Welcome to the September edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. In this edition we cover our efforts at federal SSI reform, our suit representing school employees in Greece, a sneak preview of our 2022 policy agenda, and an update on the sanctions bill. You can read an archived version here.
Advocating for the SSI Restoration Act
In New York State, over 600,000 people rely on Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a federal program intended to keep older adults and people with disabilities out of crushing poverty. Unfortunately, Congress has failed to update the program for decades, and participants are now trapped in a cycle of poverty due to its outdated and complex rules.
The SSI Restoration Act would address these issues by increasing SSI benefits to 100 percent of the federal poverty line, raising the resource limits (for the first time since 1989!) and changing other punitive requirements.
Emilia Sicilia and Kate Callery, our DAP Statewide Coordinators, have been working with Congressmembers such as Jamaal Bowman to advocate for the inclusion of the SSI Restoration Act in the federal Reconciliation Bill – Rep. Bowman and Emilia wrote an op-ed for The Hill which lays out the case for passing the Act now.
Securing Pandemic Unemployment Benefits for Rochester Area School Employees
Legal advocates estimate that thousands of substitute teachers, bus drivers, and other school employees are mistakenly being told to return unemployment benefit payments.
We are representing school bus drivers and attendants employed in Greece, NY, who were told they owe back between $4,200 and $8,100 in federal unemployment benefits and penalties. Peter Dellinger, Senior Attorney, and other members of our Employment practice group are are co-counseling this case with professors from the University of Buffalo Law School (and their students), seeking to bring the case as a statewide class action.
Ramping Up To 2022
It’s a new world in NYS politics, and we’re getting ready for 2022 by developing our prospective legislative and policy agenda! In addition to our annual funding efforts for Consumer Health Advocates (CHA), the Disability Advocacy Program (DAP), Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP), the Liberty Defense Project (LDP), and the Legal Services Assistance Fund (LSAF), we are pulling together a collection of strong policy campaigns, including:
- Fair Play in Employment Act – This bill will fix the misclassification of workers as independent contractors, a tactic which allows employers to side-step labor rights and protections normally afforded regular employees. These include minimum wage and overtime guarantees; paid sick leave, Workers’ Compensation and unemployment insurance; and prescribed rest and meal breaks.
- Fixing the State Supplemental Program (SSP) for Senior and Disabled New Yorkers (7528/S.7035) – This legislation will address issues around retroactive payments for certain very low income seniors and disabled New Yorkers.
- New Guidance to School Districts for Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students – In 2014-2015, Empire Justice and other advocates worked with the NYS Education Department (NYSED) to develop and pass guidance for creating safe and supportive school environments for transgender and gender nonconforming students across New York State. Since then, there have been considerable changes and advancements in law, including the enactment of the transgender non-discrimination law, GENDA, and the reinstatement of the NYS Human Rights Law over public schools. That means trans and GNC students have numerous rights which are not reflected in the current guidance! Empire Justice is pulling together new and old advocates to address this and develop updated guidance for schools.
Stay tuned as we continue to develop and refine our agenda for 2022!
The Sanctions Bill Is Still Waiting for Signature
Speaking of a new day in NYS politics – we are continuing to push for Governor Hochul to sign S.0668/A.3227 – the bill to reform the benefits sanctions process, for which we have been advocating for years. This long overdue bill would allow individuals in the rest of the state the same “second chance” in the sanctions process that public assistance recipients in New York City already receive.
A previous version of this bill was vetoed by former Governor Cuomo in 2019, so Governor Hochul’s signature could signal a new, less punitive approach to public assistance recipients from the Executive Chamber.
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