Policy Matters: October 2022

Eòghann Renfroe October 31, 2022

Welcome to the October edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. In this edition we cover our work to promote greater access to justice, the massive inadequacy of the current public assistance grants, how to combat deed theft, the launch of our new school discrimination helpline, help for people with student debt, presentations and recognition for some of our amazing staff, marking Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and our upcoming Celebration of Leadership event! You can read an archived version here.


Meeting Stakeholders in Access to Justice

Our President & CEO Kristin Brown moderated the opening plenary of the annual Statewide Stakeholders Meeting of the NYS Permanent Commission on Access to Justice on October 24. This meeting, organized by the NYS Unified Court System, brought together advocates, attorneys, judges and others to hold sessions on topics relevant to the court system and access to justice.


No Math Makes Current Public Assistance Grants Work

The upcoming legislative session is looming and we’re working to make sure the issues facing low income New Yorkers are front and center before legislators as it approaches.

Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal, Chair of Assembly Social Services, called a public hearing to examine public assistance in New York State on October 26. Our Senior Benefits Attorney Jessica Radbord, along with Susan Welber of the Legal Aid Society, testified before the hearing.

“There is no math that makes the public assistance grant work,” Jessica stated while presenting our testimony. The shelter allowance, the public assistance grant, and the utility grant are all at levels that are decades old and in no way sufficient to meet the needs of New Yorkers in any part of the state. WENY covered the hearing and noted that “some people are left with only $10 a month for food and other necessities, after paying rent through safety net assistance.”


Prevention the Most Powerful Tool to Combat Deed Theft

Senator Brian Kavanaugh, Chair of Senate Housing, Construction and Community, also called a hearing, this one to examine the practice of deed theft in New York State. Deed theft scams have been proliferating in recent years, and Empire Justice has helped pass multiple protections for homeowners. Unfortunately, deed theft scams continue to evolve into new forms.

Staff Attorney Lisa Milas presented our deed theft testimony on October 27, which proposes a three-pronged approach – enforcing existing laws; creating a strong, new consumer protection law that covers all scams; and support for the Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP), which often ends up as a sort of 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.


New Statewide School Discrimination Helpline

Our Civil Rights practice group has launched a new statewide school discrimination helpline that will provide advice and counsel to students and families who may have been the subject of discrimination at a school in New York State.

Regular readers of Policy Matters will be familiar with the work that Empire Justice did to support legislation that allowed for the re-establishment of NYS Human Rights Law protections to public schools – something we achieved in 2019, after an eight year gap. This hotline is the next step to ensure that students of publicly funded K-12 schools, colleges, BOCES programs, and other educational institutions are not forced to endure discrimination in order to access education.

New York State prohibits schools from denying the use of its facilities or permitting the harassment of any student on the basis of race, color, religion, disability, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, military status, sex, age, or marital status.

Any students or families concerned they have been the subject of discrimination in a school setting in New York State can call 800-724-0490 Ext. 5827 or email schooldiscriminationhelpline@empirejustice.org to get legal guidance to understand and navigate their options. You can also visit the School Discrimination page of our website for more information.


Student Loan Assistance

Empire Justice has joined the Education Debt Consumer Assistance Program (EDCAP) to address the disparate impact student loan debt has on marginalized New Yorkers. Our Student Debt Counselor, Jordan Daniels, will offer free guidance to help New Yorkers with student loan debt to access loan forgiveness and discharge programs, apply for consolidation and deferment, get out of default, determine best repayment plans, and many other services.

To make an appointment for one-on-one counseling, call 518-935-2849 or email StudentDebt@empirejustice.org.


Presentations and Recognition

Marlene Cortés, our Senior Manager of Language Justice, teamed up with Dr. Wyatte Hall, of the University of Rochester, on a session for the New York State Community Action Association’s (NYSCAA) 2022 Annual Conference, which took place September 29-30. This session focused on Language Justice – an evolving framework based on respecting every individual’s fundamental right to communicate, understand, and be understood in the language they prefer and in which they feel most articulate and powerful – and the work that Marlene and Dr. Hall did together on Common Ground Health MyhealthStory2.0 to make it equitable for LEP and deaf community members.

The NYS Bar Association’s Partnership Conference had quite a bit of Empire Justice representation, as a number of our staff presented on legal issues affecting low income New Yorkers in various areas:

  • Senior Attorney Linda Hassberg teamed up with folks from Colaition for the Homeless and Neighborhood Legal Services to present on Emergency Assistance, Temporary Housing & Reasonable Accommodations, drawing from the housing work she is doing in our Long Island office.
  • On the health scene, our Senior Health Attorney Fiona Wolfe presented on Long Term Care: Perils of the Pandemic, along with folks from Mobilization for Justice and the Center for Elder Law & Justice.
  • Continuing on the health track, Health Attorney Alexia Mickles presented on Wind-Down of the Public Health Emergency along with the Legal Aid Society of NYC.
  • LGBTQ Rights Attorney Lettie Dickerson presented on Discrimination Against Transgender Employees along with the Volunteer Lawyers Project of CNY.
  • Emilia Sicilia and Jennifer Karr, our Statewide DAP Coordinators, presented on A Medical Overview of Long COVID and Unexpected Related Impairments with Legal Services NYC. Emilia also contributed to another presentation, Practical Considerations for Claims Involving Long Covid, which was presented by Disability Advocacy Program (DAP) advocates from Urban Justice Center, New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), Legal Aid Society of Mid-New York, and Nassau Suffolk Law Services.
  • And Senior Attorney Amy Schwartz-Wallace talked domestic violence with the YWCA of Northeastern NY and the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence on Firearms and Gun Violence: Practice Considerations for a Changing Regulatory Landscape.

And our former DAP Statewide Coordinator Kate Callery was honored with a Denison Ray Civil Award at the Partnership Conference, in recognition of nearly four decades of advocacy focused on Social Security and Supplemental Security Income Disability law. Kate retired from Empire Justice in July after 38 years at Empire Justice, and we are so proud and happy for this well-deserved recognition of her work, which not only helped thousands of disabled New Yorkers access SSI/SSD benefits but helped make the Disability Advocacy Program (DAP) a nationally recognized model. Congratulations, Kate!


Domestic Violence Awareness Month

On October 20 our staff came together to honor Purple Thursday, the national day of action to support survivors of domestic violence. We know that abuse can occur regardless of sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, race, age, socio-economic status, disability, education level, culture, religion, or immigration status, and we work to provide systemic and individual solutions to intimate partner violence.

Senior Attorney Amy Schwartz-Wallace oversees our Domestic Violence and Family Law policy work and technical assistance. Regular readers of Policy Matters likely recognize Empire Justice’s work on many pieces of domestic violence-related legislation, including the important Right to Call 911 bill, which created protections for domestic violence and crime victims from overbroad nuisance ordinances after we successfully passed the legislation in 2019. We also offer services directly to survivors through our participation in the Crime Victims Legal Network.


A Celebration of Leadership

It’s back! Our annual Celebration of Leadership fundraising event will be held on Thursday, November 17, from 5:30-8:30 at the Cornerstone at the Plaza in Albany. Our leadership awards will be presented to:

  • T. Andrew Brown, former President of the New York State Bar Association (NYSBA) and founding partner of Rochester-based Brown Hutchinson LLP.
  • Laura Valeria Gonzalez-Murphy, Executive Director NY State Office for New Americans
  • And a posthumous honor to Don Friedman, former Senior Attorney at Empire Justice Center, to recognize his legacy of advocacy across decades.

Don’t forget to get your tickets or sponsor the event!


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