Policy Matters – September 2020

Eòghann Renfroe September 23, 2020


Welcome to the September edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. In this edition we condemn the murder of Daniel Prude in Rochester, mourn the loss of our colleague Don Friedman, celebrate a victory for disabled students, share our advocacy to prevent foreclosures and improper nursing home discharges, and update you on our latest COVID-19 free legal resources.


Condemning the Murder of Daniel Prude

Empire Justice Center condemns the murder of Daniel Prude by officers of the Rochester Police Department. Police brutality and murder of Black people of all ages must stop. While we are pleased that the officers involved have been placed on leave pending the results of an investigation, we also call for the release any past history of misconduct, and we urge the Attorney General to conclude the investigation with all due speed, including providing recommendations for systemic changes to all law enforcement in New York State.

In order to support protestors on the ground out Health team created this resource: Were You Injured During a Rochester Protest, but Don’t Have Health Insurance?, which provides information on hospital charity care.


Saying Farewell to Don Friedman

We mourn the loss of our dear friend and colleague, Don Friedman, who passed away unexpectedly on Friday, August 21st.

Many readers of Policy Matters will be familiar with Don, who was a key member of our Policy Central team for many years, as well as inaugural managing attorney of the Long Island office of the Empire Justice Center from 2007 until his recent retirement in May 2020. His advocacy continued after his retirement, as can be seen in this June op-ed from the Long Island Herald calling for affordable housing for public assistance recipients through Home Stability Support. You can read more about Don’s life and work in our statement here.

We will miss Don’s gentle spirit, his sharp insight, and lifelong dedication to social justice. Our thoughts and hearts are with Don’s family and loved ones.


State Budget Update

After months of waiting Congress seems to be no closer to reaching an agreement on a second round of stimulus packages. This funding is urgently needed by New York and many other states, and without it New York is looking at massive cuts to social service programs across the state. However, the chances of the parties reaching a deal are likely to decrease the closer we are to the 2020 elections.

Many essential service providers in New York State are beginning to experience cuts to funding on services already rendered. According to this article in the Times Union, state officials say witholdings are not actually cuts since there are plans to release the rest of the funding by the end of the year – “should the federal government provide additional financial relief for state and local governments.” This is a big caveat for organizations that serve people in marginalized communities.


Victory for Students with Disabilities

In 2013 the Empire Justice Center filed a complaint with the Department of Justice (DOJ) on behalf of Devyn Pereira, a disabled kindergartener whose school district would not allow to bring her service dog to school without a fulltime dog handler – that Devyn’s family would have to pay for.

After many years of litigation a settlement was finally reached on August 20, requiring Gates Chili to modify its service animal policy to accommodate future students who bring service animals to school, and awarding $42,000 in compensation to Devyn’s mother, Heather Burroughs. You can read more in our press statement here.


Impact of COVID-19 on Foreclosure Hearings

On August 21, our staff attorney Luis Ormaechea testified at the NYS Joint Public Hearing To Examine the Re-opening and Operation of New York’s Courts During the COVID-19 Pandemic, focusing on the impact the pandemic has had on foreclosure proceedings. Luis specifically highlighted the need for legal counsel, better access to language, and resources for low-income homeowners.


Impact of COVID-19 on Low-income Seniors in Nursing Homes

On August 10, our attorney Alexia Mickles testified at the NYS Joint Legislative Hearing on Nursing Homes, Assisted Living, Home Health Care and COVID-19, focusing on the impact the virus has had on low-income seniors in nursing homes.  Alexia spoke at length about inherent systemic unfairness in maintaining homecare services, and the need for reform.


More COVID-19 Free Legal Resources

Lacie White, our Crime Victims Legal Network Program Marketing Manager, has continued to interview members of our legal staff in a series of COVID-19 FAQ videos. These videos provide a look inside the work we’re doing on COVID-19 relief while providing FAQ information in a format that may be more engaging or helpful for audio/visually inclined folks. Since our last round-up in the June edition of Policy Matters we’ve created new videos on special education, LGBTQ issues, foreclosure, and an update on immigration issues. The full list is below:


Legal Help Lines

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 available every day from 9:00am-5:00pm, at 800-724-0490 ext. 5827. If you have questions about unemployment or paid leave, you can call the help line and attorneys will provide legal advice and counsel regarding unemployment benefits, paid leave, and job protections.


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