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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 You can read an archived version here.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.

 


Disability Law News – July 2022

Posted on July 31st, 2022

The Disability Law News is a quarterly newsletter published for DAP Advocates. In this issue, we give tribute to Kate Callery and her 35 years of supporting DAP advocates statewide as she recently announced her retirement.  We wish Kate the very happiest of retirements and extend our gratitude to her for her immeasurable contributions and friendship.  This issue features several new Regulations, Court Decisions and recent Studies & Reports on treatment of critical cases, the decline in kids’ SSI claims, and the collection of medical evidence.

 

 


Policy Matters – June 2022

Posted on June 30th, 2022

Welcome to the June edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. In this edition we wrap up the legislative session with bills on pandemic assistance, protecting medical patients from health provider liens and garnishments, and establishing a wellness and equity fund to support transgender New Yorkers; testimony on the future of NYS courts, legal analysis of possible new tenant protections, comments on community reinvestment in Rochester, a presentation on legal tools to help reduce gun violence, and our participation in National Give Out Day – don’t forget to support our work on LGBTQ rights! You can read an archived version of the newsletter here.

 

2022 Session Wrap-up

The legislative session ended with a number of bills left unfinished. The bill to waive pandemic unemployment assistance repayments under certain circumstances (S.6244-B/A.7511) passed the Senate but didn’t make it to the floor in the Assembly. This bill would help many New Yorkers who received payments through no fault on their part, so they do not have to pay for mistakes made by the Department of Labor, especially since  these payments have already been used to pay for rent, groceries, and other necessities.

However, we are happy to say that the end of session did bring another victory for poor New Yorkers – Protecting Patients from Health Provider Liens & Garnishments (A.7363/S.6522) passed both houses and is waiting to be sent to the Governor for signature. This bill would stop health providers from being allowed to place liens on patients’ homes or garnish their wages.

And this past Sunday came another victory for transgender New Yorkers as Governor Hochul signed the bill establishing the Lorena Borjas Transgender Wellness and Equity Fund (A.9418/S.8884). This fund will support organizations that provide critical services for the transgender, gender non-conforming, non-binary and intersex (TGNCNBI) community, and is named for noted transgender activist Lorena Borjas, who sadly passed from COVID-19 in 2020. Lorena dedicated her life to supporting transgender immigrants, many of whom fled transphobic oppression in their home countries. We are happy to have been a part of making this fund a reality.

 

Looking to the Future of NYS Courts

Our President & CEO, Kristin Brown, presented testimony to the Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York’s Courts on June 7th. This testimony was brought together expertise from across our organization, and focused on three key issue areas for the courts to address:

 

Legal Analysis – Tenant Dignity and Safe Housing Act

Our Senior Housing Attorney, Michael Furlano, wrote a legal analysis of the recently passed Tenant Dignity and Safe Housing Act, and the ways this act, if signed by Governor Hochul, would provide a clear right of action for tenants to compel repairs and to seek monetary relief for living with hazardous and unsafe conditions – all without risking eviction.

 

Comments on Five Star Bank’s Rochester Reinvestment Performance

The Greater Rochester Community Reinvestment Coalition (GRCRC), which Empire Justice Center convenes, recently commented on Five Star Bank’s performance in reinvesting in the Rochester community. The comments focus on three areas:

Barb Van Kerkhove, our Consumer Policy Analyst, also attended the National Community Reinvestment Coalition Conference – the first since 2019!

 

Legal Tools to Reduce the Risk of Gun Violence

In the wake of the terrible mass shooting in Buffalo on May 14, legal services providers have been looking for ways to use their skills to help reduce the risk of gun violence. Our Senior DV Attorney, Amy Schwartz-Wallace, and Project Leader of the Crime Victims Legal Network, Remla Parthasarathy, teamed up with the Minority Bar Association of WNY and the Bar Association of Erie County to create and present a CLE on New York’s Red Flag Law: What Attorneys Need to Know to File an Application (Extreme Risk Protection Order).

The Red Flag Law, also known as the Extreme Risk Protection Order Law, prevents individuals who are at risk of hurting themselves or others from purchasing or possessing firearms, rifles, or shotguns. This law, which went into effect in August 2019, can be an important tool in preventing domestic violence homicides, suicides, and situations of mass violence, but many practitioners still don’t know about Emergency Risk Protection Orders (ERPO) and how to obtain this civil protection order. Please note: We are still reviewing the recent SCOTUS decision on concealed carry weapons, but at this time we do not think it will affect the Red Flag law or its recent amendments.

 

National Give Out Day

And lastly, today is National Give Out Day – a national day of giving for organizations that provide services to the LGBTQ+ community. Please consider giving to our LGBTQ Rights Project, which advocates for the queer and transgender community by engaging in systems change, providing legal training and technical assistance, and providing direct representation and legal counsel to individual community members.

 

Thank You For Reading

Policy Matters will be taking a break for the summer, but we’ll be back in September. In the meantime, 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: Free summer tax prep is available through the CASH Program.

Posted on June 7th, 2022

For Immediate Release: June 7, 2022

Contact: Lacie White, CASH Marketing Communications Manager, lwhite@empirejustice.org

 

Free summer tax prep is available through the CASH Program.

Rochester, NY– On June 7th, CASH’s Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program will open for free summer tax preparation services. Monroe County residents who missed the chance to complete their 2019, 2020, or 2021 taxes can schedule an appointment with one of VITA’s IRS-certified volunteers. CASH is also looking for eligible families who have yet to claim the Advance Child Tax Credit. Most families are eligible for $3,000-$3,600 per child.

 

“The pandemic has made it difficult for many individuals to file their taxes on time, especially with changes to the Child Tax Credit and many other credits. CASH remains open to answer any tax questions you may have and we encourage community members to seek help from our professional tax preparers,” said CASH Director, Yversha Roman. “We know many in our community have not yet filed, our summer tax prep session is another opportunity to do so –for free.”

 

CASH (Creating Assets, Savings, and Hope) is a community coalition led by the Empire Justice Center. CASH offers free high-quality tax return preparation services that make tax filing easy to do and understand. In addition to providing year-round tax advice and preparation, CASH partners with over 40 organizations, to connect clients to community partners with resources that can improve their financial well-being. These services include savings programs, health care, financial literacy, public benefits, and job counseling.

 

VITA is accommodating clients by appointment only, Tuesdays and Wednesdays, June 7th – August 8th. To schedule an appointment, visit https://cashtaxprep2021.as.me/SummerTaxPrep. Visit the website at https://empirejustice.org/cash/  for more information on available services and to learn how to volunteer with CASH.

 

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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. Learn more about CASH at empirejustice.org/cash. Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter


Policy Matters – May 2022

Posted on May 31st, 2022

Welcome to the May edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. In this edition we take a moment to observe the tragedy in Buffalo, and then we cover new language access mandates for mortgage lenders, the enactment of X gender markers on NYS drivers licenses, legal advocacy for trans youth, comments on proposed rules regarding Alternative Dispute Resolution, upcoming testimony on the future of NYS courts, and an exciting new addition to the Empire Justice team!

 

Statement on Massacre in Buffalo, NY

Words are inadequate to express the grief and shock we feel for the massacre in Tops Supermarket in Buffalo. We must call what happened for what it was: an act of white supremacy and domestic terrorism. We demand action from those in power to deliver on the promise of a more equitable society. We recommit to our client communities in Western New York and pledge to do our part in chipping away at structural inequities and racism. Lastly, our hearts are with the families and loved ones of people senselessly killed and hurt in the Saturday, May 14 massacre.

 

Federal Language Access Mandates for Mortgage Lenders

The Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA) will now mandate lenders to obtain applicant’s preferred language during the mortgage application process. This will create a safer, more inclusive mortgage process for borrowers nationwide.

Senior Manager of our Language Access Program, Marlene Cortés, who leads our Monroe county and national consumer finance language access work, said in our joint statement, “We welcome the efforts of both FHFA and the CFPB to promote financial inclusion. These changes mean more people can understand the process and have the opportunity to own a home.”

 

X Gender Markers for Driver’s Licenses

Just weeks from the one year anniversary of the passage of the Gender Recognition Act (GRA), X gender markers for drivers licenses are now officially available to all New Yorkers. While the rest of the provisions of the GRA were enacted at the end of last year, enactment of X driver’s licenses was not mandated to be complete until a year after the bill was signed into law.

Governor Hochul marked the occasion with an event with advocates on May 27. Several advocates with whom we worked closely on the bill were among the first to receive their new licenses – congratulations folks! A big thank you to the Governor and to the staff who worked closely with the Gender Recognition Act coalition to expand the act in this year’s budget.

 

Legal Advocacy for Trans & Gender Diverse Youth

Senior Attorney Amy Schwartz-Wallace and LGBTQ Rights Attorney Lettie Dickerson worked with several other advocates to present a continuing legal education (CLE) training, Trans-Affirming Legal Advocacy For Transgender & Gender Diverse Youth, on May 11.

 

Comments on Alternative Dispute Resolution

We submitted comments developed by Senior Attorney Amy Schwartz-Wallace on a proposed rule from the Office of Court Administration (OCA) regarding the expansion of Alternative Dispute Resolution (ADR) by the referral of civil disputes in trial courts.

While we agree that access to ADR can be a wonderful tool for avoiding acrimonious and expensive litigation, narrowing issues actually in dispute, or facilitating settlement, and it can benefit the courts by lightening already over-burdened dockets, that must be balanced with the power dynamics that can undercut access to justice, especially when there is no right to counsel. We made a number of recommendations to improve this proposal and maintain focus on access to justice for all New Yorkers, including:

Many of our recommendations are also in the 2020 Report from the Special Advisor on Equal Justice in the New York State Courts (aka the Jeh Johnson Report) that the court is actively implementing. They are all intended to address and help mitigate systemic bias around race and other identities. Therefore, as virtually all civil cases would have the potential to be shunted to ADR now, it is critical that these efforts around DEI are not diluted or lost in the scaling up.

 

Reimagining the Future of New York’s Courts

We will be offering live testimony at a hearing on pandemic practices held by the Commission to Reimagine the Future of New York’s Courts on June 7. Empire Justice has noted in previous statements that virtual access to the courts may provide convenience for many, but exclusion for others due to the digital divide. In this testimony, we plan to highlight the following:

If you miss the hearing live, don’t worry, we’ll be including our testimony in next month’s edition of Policy Matters.

 

Former Public Defender Jill Paperno Joins Empire Justice’s Civil Rights Practice

We are very pleased to announce the appointment of Jill Paperno as the new Senior Civil Rights Litigator in our civil rights practice. Prior to joining Empire Justice Center, Paperno served in various roles within the Monroe County Public Defenders’ office for over 35 years, most recently as the acting Monroe County Public Defender.

A respected fixture in the Rochester community, Jill will bring us her wealth of knowledge and advocacy experience within marginalized communities as well as a client-centered approach to representation. Starting in the fall, Jill will be leading the expansion of Empire Justice Center’s civil rights work to include a focus on police reform and handling police misconduct cases. Read more about Jill joining Empire Justice in our statement.

 

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: Jill Paperno Joins Empire Justice Center as New Civil Rights Practice Senior Litigator

Posted on May 12th, 2022

For Immediate Release: May 11, 2022

Contact: Kristin Brown, President and CEO, kbrown@empirejustice.org  515-852-5766

Jill Paperno Joins Empire Justice Center as New Civil Rights Practice Senior Litigator

 Rochester, NY– Empire Justice Center is pleased to announce the appointment of Jill Paperno as the new Senior Civil Rights Litigator in its civil rights practice. Prior to joining Empire Justice Center, Paperno served in various roles within the Monroe County Public Defenders’ office for over 35 years, most recently as the acting Monroe County Public Defender.

“I am thrilled to be joining Empire Justice Center,” said Paperno. “I am looking forward to working with the civil rights practice group and continuing to serve our clients and our community.”

A respected fixture in the Rochester community, Jill Paperno, brings her wealth of knowledge and advocacy experience within marginalized communities, and a client-centered approach to representation to the organization. In addition to her time with the Public Defenders’ office, Paperno has worked within the legal community to seek justice and promote antiracism through her involvement in the Greater Rochester Association for Women Attorneys (GRAWA), The Monroe County Bar Association (MCBA), and the development of the Lawyers’ Coalition for Racial and Social Justice, a collaboration between GRAWA, MCBA, and the Rochester Black Bar association. When serving as President of the MCBA, Paperno collaborated with the Board to form the MCBA’s President’s Commission on Antiracism.

“Jill Paperno has dedicated her life and career to advocating for marginalized communities and challenging racial and social injustice in our systems and institutions, and I could not be more thrilled that she has chosen to bring her experience and dedication to the growing civil rights practice of the Empire Justice Center in Rochester,” said Erin E. Elmouji, Empire Justice Board Member and Civil Litigator at Woods Oviatt Gilman LLP.

Starting in the fall, Jill will be leading the expansion of Empire Justice Center’s civil rights work to include a focus on police reform and handling police misconduct cases. She will work alongside Empire Justice Center’s stellar civil rights team: Unit Director and Senior Attorney Maggie Robb, Senior Attorney Peter Dellinger, Senior Attorney Melinda Fithen, Senior Manager of Language Access Marlene Cortés, LGBTQ Rights Staff Attorney Lettie Dickerson, Staff Attorney Katie Blum, and Paralegal Heidi Griffith. Paperno’s trial experience and subject matter expertise will further develop Empire Justice Center’s civil rights work and response to the critical need to challenge unjust police practices in Rochester and in New York State. Under her guidance, Empire Justice Center is exploring the addition of criminal justice to the scope of its civil rights work, which currently includes class action litigation, individual representation, and policy advocacy for New Yorkers experiencing discrimination in education, employment, housing, and places of public accommodation, as well as those needing language access and LGBTQ rights advocacy.

“I am thrilled. Jill will bring passion and deep expertise to round out Empire Justice Center’s civil rights practice. Her addition to the organization will strengthen the efforts of our mission to make the law work for all New Yorkers,” said Kristin Brown, President and CEO of Empire Justice Center.

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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.


Disability Law News – April 2022

Posted on May 2nd, 2022

The Disability Law News is a quarterly newsletter published for DAP Advocates. In this issue, Social Security Administration’s office reopened in April and we continue to monitor complications and provide contacts to report problems accessing local field offices and telephone issues. In the case of Puerto Rico’s exclusion from SSI, The Supreme Court has issued it’s decision in U.S. v. Vaello-Madero. We take a look at the decision and give our analysis. Also in this issue are new regulations and several new court decisions.

 


STATEMENT: 2022 State Budget

Posted on April 11th, 2022

 

For Immediate Release: April 11, 2022

Contact: Kristin Brown, President and CEO, kbrown@empirejustice.org

 

 

2022 State Budget:

Good Budget for Many Programs Benefitting Low-Income New Yorkers; Must Do More for Immigrants

 

“This year’s budget process was demonstrably different than the previous fifteen, resulting in a number of key investments. I appreciate the Governor proactively including programs benefitting low-income New Yorkers, and the legislature’s steadfast support. In some issue areas where we saw progress, Empire Justice Center attorneys and staff have worked on them for a close to a decade. Increased funding for disability appeals advocacy, eviction and foreclosure prevention, and consumer health advocacy will meaningfully help more people receive the right kind of services they need. Going forward, we must focus on raising the cash grant for public benefits recipients, overhauling unfair unemployment overpayment rules, and be inclusive of all immigrant New Yorkers. I also want to extend my gratitude to Assembly Health Chair Dick Gottfried as he serves his last term this year. It was my privilege to have worked with one of the most devoted and knowledgeable legislators to advance so many important services for client communities across New York State,” said Kristin Brown, President and CEO of Empire Justice Center.

As a public interest law firm that advocates for low-income New Yorkers, Empire Justice Center worked hard with colleagues, legislators, and the Governor’s office on a number of budget proposals. Several programs and policy bills deserve special mention:

 

Funding Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP)

We are thankful to Governor Hochul for including $20 million for the Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP) in the initial budget for the first time, and for the Legislature for including additional funding of $15 million to meet the increased need for services. The historic increase in funding will help homeowners negotiate with their lenders and ultimately stay in their homes. We want to give special thanks to Senate and Assembly Housing Chairs, Brian Kavanagh and Steve Cymbrowitz, as well as Senate Finance Chair Liz Krueger and Assembly Ways & Means Chair Helene Weinstein, who have all been steadfast supporters. We are also especially pleased with the Governor’s stewardship in including the program in the initial budget.

 

Upstate and Long Island Eviction Defense

Eviction Defense funding of $35 million for services outside of New York City will provide a lifeline for renters in upstate and Long Island who are struggling to stay in their homes. As legal service providers, we work directly with tenants in need of representation, and worked to ensure an equitable distribution method. We are grateful for Senator Ryan’s leadership.

 

Timely Increases for Community Health Advocates (CHA) and the Disability Advocacy Program (DAP)

Community Health Advocates (CHA) will, for the first time, be able to provide services to all New Yorkers, including people who rely on Medicaid. We appreciate the increase in funding from the Governor and the Legislature, which will allow CHA to help every New Yorker save money on bills, navigate complicated insurance coverage, and handle appeals, during a time when the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed great health disparities and financial barriers across our communities. Thank you to the Governor, Assemblymember Gottfried, and Senator Gustavo Rivera, without whose support the program would be impossible.

The Disability Advocacy Program (DAP) provides representation for low-income New Yorkers who have been denied federal disability benefits, which is the sole source of income for many low-income families. Thanks to an additional $2.63 million proposed by Governor Hochul in the Executive budget, and a $1 million add-on from the Legislature, DAP will be funded at $12.52 million. This means DAP will be better able to tackle the backlog of Social Security claims caused by the long-term physical closure of Social Security offices, and rising claims beginning to be filed by New Yorkers who have become disabled due to Long COVID. We are very pleased that the Legislature and the Governor are recognizing the challenges faced by disabled and senior low-income New Yorkers. Thank you to Senate and Assembly Social Services Chairs, Roxanne Persaud and Linda Rosenthal, for pushing for this important funding.

And a special thank you to Assemblymember Dick Gottfried, who founded DAP in 1983 and has been a champion for the program for almost forty years. We will miss Assemblymember Gottfried’s expertise, advocacy and ardent support for programs benefiting the poorest New Yorkers.

 

Language Access

We appreciate the Governor, Assemblymember Joyner and Senator Ryan for making New York more inclusive for immigrants. The budget codifies and expands prior executive orders requiring state agencies providing direct public services to translate vital documents into the 12 most common non-English languages in the state. In addition, agencies may offer four additional languages based on regional needs in New York state. This law means immigrants who speak Urdu and French, common languages for immigrants originally from Southeast Asia and African communities, will now have access to vital documents they understand, in addition to the ten languages that are already codified presently.

 

Expansion of the Gender Recognition Act

We were very pleased, along with other members of the Gender Recognition Act Coalition, including the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund, Legal Services NYC, the NYCLU, the Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Legal Aid NYC, and Arrowood Law, to help shape provisions in the budget to create new X gender marker options for all state agencies, and to ensure that transgender, nonbinary, and intersex New Yorkers are able to update their marriage certificates. Thank you to Governor Hochul, Senator Krueger, and to central staff in the Senate and Assembly for working with us.

 

Public Benefits

We are thrilled to finally see the elimination of the 185% of the standard of need test for very low-income New Yorkers who receive public benefits. This rule will result in a modest increase in the net amount of money very poor New Yorkers can receive each month. In most counties, “185% of the standard of need” is well below 70% of the Federal Poverty level. With other advocates, Empire Justice Center has advocated for this change for almost a decade, including in our testimony this year to the Human Services Budget Committee, and we are glad to see this change that means having food, gas, and shelter for the poorest New Yorkers. We now need to work on increasing the grant level for the next fiscal year. We appreciate the Governor and Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal for their hard work on this issue.

 

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To find out more about Empire Justice Center, visit our website, www.empirejustice.org. To learn more about our policy and legislative advocacy, follow our monthly newsletter, Policy Matters.

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.

 


Policy Matters – March 2022

Posted on March 31st, 2022

 

Welcome to the March edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. In this edition we’ll cover the rapidly approaching end of budget season, an important settlement for students with disabilities in Rochester, crime victims advocacy trainings, and a last chance at free tax preparation help for folks in Rochester. You can read an archived version here.

 

Heading Towards the Budget Finish Line…

The hours and minutes are ticking down to the passage of the final budget bills, and we’re continuing our advocacy for numerous programs and proposals.

We were very pleased to see the funding for the Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP), which provides legal representation to New Yorkers facing foreclosure, in both the Senate and Assembly one house bills. We are also continuing to push strongly on our funding asks for both the Disability Advocacy Program (DAP), which helps New Yorkers through the federal disability appeals process, and the Consumer Health Advocates (CHA), which helps New Yorkers navigate health insurance, medical debt, and disability appeals.

We’re also continuing to push to Fund the Gap – to provide funding to plug a temporary gap in funding for crime victims legal services across the state. While the Executive provided $14.4 million in the 30-Day Amendments, a total of $25 million is needed to ensure that program services for victims of crime are not cut.

For years now we have advocated for a number of common-sense updates to public benefits programs to ensure that more folks can get the help they need when they need it.  The Executive and the Legislature have introduced a number of proposals that could address some of these perennial issues, including doing away with the 45-day waiting period for Safety Net Assistance, increasing the earnings disregard for New Yorkers without children, and putting in place a 12-month work exemption for parents and caregivers to those providing care for a child under one year of age.

We are also supporting the proposal for a transgender & nonbinary (TGNB) wellness fund, which would fund services and programs by and for the TGNB community in New York State.

We’ll have more to share on these, and other budget campaigns, once the State Budget is finalized.

 

Consent Decree Reached for Students With Disabilities

Empire Justice Center and Nixon Peabody announced earlier this month that a federal court has approved an Amended Consent Decree that further resolves claims in a lawsuit brought by a class of students with disabilities in the Rochester City School District and their families to secure the District’s compliance with special education laws. The Decree requires the School District to meet objective goals that demonstrate continual measurable progress in providing timely services, improving achievement and graduation rates, eliminating racial disparities in classification and suspension, and increasing involvement with parents of students with disabilities.

“This case has always been about students with disabilities and their families,” said Senior Attorney, Maggie Robb, in an article by WXXI. “We want them to know that we are here to help enforce their civil rights so they can achieve academic success and prepare for life beyond high school.”

You can learn more about this important case and the effects it will have on students with disabilities in this interview of Legal Director Jonathan Feldman, who also worked on the case, by David Lombardo on the Capitol Pressroom.

 

Crime Victims Advocacy Webinars

New York Crime Victims Legal Help will be hosting two noteworthy webinars in April to mark Crime Victims’ Rights Week:

 

Last Chance for Tax Help From CASH

WROC Channel 8 in Rochester did a story on our CASH program, highlighting the importance of professional tax help for low income families and individuals, and interviewed the Director of CASH, Yversha Roman.

“It’s super important to seek professional help and guidance. Right now we are still even looking for clients or individual community members who haven’t claimed their child tax credits because every year tax laws and credits change, it can become very confusing,” Roman said.

If you’re in the Rochester area you can schedule your appointment for free tax preparation today, including for 2018, 2019, or 2020 returns. Call 585-900-1004 or visit https://empirejustice.org/cash for more information.

 

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