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STATEMENT: Empire Justice Condemns Cutting Support for Struggling Homeowners in the Executive Budget

Posted on February 3rd, 2023

 

For Immediate Release                     

February 3, 2023

For More Information Contact Alex Dery Snider:

Aderysnider@empirejustice.org / 518-462-6831

 

Statement from Empire Justice Center President and CEO Kristin Brown on Governor Hochul’s executive budget: 

“While we were grateful to see positive steps – including the continued funding of important programs that provide legal assistance to low income New Yorkers like the Disability Advocacy Program, Education Debt Consumer Assistance Program, and Community Health Advocates; indexing of the minimum wage; and addressing “skimming” of public benefits  – there were a number of notable gaps, including increasing the Shelter Allowance and Cash Assistance grant levels, which are woefully out of date. Additionally, Empire Justice advocates are shocked to see that funding for foreclosure prevention through the Homeowners Protection Program (HOPP) was cut entirely from the executive budget. The lack of support to current homeowners is especially concerning given the Governor’s historic commitment to build 800,000 new homes in every part of the state.  Last year’s budget included $35 million. 

 

HOPP is New York State’s only homeowner retention program. It funds 89 non-profits providing housing counseling and legal services to distressed homeowners in every county of the state since 2012. More than 275,000 New York homeowners currently report being behind on their mortgage according to U.S. Census data and that is not counting families facing tax foreclosure. The COVID-19 pandemic exacerbated issues for homeowners especially in Black and Brown communities. Post-pandemic assistance programs are helpful but complicated to navigate and even tougher with recent interest rate hikes.  After a decade of building the HOPP network, passing laws to help homeowners that depend on HOPP services, and given the historic push to increase the housing stock, getting rid of services that help current homeowners will be disastrous for families, the courts, and communities. Historically, each $1 million invested in HOPP yields a return of over $5 million in tax and property cost savings.  

 

Cutting HOPP would be devastating for struggling homeowners and their communities. We call on the Governor to restore funding in a 30-day amendment and we ask for total funding of $40 million to support this crucial program.”

 

About Empire Justice Center

Empire Justice Center is a statewide nonprofit law firm with offices in Rochester, Albany, Yonkers, White Plains, and on Long Island whose mission is to make the law work for all New Yorkers, particularly for those who need its protection most. We take a 360-degree, comprehensive approach to changing systems by engaging in three major and interconnected areas of service. We teach the law by providing training, support and technical assistance to legal services and other community-based organizations to strengthen their work; we practice the law by providing direct, civil legal assistance to low-income people with a particular focus on those from marginalized communities such as LGBTQ; minorities, immigrants and LEP; and crime victims; and we change the law by engaging in policy analysis, research and advocacy and undertaking impact litigation to get at the root of systemic issues.

 

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Read the Statement as a PDF


STATEMENT: Empire Justice Center Condemns the Murder of Tyre Nichols

Posted on January 31st, 2023

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 31, 2023
Contact
Jill Paperno
JPaperno@empirejustice.org,

(585) 295-5739

 

Empire Justice Center Condemns the Murder of Tyre Nichols

No one should die as a result of a traffic stop. Empire Justice Center joins with organizations and individuals across the country in condemning the killing of Tyre Nichols by Memphis police officers.

 

On January 10th, Tyre Nichols became one in a horrifically long list of young Black men, women, and children whose lives were ended in confrontations with police over traffic and other low-level stops. But we must not let the numbers numb us to his humanity.  Mr. Nichols was a photographer, a dreamer, a father, and a son. Some will try to explain or justify his death. We urge you to remember who he was. His photography website is here:  https://thiscaliforniakid2.wixsite.com/tnicholsphotography

 

As we mourn the loss of another young Black man in a police confrontation, we must also press for change. Empire Justice Center’s Police Reform Project takes our first step in seeking change in New York, issuing a preliminary report last week, “STOP THE STOPS – The Disparate Use and Impact of Police Pretext Stops on Individuals and Communities of Color.” We invite you view the report and join us in one of the ways listed on our webpage.

 

View This Statement as a PDF.

 

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 ABOUT EMPIRE JUSTICE CENTER

Empire Justice Center is a statewide, multi-issue, multi-strategy, public interest law firm focused on changing the “systems” within which poor and low-income families live. Empire Justice protects and strengthens the legal rights of people in New York State who are poor, disabled or disenfranchised through: systems change advocacy, training and support to other advocates and organizations, and high quality direct civil legal representation. Empire Justice has offices in Albany, Rochester, Yonkers, White Plains and Central Islip on Long Island. For more information, please visit empirejustice.org.


Disability Law News – January 2023

Posted on January 31st, 2023

The Disability Law News is a quarterly newsletter published for DAP Advocates. In this issue, we question when SSA finally replace the Dictionary of Occupational Titles (D.O.T).  This issue features a link to the 2023 SSI Benefits Chart reflecting the SSI historical COLA increases for 2023. New Regulations, Court Decisions and a information on Medicaid protections that will be ending soon impacting many Social Security claimants.

 

 


Policy Matters – January 2023

Posted on January 25th, 2023

Welcome to the January edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. This edition is focused on our 2023 Policy Priorities. You can read an archived version of the newsletter here.

Read our full 2023 policy agenda here: 2023 Policy Priorities – Empire Justice Center


STATEMENT: Empire Justice Center on Governor Hochul’s 2023 State of the State

Posted on January 10th, 2023

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 10, 2023
Contact
Alex Dery Snider
aderysnider@empirejustice.org
202.641.5124

EMPIRE JUSTICE CENTER STATEMENT ON
GOVERNOR HOCHUL’S STATE OF THE STATE

Following Governor Hochul’s State of the State address, Empire Justice Center President and CEO Kristin Brown released the following statement:

On Housing
“We applaud Gov Hochul’s move to increase the availability of affordable housing for New Yorkers, and hope to see significant investment in rest-of-state communities facing low vacancy rates and high costs. We hope to see several additional elements in the Executive Budget. It’s critical that any comprehensive housing plan includes an increase of the Public Assistance Shelter Allowance. The current Shelter Allowance is woefully inadequate, having fallen far below inflation over decades – there are no apartments in the private rental market available at shelter allowance rates. It is critical that we create a comprehensive housing strategy that serves all New Yorkers, including our lowest income residents.”

On Supporting Homeowners in High-Need Communities of Color
“In addition to expanding homeownership, we must also preserve it. It’s critical to invest in foreclosure prevention measures, like the Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP), to preserve homeownership in Black and Brown communities. Homeowners of color in New York State have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic, reporting a 16.8% delinquency rate as compared to a 5.6% rate for white homeowners. As New York’s main program helping homeowners, HOPP is necessary now more than ever to assist with post-pandemic challenges including higher interest rates, increased tax and mortgage foreclosures, inheritance issues, a lack of rental options. Additionally, each $1 million invested in HOPP has historically yielded a return of over $5 million in tax and property cost savings.”

On Expanding the Tenant Protection Unit
“The best way to ensure tenant protection is to ensure a level playing field by ensuring that tenants have access to representation through a statewide right to counsel in eviction matters. Building off the New York City’s model will bring fairness to the rest of the state in a complex, traumatic process that has serious potential consequences for education, health and wellbeing, social cohesion, and more. We hope to see such a proposal in the Executive Budget proposal.

On Establishing Statewide Database to Promote Transparency in zoning
“We applaud the creation of a statewide database to promote transparency on zoning. Zoning has been and remains one of the most active, prominent, and insidious formalized systems of racial exclusion in housing in the U.S. Transparency in data is a good step toward ensuring inclusive zoning.”

On Indexing the Minimum Wage
“Indexing the minimum wage will be a key strategy in the work to lift New Yorkers out of poverty, and we fully support this.”

On Making it Easier to Obtain Tax Credits
“In our work at CASH (Creating, Assets, Savings and Hope), we help people to ensure they are claiming all the tax credits that they are entitled to. We have supported almost quarter of a million families though our VITA program, in the Rochester area, to set them on a path towards financial stability. It’s a policy choice for the state and the federal government to make it difficult for people to navigate tax preparation, and we applaud the Governor’s intention to reduce those barriers, while keeping the digital divide in mind, so more New Yorkers can access the benefits they are entitled to.”

On Increasing Legal Services Support for Office for New Americans
“Immigrant and refugee communities are an integral part of New York’s lifeblood. We fully support Governor Hochul’s plans to invest resources in programs and services that will stabilize New Americans. In particular, we applaud the governor’s recognition of the need to increase funding for the Office of New Americans to provide legal services, which are an essential element of supporting people who have newly arrived in the U.S. ”

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ABOUT EMPIRE JUSTICE CENTER
Empire Justice Center is a legal services organization that seeks to make the law work for all New Yorkers, especially those who need it the most. We do so by identifying critical issues, developing and implementing creative solutions and monitoring ongoing results. Our staff has protected and strengthened the legal rights of people in New York, especially historically marginalized communities, for more than forty years. We do this through three major areas of service: we teach the law by providing training, support and technical assistance to legal services and private attorneys and other community-based advocates to help them better serve their clients; We practice the law by providing direct civil legal assistance and undertaking impact litigation; and we improve the law by engaging in policy analysis, research and advocacy.


Policy Matters – November & December 2022

Posted on December 21st, 2022

Welcome to a double-stuffed November & December edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. In this edition we’re covering our efforts to combat EBT skimming scams, legislative victories as health, child care, and benefits bills are signed by the Governor, how we are pushing for equitable e-filing rules, growing efforts to combat child poverty, a new initiative pushing for health equity through language access, recognizing staff achievements, and a report out on our Celebration of Leadership event! You can also read an archived version of the email newsletter here.

 

Combatting “Skimming” of Benefits

Empire Justice staff, including Jessica Radbord and Cheryl Keshner, have been working to raise awareness of and find solutions to the issue of “skimming” public assistance benefits. Skimming is the practice in which thieves attach devices to credit card machines to steal information and access the accounts. While most credit cards now have chips that protect the card from skimming, EBT cards — through which people access benefits like SNAP (food stamps) — do not. Additionally, when people have their benefits stolen, the state does not refund them the way a bank refunds someone who held a credit or debit card. This is leaving some of the most low-income New Yorkers increasingly vulnerable, through no fault of their own and with little they can do to protect themselves.

The Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) estimates that over 4,000 low-income people in New York State have been victims of EBT skimming so far – with more to come if there is not a solution in place soon. We have been working with staff at OTDA, Senator Schumer’s office, Senator Gillibrand’s office, and leaders in the NY state legislature to raise awareness of this issue and pursue solutions, such as reimbursing people who have had their benefits stolen, and transitioning to cards with chips. This is getting media coverage. Senator Gillibrand recently introduced a bill and quoted Empire Justice in the release. There is language addressing the issue of skimming SNAP benefits in the Congressional Omnibus Appropriations bill that is currently being discussed.

We are hopeful that SNAP benefits will be restored through the Omnibus bill, with the help of our advocacy, and will continue to work with OTDA and state legislators to ensure that cash assistance recipients are also reimbursed for their losses and afforded basic protections against theft.

 

Child Care Victory – Greater Access for Gig Workers, Homeless, and Other NYS Parents

We have several victories to share in this edition, as Governor Hochul is signing a number of important bills passed during the legislative session before 2022 ends. The first is the Child Care Decoupling Bill (A.7661/S6655-A), which amends Social Services Law 410(3)(b)(1) to provide that public welfare officials may not limit child care services based on the hours of work, training, or educational schedules of the parents, or the number of hours spent in work, training or educational activities.

This legislation expands access to child care by removing outdated restrictions so more low-income, homeless and other families on public assistance who are working part time, have rotating schedules, or who are participating in educational and vocational activities are able to access child care.

We are proud that our Senior Benefits Attorney and longtime child care advocate Susan Antos helped draft the original bill, based on issues faced by our clients. Thank you to Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi and Senator Jabari Brisport for their commitment to this bill, the Empire State Child Care Campaign for their advocacy on the bill, and Governor Hochul for signing the bill into law.

 

Health Justice Victory – Patient Medical Debt Protection Act Signed Into Law

A victory for all New Yorkers on November 23 as Governor Hochul signed into law the Patient Medical Debt Prevention Act (S.6522-A/A.7363-A), which will now prohibit health care providers from placing home liens on an individual’s primary residence or garnishing wages to collect on medical debt.

As we noted in our memo of support for the bill back in January, New Yorkers struggle with health care costs, even when they have insurance. Over 52,000 New York patients have been sued for medical debt by non-profit hospitals in the past five years, and eight percent of New Yorkers have delinquent medical debt that appears on their credit reports. Communities of color in New York are more than twice as likely to have medical debt than their white counterparts in counties like Westchester, Erie, Monroe, Onondaga and Albany. This carefully tailored law will still allow providers to collect medical debts by suing debtors and attaching other assets including bank accounts, second homes, cars, and boats – but will ensure that people will not have to fear being made homeless due to liens from medical providers, or being unable to pay their bills due to garnishments from medical providers.

We thank Senator Gustavo Rivera and Assemblymember Dick Gottfried in their leadership on this bill, our colleagues in the End Medical Debt Coalition for working hard to push it forward, and Governor Hochul for signing it into law.

 

Facility Fees Bill Goes to Governor

Another bill addressing medical debt has been sent to the Governor’s office for signature – the Facility Fees Reform bill (S.2521-C/A.2470-C). Increasingly, hospitals are acquiring medical practices and labs and then charging patients outlandish “facility fees” when they use these services – including for preventative care that is supposed to be free. Patients are shocked when they mysteriously find a $150-$250 facility charge on their bills months after seeing a medical provider. Insurance companies often do not pay facility fee charges – leaving patients stuck with them.

This legislation would inform patients of a facility fee in advance of being charged the fee by a medical practice affiliated with a hospital and would also prevent a fee from being charged for preventive services entirely.

Thank you again to Senator Gustavo Rivera and Assemblymember Dick Gottfried for their commitment to this bill. Governor Hochul has until December 23 to take action on this bill – we hope she will sign it into law.

 

Ability to Apply Electronically for Benefits Finally Going Statewide

Since 2018, the NYDocSubmit app for mobile devices has been available, allowing applicants

and recipients of Temporary Assistance, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Home Energy Assistance Program, and Medicaid to submit documents online by uploading pictures of their paperwork – but only if their county has opted to offer the program. Unfortunately, many counties had not opted to offer the program, making it difficult to impossible for New Yorkers with mobility issues, lack of transportation, lack of access to child care, non-traditional work hours, or safety concerns (such as domestic violence) to apply for badly needed benefits.

We are very pleased that Governor Hochul has signed A.9118-A/A.6348-A into law, which will modernize the administration of public assistance across the state by requiring all social services districts to accept documents through electronic systems. It will not only provide for more equitable access to benefits statewide, but it is also likely to enhance efficiencies and reduce errors within local departments. Thank you to Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal and Senator Rachel May for championing this important legislation, and to Governor Hochul for signing it into law.

 

Pushing for Equitable E-filing Rules

The option to use electronic methods for filing important documents is important, but mandating electronic filing can also come with its own problems. On December 13 we submitted comments to the Office of Court Administration in preparation for their report to the Legislature, Governor, and the Chief Judge on mandatory e-filing in NYS courts. We underlined that it is critical that any expansion of e-filing maintain the exception for people who are pro se or unrepresented. Many low-income New Yorkers do not have internet access, or have limited, unreliable or intermittent access, and mandatory efiling would place an unfair burden on them.

We also recommended that the OCA develop a method to enable the immediate temporary sealing of e-filed documents, until those documents can be reviewed by a judge. Under current e-filing methods documents cannot be sealed until a court directs that a matter be sealed. This means that documents that are e-filed, as opposed to traditional filing methods, are at risk of being made public due to the existence of web scrapers and other programs that automatically pull publicly available information from websites and publish it on third party websites. Once this information has been captured and made public, it cannot be retroactively protected, even where a court subsequently orders sealing or redaction.

 

NYS Poverty Surpasses National Average for 8 Years in a Row

NYS Comptroller Tom DiNapoli released the first of a series of reports on New Yorkers in Need on December 8. This report, called A Look At Poverty Trends in New York State For The Last Decade, examined disparities in poverty rates between racial groups, urban and rural residents, and the impact of the social safety net and pandemic relief.

“Poverty is an urgent and solvable problem in a state as well-resourced as New York,” said Empire Justice Center President and CEO Kristin Brown in the press release announcing the report. “This new report documents that, particularly during the pandemic, poverty harmed marginalized communities the most. Empire Justice Center applauds Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli and Governor Kathy Hochul for shining a light on the inequitable impact of poverty, and for presenting solutions. We support the recommendations in this report and from the Child Poverty Reduction Advisory Council, particularly extending the Child Tax Credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit, and the Empire State Child Tax Credit, and increasing the public assistance shelter allowance and basic needs grants. All together, these are concrete actionable steps that will move the needle on the goal of reducing poverty in New York state and we look forward to working toward their enactment in 2023.”

 

Call for Expansion of the Child and Earned Income Tax Credits

Empire Justice was among other advocates and community leaders in Rochester and New York City that gathered on December 10 to call on Congress to re-expand the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit.

In 2021 the United States was able to reduce child poverty nationwide by 40% due to a temporary expansion of the Child Tax Credit as part of the American Rescue Plan. But since that expansion ended, nearly 4 million children across the U.S. have fallen back into poverty.

“In our work we have supported almost 200,000 families in the Rochester area with their tax returns, we have seen the tremendous impact of the monthly Child Tax Credit payments and how effective they were in lifting children and families out of poverty,” said Yversha Roman, director of our CASH tax help program, to RochesterFirst.com. “We ask our Congressional leaders to put children first by making it easier for families to pay for clothing, gas, rent, and food by extending and expanding the child tax credit.”

 

At the state level, we applaud Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi, Senator Andrew Gournardes, and Senator Jeremy Cooney for unveiling plans for a state-level measure modeled on the federal credits called the NYS Working Families Tax Credit on December 8. This proposal would increase the maximum credit to $1,500 per child and provide, at minimum, a $500 credit per child regardless of income.

 

Working Toward Better Health Outcomes Through Language Access

Thanks to Excellus BlueCross BlueShield’s Health Equity Award, Empire Justice was able to invest in our Language Justice Program and partner with Common Ground Health to launch the 2022 My Health Story. This survey is a way for residents of the Rochester region to share info about their health and life circumstances that impact their well-being, focusing on under-resourced communities and individuals whose stories are often left out of public health initiatives, and Empire Justice will be focusing on working with the Monroe County Language Access Coalition to strengthen inclusion of community members who have limited English language communication and reading skills.

WROC Channel 8 in Rochester covered the launch of the program and interviewed our Language Justice Program Senior Manager Marlene Cortes. She said, “Usually the LEP community (which stands for Limited English Proficient community) and deaf and hard of hearing communities don’t partake in these surveys, because they’re not accessible to them.”

 

What Lawyers Can Do When Pet Abuse and DV Intersect

Our Regional Attorney Coordinator Amy Molloy Bogardus wrote an article for the New York Bar Association (NYSBA), What Lawyers Can Do When Pet Abuse and Domestic Violence Intersect. This article explains how violence against pets intersects with other manifestations of domestic violence, tells legal services providers how to identify the presence of animals within their client’s environment, and outlines legal tools that may help domestic violence survivors and their pets.

 

Recognizing Our Emerging Leaders

We’re happy to recognize five of our staff members who graduated from the United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes’ Emerging Leaders Development Programs!

Congratulations, grads!

 

A Celebration of Leadership

Thank you to everyone who came to or otherwise supported this year’s Celebration of Leadership fundraiser in Albany, on November 17.

If you missed the event but would still like to support us, it’s not too late to donate in honor of our awardees!

 

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


Disability Law News – October 2022

Posted on October 31st, 2022

The Disability Law News is a quarterly newsletter published for DAP Advocates. In this issue, we give introduce some new faces joining the Disability Advocacy Program (DAP) and their rolls, along with explaining what DAP Statewide Legal Support is and the services provided under this separate contract.  This issue features details on the historical COLA increase for 2023, an article on the barriers many recipients of Social Security Disability (SSDI) and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) face if they want to marry.  New Regulations, Court Decisions and a recent Report on using data to assess equity within the Social Security Administration.

 

 


PRESS RELEASE: During National Bullying Prevention Month, Empire Justice Center Launches Statewide School Discrimination Helpline

Posted on October 27th, 2022

Read this Press Release as a PDF

For Immediate Release: October 27, 2022

During National Bullying Prevention Month, Empire Justice Center Launches Statewide School Discrimination Helpline

Empire Justice Center has launched a statewide school 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.  

 

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. More information is also available at https://empirejustice.org/school-discrimination 

 

“New York State now has strong laws to protect students,” said Empire Justice President and CEO Kristin Brown. “However, not all students and families are familiar with the protections in the New York State Human Rights Law, and navigating the process can be intimidating. This helpline will provide guidance to families statewide to help more students benefit from these protections, and to help ensure that our schools are welcoming and create a sense of belonging to all.” 

 

School discrimination, when unaddressed, leads to financial, human, and societal costs. Discrimination in the K-12 setting can create long-term medical expenses related to the mental and physical trauma of victimization, including depression and thoughts of suicide. Negative consequences in the school setting, such as heightened drop-out rates, truancy, and increased need for special supports in school, are also common. For many students who face harassment and discrimination, these effects last well into adulthood and can lead to joblessness and homelessness. 

 

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. Harassment or bullying based on any of these protected characteristics can include words, signs, jokes, intimidation, or physical violence. It can also include actions that are offensive to a recipient or cause the recipient discomfort or humiliation. 

 

In 2012, the NY State Court of Appeals issued a decision, based on a technicality, that public school students were no longer protected by the state’s Human Rights Law. In 2019, protections for students were re-established, giving the NY Division of Human Rights the power to investigate reports of bullying, harassment, or other forms of education discrimination in public schools. Empire Justice Center was active in advocating for the re-establishment of these protections and is supportive of the Division’s efforts to strengthen resources for public school families. 

 

The schools covered include any public schools and districts; charter schools; Board of Cooperative Educational Services (“BOCES”); public colleges and universities; publicly funded pre-k programs (including universal pre-k and head start); private schools at all education levels (excluding those by a religious organization); for-profit non-sectarian colleges, universities, licensed career schools, or certified English as a second language schools; private nursery schools; early education centers; preschools, and child-care centers.   

 

ABOUT EMPIRE JUSTICE CENTER 

Empire Justice Center is a statewide, multi-issue, multi-strategy, public interest law firm focused on changing the “systems” within which poor and low-income families live. Empire Justice protects and strengthens the legal rights of people in New York State who are poor, disabled, or disenfranchised through systems change advocacy, training, and support to other advocates and organizations, and high-quality direct civil legal representation. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.  

 

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Policy Matters – September 2022

Posted on September 30th, 2022

Welcome to the September edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. In this edition we cover our annual testimony on the importance of civil legal services, a final push for new tenant protections, our work to modernize the Community Reinvestment Act, advocacy for limited English proficiency SNAP recipients, recommendations for uniform standards of eligibility in family courts, a collection of recent legal education efforts, recognition of excellence in advocacy for several staff members, and last but not least – an invitation to our next Celebration of Leadership event in Albany! You can read an archived version here.

 

Chief Judge’s 2022 Hearing on Civil Legal Services in New York

On September 19th our President & CEO, Kristin Brown and Health Attorney, Alexia Mickles, testified at this year’s Chief Judge’s Hearing on Civil Legal Services in New York, along with our former client, Jenna McCormack, who shared her experience being represented by Empire Justice Center.

Ms. McCormack is studying for a degree in social work and loves working with children with disabilities. She also experiences disabling chronic illnesses, including a condition called occipital neuralgia – an inflammation of the nerves at the back of the head that causes near-constant pain. At one point this condition became so severe she could not work or go to school for over two years because she was mostly bedbound.

When her health insurance denied the procedures her doctor had ordered to address her pain, Ms. McCormack tried to represent herself through her first fair hearing, which she lost at an administrative fair hearing. Then Empire Justice Health attorneys Alexia and Fiona Wolfe represented Ms. McCormack through her second hearing. With the help from our attorneys, Ms. McCormack was able to win her appeal and, nine months ago, finally undergo the radiofrequency ablation ordered by her doctor, which has drastically reduced her pain and allowed her to focus on her health, studies, and even a part-time job working at a daycare.

In 2021, over 150,000 fair hearings were requested at OTDA alone, and the vast majority of these New Yorkers are unrepresented, just as Ms. McCormack was during her first hearing. Her experience underlines how important and life-changing civil legal representation can be.

 

Pushing New Tenant Protections Closer To The Finish Line

Senior Attorney Kirsten Keefe joined Senator Neil Breslin, Assemblymember John McDonald, Albany County Executive Dan McCoy, Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, and others for a press conference on August 23 to highlight recently passed bills that would help cement the rights of tenants in New York State and in Albany County.

We will continue to push for Governor Hochul to sign these measures into law.

 

Modernizing the Community Reinvestment Act

For the first time in 27 years, there may be extensive changes coming to the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) under a proposed rule to modernize the law.

Under the CRA a bank is obligated to meet the credit needs of its entire community, including low- and moderate-income neighborhoods. Even though the CRA was passed in 1977 to address redlining, it says nothing about race or ethnicity; persistent and wide-ranging racial disparities in lending, income, and wealth remain to this day.

Consumer Policy Analyst, Barb Van Kerkhove, and Senior Attorney, Ruhi Maker, worked with the rest of the Greater Rochester Community Reinvestment Coalition (GRCRC) to write and submit comments on the proposed rule change on August 4th, asking that the final rule consider bank activity by race and ethnicity, among other recommendations, to help address these long-running disparities.

 

Better Data Collection For SNAP Recipients With Limited English Proficiency

To ensure that people with limited English proficiency (LEP) have meaningful access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), language assistance must be provided at a time and place that avoids the effective denial of benefits or imposes an undue burden on or delay in access to benefits.

Senior Benefits Attorney Jessica Radbord submitted comments to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) on August 19th, pushing for stronger data collection of LEP SNAP recipients to ensure meaningful access.

 

Uniform Standards of Eligibility in Family Court

Senior Staff Attorney Laura Dwyer submitted comments on a proposed rule to develop uniform standards of eligibility for assigned counsel in family court proceedings to the Office of Court Administration (OCA) on August 3rd. Our thorough recommendations include:

As well as a number of other clarifications and language access provisions.

 

We Teach The Law

The summer and early fall have been a busy season for our training and technical assistance efforts:

 

Recognition of Excellence in Advocacy

We were delighted that Marlene Cortés, our Senior Manager of Language Justice Program, was a nominee for the Annual Colors of Success DEI Award, presented by Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce! Marlene is one of 27 local changemakers who demonstrated exemplary leadership in advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion in the greater Rochester community and was among those honored on Friday, September 16.

We are also excited to announce that Lettie Dickerson, our LGBTQ Rights attorney, has been appointed to the Richard C. Failla LGBTQ Commission of NY Courts to further its mission to raise awareness about LGBTQ issues and to foster a more supportive environment in NYS courts.

 

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:

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

 

 

 

 


PRESS RELEASE: Federal Court Preliminarily Approves Settlement to Improve Access to Public Benefits for People with Disabilities in Suffolk County

Posted on August 9th, 2022

For Immediate Release: August 9, 2022

Empire Justice Center Contact: Linda Hassberg, lhassberg@empirejustice.org, 631-533-5272

NCLEJ Contact: Jordan Berger, berger@nclej.org, 646-680-8906, Saima Akhtar, akhtar@nclej.org, 646-558-6152

CLICK HERE for the notice in Spanish

CLICK HERE for Audio Recording of this Notice

Federal Court Preliminarily Approves Settlement to Improve Access to Public Benefits for People with Disabilities in Suffolk County

A federal district court judge in the Eastern District of New York has granted preliminary approval to a class action settlement reflecting the Suffolk County Department of Social Services (SCDSS) commitment to update and enhance its policies and procedures to ensure people with disabilities are able to access public benefits. The class action settlement resolves litigation brought against SCDSS in 2019 by Suffolk County residents with disabilities who could not access the reasonable accommodations they needed to participate in public benefit programs, such as Medicaid, SNAP (commonly known as Food Stamps), Temporary Assistance, and Temporary Housing Assistance. The plaintiffs in this lawsuit were represented by the National Center for Law and Economic Justice, Empire Justice Center, and Dentons US LLP.

The settlement agreement requires SCDSS to update its ADA policies and trainings, commits the agency to training all staff on the new ADA policies, modifies SCDSS’s computer system to track accommodation requests, clarifies the internal agency processes for promptly responding to accommodation requests including situations of immediate need, clarifies the right of an applicant or recipient to file a grievance if SCDSS denies a request for an accommodation, and affirms the rights of applicants and recipients with disabilities to request an accommodation verbally or in writing at any point in their dealings with the agency.

“This case is about ensuring that every eligible Suffolk County resident has a fair and equal opportunity to obtain critical and sustaining public assistance benefits” remarked Linda Hassberg, Senior Attorney, Empire Justice Center.

“The comprehensive nature of the settlement is a real victory for thousands of Suffolk County residents with disabilities” says Sandra Hauser, Partner, Dentons US LLP.

NCLEJ Skadden Fellow Jordan Berger: “The negotiated changes to Defendant’s policies and procedures will ensure access for Suffolk County residents with disabilities. Having a disability should never be a barrier to accessing critically needed benefits and services.”

On September 6, 2022 at 1:00PM EST a federal court in Central Islip will hold a fairness hearing to receive input about the proposed settlement in Newkirk v. Pierre. Class members have the right to attend the hearing by telephone or submit written comments in advance of the hearing to give input to the court reviewing the settlement agreement. To learn more about the settlement and whether you may be a class member, please read the Notice of Proposed Settlement of Class Action, Linked Here or the Proposed Settlement, Linked Here.

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Empire Justice Center is a statewide, multi-issue, multi-strategy, public interest law firm focused on changing the “systems” within which poor and low-income families live. Empire Justice protects and strengthens the legal rights of people in New York State who are poor, disabled, or disenfranchised through: systems change advocacy, training, and support to other advocates and organizations, and high-quality direct civil legal representation. Empire Justice has offices in Albany, Rochester, Yonkers, White Plains, and Central Islip on Long Island.