, and Traffic Stops on Those Stopped. Her presentation was well-received and the event shows the growing attention on the harm of pretext stops  

 

Appointed

We are excited to share that Chief Strategy Officer Jill Paperno was appointed by Governor Hochul to be a member of the Board of the Office of Indigent Legal Services. This board assists county governments and indigent legal services providers in providing the effective assistance of counsel to those persons who are legally entitled to counsel, but cannot afford to hire an attorney.  Congratulations, Jill! 

 

We Teach the Law

This month’s training highlights: 

  • Managing Attorney of our Crime Victims Unit Remla Parthasarathy provided her expertise at NYSCADV’s Expert Witness Testimony Initiative which is a 2-part training for domestic violence advocates statewide  
  • Director of Training and Technical Assistance Amy Schwartz-Wallace and LGBTQ Rights Staff Attorney Lettie Dickerson hosted two trainings for domestic violence programs on their legal obligations for serving transgender and gender-nonconforming survivors   
  • The Crime Victim Legal Network team hosted a CLE (Continuing Legal Education) addressing New York’s Red Flag Law featuring Amy Schwartz-Wallace with Louise Goodman, our legal intern from Albany Law School 
  • The DAP State Support team hosted a CLE on avoiding Supplemental Security Income (SSI) Terminations 
  • Marlene Cortés, Senior Program Manager, Language Justice, spoke with a group of Deaf college students at RIT about how to be leaders around language justice 

 

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. Please feel free to forward this to a friend. 

If you need civil legal help, you can email us. 

 

The Empire Justice Policy Team