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Policy Matters – September 2023

Posted on September 27th, 2023

Welcome to the September edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. This edition includes testimony to the Chief Judge on civil legal needs and the justice gap, a discussion on the abysmally low shelter allowance, the family violence option for DV survivors, reforming the notarization process, allowing SSI recipients to save, our police reform project, tackling child poverty, the latest on Fair Hearing Help NY, a domestic violence legislative update, our President & CEO honored, and professional opportunities at Empire Justice Center. You can also read an archived version of the newsletter here.

 

Chief Judge’s Hearing on Civil Legal Services

Our President & CEO Kristin Brown testified at the Chief Judge’s 2023 Hearing on Civil Legal Services in NYS on September 18. This hearing was held to evaluate the continuing unmet civil legal services needs in New York and to assess the level of resources necessary to meet those needs.

Terri Tupper, a three-time client of Empire Justice Center, also testified before the hearing. In her testimony, Terri describes first becoming a class action client of Empire Justice in 2008, through which she was able to finally secure access to Medicaid, and how that led to Empire Justice representing her in other matters over the next decade, helping to secure medical aids, reasonable accommodation requests, housing, and stability that would not have been possible without access to legal services.

Kristin’s testimony noted the need for public interest attorneys with a high level of expertise and talent are needed to tackle this type of work. But starting attorney salaries in civil legal services are consistently the lowest paying public interest attorney jobs across the state. A widening salary gap is making it increasingly difficult to attract and retain legal talent. Testimony delivered by the President of the New York Legal Services Coalition, Tina Foster, echoed these concerns about pay equity for advocates serving historically disadvantaged communities.

The Chief Judge will report to the Legislature, as requested in its June 2010 Joint Resolution, on the information obtained at the hearing and on the ongoing work of the New York State Permanent Commission on Access to Justice.

 

Highlighting Problems with the Low Shelter Allowance

Last month we released a new report, No Keys to Safe and Decent Housing in New York’s “Safety Net”, which delves into this issue with data from each county in New York State, and offers policy solutions to the housing instability, homelessness, and other issues caused by the huge gap between the shelter allowance and real rents.

Jessica Radbord and Haley Kulakowski, the authors of the report and attorneys in our Public Benefits unit, spoke with the Sanctuary for Independent Media on September 14, where they talked about the role of State rule-making, affordable housing, and the fact that whether for households without children or households with children, there are no units in any part of New York State that are at the price point of the shelter allowance.

“Here in Albany, for a family of three, the rent allowance – what we call the shelter allowance – is $309 a month,” Jessica told the Sanctuary. “You don’t need to do the same research that we did, looking at the actual zipcode-level data of how many units are at which price points, to know you’re not going to find an apartment that’s suitable for a three person household, or for anyone, for $300 dollars.”

 

Family Violence Option and the FRA

We met with the Office for Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) in July to discuss the consequences of the Fiscal Responsibility Act (FRA) of 2023 on the operation of the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program in New York. The FRA impacts work requirements for TANF recipients, in many cases expanding ineffective work requirements, which in turn make it more difficult for New Yorkers to access assistance.

In addition, the dynamics of domestic violence can make participation in work-related activities unsafe for survivors. For this reason, we followed up our meeting with a letter to OTDA, recommending the issuance of a reminder to local districts about their obligations under the Family Violence Option regarding waivers from work activities for victims of domestic violence, or other eligible victims of human trafficking, sexual assault, or sexual abuse.

Our 2019 report, Poverty and Violence: Does New York’s Family Violence Option Make a Difference? found that the Family Violence Option program does properly assist many domestic violence victims, but that others may not be as well served, with one reason being inadequate training of front-line Department of Social Services staff. Guidance and reminders from OTDA are one way to help address these issues.

 

Reforming the Notarization Process

The New York Legal Services Coalition, of which our President & CEO Kristin Brown is Co-Vice President, submitted a letter of support urging Governor Hochul to sign the Notarization Reform Bill (S.5162 Hoylman-Sigal/A.5772 Lavine).

This bill will allow litigants in civil cases to swear to a statement under penalty of perjury without having to notarize the document – a reform that will remove a significant barrier to justice that disproportionately affects low-income and unrepresented individuals, especially communities of color, with no notable benefit for the justice system.

When Governor Hochul signs the bill into law, New York would join the federal government and over 20 other states who have already eliminated the process of requiring documents to be notarized in civil matters. This would be an important step to making our court processes more equitable for all.

 

Allowing SSI Recipients to Save

We joined 370 other organizations across the nation in signing onto a letter of support for the SSI Savings Penalty Elimination Act, a vital Federal bill that would, for the first time since 1989, raise the amount of assets that Supplemental Security Income (SSI) recipients can save without jeopardizing their SSI benefits.

The current resource limit of $2,000 for individuals/$3,000 for couples makes it nearly impossible for recipients to have any measure of economic security, as it is impossible to save for any unexpected expenses or emergencies. The bill would significantly improve the lives of SSI recipients by raising the asset limit to $10,000 per individual/$20,000 per couple, and those limits would adjust with inflation.

 

Racial Disparities in Pretext Stops

Our Police Reform Project attorneys Jill Paperno and Katie Blum attended the Urban League of Rochester’s Interrupt Racism Conference, which was held on September 19-20. Empire Justice Center was proud to be a sponsor of this event. Jill and Katie also presented a workshop titled Structural Equity: Racial Disparities in Pretext Stops: The History and the Future, along with Dr. Rashid Muhammad.

Low-level non-safety traffic stops, such as stopping a cyclist for lacking a bell on their bicycle or stopping a motorist for having something hanging from their car’s rear view mirror, are often enforced in racially disparate ways. You can read more about this issue in our recent preliminary report, Stop the Stops: The Disparate Use and Impact of Police Pretext Stops on Individuals and Communities of Color, or you can sign up for our Police Reform Project mailing list.

 

Tackling the Reduction of Child Poverty

The first meeting of New York State’s Child Poverty Reduction Advisory Council’s Public Benefits Committee was held on September 14. Our President & CEO, Kristin Brown, is a member of the committee. The Council seeks to provide analyses of child poverty in New York, make policy recommendations for reducing child poverty by 50 percent over ten years, and measure and report on progress towards that goal. A recording of the first meeting of the Public Benefits Committee is available here.

 

Fair Hearing Help NY

Our Benefits and Crime Victims Legal Network Teams presented a webinar, FairhearinghelpNY.org: What It Is, and How It Can Help You and Your Clients, on September 12. When an individual’s benefits — such as SNAP benefits — are reduced, discontinued, or their application is denied, they can request a fair hearing. A fair hearing allows the individual to make their case and the agency will review the decision.

Over 95% of Appellants are not represented by counsel at fair hearings. FairHearingHelpNY.org was developed in collaboration with the Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic at Columbia Law School, Empire Justice Center, The Legal Aid Society, and New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), as a resource to offer self-represented people information that will allow them to more fully participate in their fair hearing and exercise their due process rights.

 

Domestic Violence Legislative Update 2023

We hosted this legislative update, presented on September 19, 2023 by Joan Gerhardt, Director of Public Policy & Advocacy at the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NYSCADV). This presentation provides viewers with an update on the domestic violence-related bills that passed both houses or were signed into law this session.

 

Joint Public Hearing on Programs for Domestic Violence Survivors

Remla Parthasarathy, Project Leader of the Crime Victims Legal Network, will be testifying at a joint public hearing of the Senate Committee on Social Services and the Senate Committee on Women’s Issues on October 3. The hearing will examine whether the current continuum of care is meeting the needs of survivors of gender-based and domestic violence. Remla will discuss the importance of access to civil legal services for victims of crime.

 

Kristin Brown Honored by LASNNY

On September 7 our President & CEO, Kristin Brown was awarded the William E. Byron Equal Justice Award by the Legal Aid Society of Northeastern New York (LASNNY) at their 100th Anniversary Awards Celebration in Albany!

This award honors LASNNY’s first and only non-lawyer Board President and recognizes an individual champion of civil legal services who has defended the civil legal rights of individuals in New York State and has worked tirelessly to ensure equal access to justice for low-income and vulnerable persons.

Kristin Brown has spent her career advocating for the civil legal rights of low-income New Yorkers. As Vice President of Policy and Government Relations at Empire Justice Center for 18 years, she worked with other civil legal aid and nonprofit agencies to advocate for systemic changes that removed barriers to access to justice for vulnerable populations. She led successful advocacy campaigns that raised hundreds of millions of dollars from the State to support the provision of civil legal services to low-income families in New York. Since 2019, in her role as President and CEO, she has worked at the state and national level to bring the most pressing needs of civil legal services agencies to the attention of decision makers and to strengthen Empire Justice Center’s systems change work, always with a focus on supporting and collaborating with community and legal organizations serving low income and marginalized communities.

We are so proud of you, Kristin! Please join us in congratulating her on this well-deserved recognition.

 

Hanna S. Cohn Equal Justice Fellowship

Applications are now being accepted for the Hanna S. Cohn Equal Justice Fellowship, a prestigious, 2-year fellowship for a third-year law student in Rochester, NY! The goal of this fellowship is to increase systems change legal advocacy for Greater Rochester’s low-income families in high priority areas that are underserved.

The Hanna S. Cohn Equal Justice Fellowship was established in memory of Hanna S. Cohn, who served as the Executive Director of JustCause for twenty years. The application deadline is October 27, 2023. The Fellow will be notified in January, 2024 and will begin work in September, 2024.

 

New York State Bar Association Civil Legal Services Career Fair

Empire Justice Center will be participating in the New York State Bar Association’s Civil Legal Services Career Fair on Wednesday, October 25 from 12:00 pm – 5:00 pm September 28! People interested in a career in civil legal services can attend this virtual fair to explore employment opportunities, connect with other attorneys, and learn about the civil legal services field.

Interested parties can register for this event and attend online free of charge. Come visit us at our virtual table to hear about job opportunities at Empire Justice Center.

 

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

 

 

 

 


Policy Matters – August 2023

Posted on August 31st, 2023

Welcome to the August edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. In this edition we cover the release of our new shelter allowance report, letters of support for housing and public benefits bills, the latest from our police reform project, a conference on victims’ services, and upcoming staff recognition. You can also read an archived version of the newsletter here.

 

No Keys to Safe and Decent Housing

For most New York households that rely on public assistance, housing instability is unavoidable. Safe and habitable rental units in the private rental market simply do not exist at price points that are affordable for households relying on public assistance’s allowance for rent (the “shelter allowance” or “rent allowance”).

The current shelter allowance for a family of three with children ranges from a low of $259 a month in Franklin County to a high of $447 in Suffolk County. These amounts are not enough to cover the cost of any habitable rental unit in New York State, falling hundreds of dollars below what the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) has determined to be fair market rents for these areas.

Earlier this month we released a new report, No Keys to Safe and Decent Housing in New York’s “Safety Net”, which delves into this issue with data from each county in New York State, and offers policy solutions to the housing instability, homelessness, and other issues caused by the huge gap between the shelter allowance and real rents.

The authors, Jessica Radbord and Haley Kulakowski, spoke about the report with Dave Lombardo on the Capitol Pressroom on August 29.

 

Vacancy Study Bill

Following the passage of the Housing Stability and Tenant Protection Act of 2019, municipalities in New York State are now able to opt into rent-stabilization – if the municipality is able to prove a rental vacancy rate of less than 5%. Municipalities began conducting vacancy studies to determine their rental vacancy rate, but these studies were being done with different methodologies, which in turn resulted in different or inaccurate results.

The NYS Legislature passed the Vacancy Study bill (S.1684-A/A.6843-A) earlier this year. This bill would enact standards for these studies, including codification of incentives for landlords to respond to vacancy surveys, and allows for sanctions against landlords that fail to respond or who intentionally report inaccurate information. Our Tenant Advocacy Practice Group Managing Attorney A.J. Durwin submitted a letter of support for this bill to Governor Hochul’s office on August 3.

 

Benefits Skimming Notice Bill

Similarly, Senior Benefits Attorney Jessica Radbord submitted a letter of support for the Skimming Notice bill (A.4023-A/S.6088).

Skimming occurs when a thief installs a largely undetectable device at a point-of-sale terminal that reads (or “skims”) the users’ card data and pin number. Our clients have typically been completely unaware that their benefits, such as SNAP or cash assistance, could be “skimmed” in this way until they were victimized. It is a tremendous loss for some of the most economically vulnerable members of our communities.

The Skimming Notice bill requires every person, firm, partnership, association, or corporation engaged in sales transactions that accept EBT cards to post a sign at the point of sale containing a notice regarding skimming. The sign must include steps customers can take to protect themselves from skimming and an appropriate contact number to report skimming incidents. Our recommendation is that the notice also include notice of the right to replacement issuances as authorized under the federal Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2023 and pursuant to SSL § 152-d.

 

Stop the Stops

Our Police Reform Project attorneys Jill Paperno and Katie Blum spoke with Hudson Mohawk Magazine about their report, Stop the Stops: The Disparate Use and Impact of Police Pretext Stops on Individuals and Communities of Color.

Low-level non-safety traffic stops, such as stopping a cyclist for lacking a bell on their bicycle or stopping a motorist for having something hanging from their car’s rear view mirror, are often enforced in racially disparate ways. If you’d like to follow our work on this issue, you can sign up for our Police Reform Project mailing list.

 

Bridging the Justice Gap

The Office of Court Administration (OCA) will be holding a hearing to evaluate the continuing unmet civil legal services needs in New York on September 18.

 

Redefining Victim Services

Last week the NYS Office of Victim Services held their conference, Resilience: Redefining Victim Services in an Age of Uncertainty. Remla Parthasarathy, Project Leader of the Crime Victims Legal Network, participated as a panelist in one breakout session, focused on organizational resilience during and as a result of the pandemic. She spoke about the creation and success of our pandemic unemployment hotline, and the adoption of our recent expanded Bereavement Policy.

Remla also participated at the conference’s tabling event where she had a chance to promote the NY Crime Victims Help website. One attendee called the resource “the best kept secret” at the conference.

 

Recognizing Excellence

Our President & CEO Kristin Brown is being honored by the Legal Aid Society of Northeast New York at their centenary gala on September 9. She will receive the William E. Byron Equal Justice Award. Congratulations Kristin!

Our Chief Strategy Officer Jill Paperno has been selected by the Daily Record and the Rochester Business Journal as one of their 2023 Legal Excellence Awards honorees. The awards will take place on October 5. Congratulations, Jill!

 

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- July 2023

Posted on August 8th, 2023

The Disability Law News is a quarterly newsletter published for DAP Advocates. This July 2023 Edition issue will cover the White House’s recent announcement of Martin O’Malley as its nominee for Commissioner of Social Security; a guide published by the Social Security Administration (SSA) regarding evidence of Long COVID; a change to the Appeals Council’s timeframe for reviewing appeals; improvements to the CDR process; new listings for skin and digestive disorders; a Second Circuit summary order and AC remand for a conflict with the D.O.T.; an overview of recent comments by advocates in response to SSA’s proposed rules and other requests for information; recent Disability Advocacy Program (DAP) retirements and an interview with long-time DAP advocate, Peter Racette; an update about ERAP; and an updated Bulletin Board.

Access the July 2023 Disability Law News newsletter.

To subscribe to future Disability Law News issues, please contact Maia Younes at myounes@empirejustice.org. 

We hope you enjoy this new design and find it easy to navigate.


Policy Matters – July 2023

Posted on July 31st, 2023

Welcome to the July edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. This edition includes action towards language justice in Long Island, the latest from our Police Reform Project, information on the need for comprehensive right to counsel for divorce, and staff recognition for service to LGBTQ communities of color. You can also read an archived version here.

 

Action Towards Language Justice

In the decade since the passage of executive orders mandating language access in Nassau County, the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition (LILAC), of which Empire Justice is a member, has been pushing for full implementation. Now, after years of noncompliance, LatinoJustice PRLDEF is suing Nassau County and Nassau County Police Department for not providing adequate language assistance to community members in need.

LILAC and the New York Immigration Coalition (NYIC) released a report this past September, Unprotected and Unheard: Nassau County Police Department Fails Immigrant Communities, which found that nearly 47% of Spanish speakers who called the Nassau County Police Department (NCPD) in 2022 to test its language accessibility were unable to get assistance. Our Senior Paralegal & Community Advocate Cheryl Keshner, the coordinator for LILAC, spoke with Newsday at the time of the report’s release, saying, “The Nassau Police Department has to do better. They’re not meeting their legal obligation to serve the entire community. This is a discriminatory practice that they’re engaging in.”

Advocates held a press conference announcing the lawsuit on July 19. Cheryl was one of the speakers, and described incidents in which Nassau County residents who are victims of domestic violence or sexual assault who do not speak English well are re-traumatized by police, denied interpreters, or even threatened with arrest themselves.

“This disregard for the wellbeing of our immigrant community reveals a culture within the department, and within the county, which devalues the lives of immigrants, of people of color, and of people who are low income. This culture desperately needs to be changed,” Cheryl said. “Ten years is too long to wait. The time for language justice is now.”

 

Racial Disparities in Low-Level Traffic Stops

On July 18 our Police Reform Project attorneys Jill Paperno and Katie Blum, along with Dr. Rashid Muhammad of JustCause, participated in a program held by the Monroe County Bar Association called, “Racial Disparities in Low Level Traffic Stops: What Law And Research Tell Us And What We Can Do.”

Low-level non-safety traffic stops, such as stopping a cyclist for lacking a bell on their bicycle or stopping a motorist for having something hanging from their car’s rear view mirror, are often enforced in racially disparate ways. You can read more about this issue in our recent preliminary report, Stop the Stops: The Disparate Use and Impact of Police Pretext Stops on Individuals and Communities of Color, or you can sign up for our Police Reform Project mailing list.

 

Disability Advocacy Program (DAP) Pushing for Positive Administrative Changes

Our Disability Advocacy Program (DAP) has been hard at work at the administrative grindstone, working with our fellow DAP statewide coordinator at the Urban Justice Center to draft and submit multiple comments on proposed rules and requests for information:

 

Comprehensive Right to Counsel for Divorce

Our Director of Training and Technical Assistance Amy Schwartz-Wallace was invited to participate in a Joint Policy Listening Session with the Office of Victim Services (OVS) and the Office for the Prevention of Domestic Violence (OPDV) on July 25. As part of this session Amy presented on the need for a comprehensive right to counsel in divorce proceedings.

According to the NYS Department of Health’s Office of Vital Statistics, in 2019 nearly 36,000 divorces were granted to New York families. Unlike many other states, New York recognizes the right to counsel in many civil cases, especially in matters involving children, families, and safety – however, despite some protections in this area for custody and orders of protection, New York does not yet provide a comprehensive right to counsel for families in matrimonial actions, such as divorce. Despite access to civil legal services, pro bono, pro se clinics, and interim fees the need throughout the state still overwhelms the actual available services. Empire Justice supports the right to counsel generally and supports the push for right to counsel in eviction as well.

 

Making Change in LGBTQ Communities of Color

On July 22 our LGBTQ Rights Attorney, Lettie Dickerson, was honored by In Our Own Voices at their Jazz in July event. Lettie received the Jasán M Ward Community Advocacy Award in recognition of his work making change in LGBTQ+ Communities of Color. Congratulations Lettie!

 

NYS Nursing Home Survey

We need your input! In partnership with Center for Elder Law & Justice and through funding made available by the New York Health Foundation, we are pleased to announce the expansion of our nursing home resident rights resource guide.

We want to hear from community members who have had personal experiences with nursing homes, whether as a resident, family member, friend or employee. In connecting with our community, we will identify issues for nursing home residents, create educational materials, and advocate for change.

To take the survey, visit Nursing Home Experience Survey.

 

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

 

 


Policy Matters – June 2023

Posted on June 30th, 2023

Welcome to the June edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. In this edition we cover the end of the 2023 state legislative session, the launch of a new legal help resource for fair hearings, new guidance regarding transgender and gender expansive students in public schools, widespread delays in processing SNAP applications, the end of the pause on student loan repayments, help for people facing foreclosure in NYS, continued advocacy for bank consumers in Rochester, our nursing home survey, and an exciting new appointment in Monroe County. You can also read an archived version of the newsletter here.

 

Legislative Session Wrap-up

After a brief back-to-Albany trip by the Assembly last week, the 2023 legislative session has officially wrapped. While many big ticket items remain unresolved, we are pleased to note the following bills that passed both houses that will positively impact our client communities when signed by Governor Hochul.

Speaking on these bills, our President & CEO Kristin Brown stated, “[W]e could not be more proud in lauding sponsors, and partners in the advocacy community who worked so hard to make these future policy changes happen. We look forward to working with legislators and advocacy partners to ensure these bills are signed and to advance legislation that remains on the table.”

We also saw progress on a number of other bills that were passed by the Senate, but not yet by the Assembly. We will be working to push them to full passage next legislative session:

If you’d like to learn more about our support for these bills, along with others, such as the bill to codify the Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP) into law (S.7297 Kavanagh/A.7636 Solages), please read our full press statement on the end of the NYS legislative session.

 

New Legal Help Resource

The Legal Aid Society, Empire Justice Center, and New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), in partnership with Columbia Law School’s Lawyering in the Digital Age Clinic, have launched Fair Hearing Help NY, a free, virtual legal resource for New Yorkers who are representing themselves at an administrative hearing with the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA).

When an individual’s benefits are reduced, discontinued, or their application is denied, they can request a Fair Hearing. A Fair Hearing allows the individual to make their case and the agency will review the decision. According to OTDA’s Annual Report, 155,662 hearings were requested in New York State in 2022 (123,990 in New York City alone). Ninety-seven percent of Appellants are not represented by counsel.

The new website will help New Yorkers who are representing themselves in a Fair Hearing navigate the complex process and offer information that will allow them to more fully participate  in exercising their due process rights.

“Fair hearings are the only recourse for New Yorkers whose benefits have been unfairly reduced or denied,” said Susan Antos, Managing Attorney of our Benefits practice group. “However, Fair Hearings are fundamentally a legal process. The new Fair Hearing Help NY website will walk people through the process so they understand the procedural rules and are more likely to be successful. This will mean the difference between people being able to access basic necessities – like food for their families, shelter, access to medical care – or not.”

 

Ensuring a Safe and Supportive School Environment for Transgender and Gender Expansive Students

This month, the New York State Education Department released a legal update: Creating a Safe, Supportive, and Affirming School Environment for Transgender and Gender Expansive Students. This is an update of the original 2015 guidance and reflects the progress in state and federal law since 2015, including the passage of the Gender Expression Nondiscrimination Act (GENDA) in 2019, which added “gender identity and expression” to the protected classes in the NYS Human Rights Law, and the closing of the legal loophole that left NYS public schools outside of the jurisdiction of the NYS Human Rights Law for much of the 2010’s.

This legal update provides guidance to all K-12 public schools in New York State on how best to support transgender and gender expansive students while creating an equitable learning environment for all. It also provides national and state-level data on the experiences of transgender and gender expansive students; clarifies information regarding student privacy and student records, and provides links to additional resources for schools.

Readers of Policy Matters will recall that last fall, our Civil Rights practice group launched a statewide school discrimination helpline that will provide advice and counsel to students and families who may have been the subject of discrimination at a school in New York State. 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. NYSED’s legal update provides additional protection for transgender and gender expansive students. Any students or families concerned they have been the subject of discrimination in a school setting in New York State can call 800-724-0490 Ext. 5827 or email schooldiscriminationhelpline@empirejustice.org to get legal guidance to understand and navigate their options. You can also visit the School Discrimination page on our website for more information.

 

SNAP Delays Leaving New York Families Hungry

A recent survey conducted by No Kid Hungry New York found that nearly two in five adult New Yorkers have experienced food insecurity in the last twelve months, with more than half (56%) worried they would be unable to afford groceries if faced with an unexpected $500 expense. This food insecurity makes the importance of access to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits essential to keeping New York families fed.

However, applicants are experiencing significant delays in processing applications in many areas across the state. Senior Benefits Attorney Jessica Radbord spoke with Dave Lombardo on The Capitol Pressroom about this important issue.

Jessica shared that while SNAP benefits are funded federally, applications are processed at the local level by each social services district (each social services district is administered by county, besides New York City, where all five boroughs are gathered in one social services district). That means processing delays are squarely a New York State problem, not a federal one.

Not every part of the state is experiencing these delays, but many are – despite the fact that social services districts are legally required to process SNAP applications on time. As of March 2023, more than a third of districts outside New York City were processing 10% of their applications late, thirteen districts were processing more than 20% of applications late, and five districts (Broome, Duchess, Rockland, Ulster, and Wayne) were failing to process more than half of their food stamp applications on time, with a high of 73% of SNAP applications being processed late. New York City is currently being sued for not processing applications on time. A huge part of this issue is a staffing shortage at the social services district level, where they don’t have  enough people to process applications on time.

“Every month, what that means is that there are tens of thousands of NY families who aren’t getting decisions on their applications on time, which means they’re not getting those federal benefits that they’re entitled to, which means that they aren’t able to buy food. They’re going hungry,” Jessica told Lombardo.

 

Student Loan Payment Pause Ends

The pause on student loans, introduced during the height of the COVID pandemic, is set to end soon as part of the new debt ceiling deal that passed the House of Representatives earlier this month. Our Student Debt Councilor Jordan Daniels spoke about the issue with CBS 6 in Albany, and described the work she does to help borrowers reduce or eliminate their student loan debt.

“I’ve helped borrowers rid themselves of $200,000 plus of debt that they didn’t even know was possible. They thought they literally were going to die with this debt,” Jordan told CBS 6. “It’s been a long three years. It’s vital [borrowers] are paying attention and preparing for those payments to start, so they can avoid default and economic hardship.”

If you’d like to learn more, check out our Educational Debt Consumer Assistance Program, or request an appointment with a student debt counselor by emailing StudentDebt@empirejustice.org, or call us at 518-935-2849.

 

How to Avoid Home Foreclosure in New York

Senior Attorney Kirsten Keefe spoke with Spectrum News about why foreclosure filings are up 8% nationally from the same time last year. While the COVID-19 foreclosure moratorium formally ended in January 2022, there was a delay between the end of the moratorium and an increase in foreclosure proceedings as the backlog of cases made its way down the pike.

The good news is that thanks to resources like the Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP), and legislative advocacy by Empire Justice and other housing advocates, New Yorkers have many legal protections in place to help keep them in their homes.

“We are very fortunate to have probably the largest network of nonprofit housing counseling and legal services programs funded through the state to provide direct assistance to homeowners in default and foreclosure,” Kirsten told Spectrum News. “People should not be feeling like they need to move immediately. The foreclosure process is a judicial process, so it does take time. So it’s good to just understand what the process is and what to expect, and then it can help you plan your next step.”

 

Advocating for Consumer Banking Interests in Rochester

As part of our work with the Greater Rochester Community Reinvestment Coalition, Senior Attorney Ruhi Maker and Policy Analyst Barb van Kerkhove submitted comments regarding KeyBank’s (Key) CRA Exam conducted by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) for 2019 through 2021.

 

NYS Nursing Home Survey

We need your input! In partnership with Center for Elder Law & Justice and through funding made available by the New York Health Foundation, we are pleased to announce the expansion of our nursing home resident rights resource guide.

We want to hear from community members who have had personal experiences with nursing homes, whether as a resident, family member, friend or employee. In connecting with our community, we will identify issues for nursing home residents, create educational materials, and advocate for change.

To take the survey, visit Nursing Home Experience Survey.

 

New President of the Monroe County Bar Association Foundation

Empire Justice Center is thrilled to announce our Chief Legal Officer and Senior Attorney, Maggie Robb, as the new Monroe County Bar Association Foundation President! Maggie is a member of our leadership team, where she oversees our legal practice, Compliance, and Human Resources; and is a Senior Attorney in our Civil Rights practice group. Since 2012, she has focused her work on helping low-income New Yorkers to resolve civil rights, employment, and education issues.

Maggie is an active member of the Monroe County Bar Association, having served in numerous roles over the years, including Foundation Board Member, Member of the President’s Commission on Anti-Racism, Board Trustee, By-Laws Committee Member, Chair of the Memorial Committee, and a Lawyers for Learning Program volunteer. Congratulations Maggie!

 

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- April 2023

Posted on June 26th, 2023

The Disability Law News is a quarterly newsletter published for DAP Advocates. This April 2023 edition will cover the recent settlement in the Amin v. Kijakazi lawsuit regarding non-disability appeals; a new Emergency Message about probationary periods; a spotlight on Appeals Council deadlines; a POMS about an increase to the overpayment waiver tolerance; an updated Waterfall Chart for FY22; an updated Deeming Chart; a new online option for Continuing Disability Reviews; updated COVID practices; new court decisions, an updated Bulletin Board, and a tip about the benefit of breaks.

 

 

 

Access the April 2023 Disability Law News newsletter.

To subscribe to future Disability Law News issues, please contact Maia Younes at myounes@empirejustice.org. 

We hope you enjoy this new design and find it easy to navigate.


Policy Matters – May 2023

Posted on May 31st, 2023

Welcome to the May edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. In this edition we cover the final NYS Budget, the end of session push, SNAP application delays, legal rights for people living in mobile homes, surveys for nursing homes and pretext stops, best practices on tackling the intersection of domestic violence and animal abuse, and recognitions for outstanding work by Empire Justice staff. You can also read an archived version here.

 

Final NYS Budget Has Steady Progress in Some Areas, Gaps in Others

The need for civil legal services across New York State has never been greater. Thankfully, the final New York State budget included funding that will serve our clients and our client communities – with notable increases for some of Empire Justice Center’s key programs, including the Disability Advocacy Program (DAP), the Homeowners Protection Program (HOPP), and a cost of living adjustment for Judiciary Civil Legal Services (JCLS). However, there were also gaps created by cuts to Community Health Advocates (CHA) and the need for stronger measures to address benefits skimming.

You can read more in our press statement on the final 2023 New York State Budget.

 

End of Session Push

In the final days of session, we are pushing for a number of bills that will support our client communities. We have participated in several advocacy days with coalition partners. With the New York Legal Services Coalition, coalition members participated in a full day of meetings with legislators and staff; conversations were focused on the Notarization Bill — S.5162 (Hoylman-Sigal) / A.5772 (Lavine), which will allow litigants in civil cases to swear to a statement without having to notarize the document, removing an outdated burden to access to justice in civil proceedings, and a bill to require the state’s contracts with not for profits to be executed in a timely way — S.4877 (Mayer) / A.2740 (Paulin). We participated in a lobby day for the Gender Identity Respect, Dignity, and Safety Act A.0709-A (Rozic) / S.2860 (Salazar), which would help ensure the rights of incarcerated transgender people. We joined partners advocating for the New York Public Banking Act S.1754 (Sanders) / A.3352 (Hunter). Additionally, our President and CEO Kristin Brown spoke about the need to reform our state contracting process at a rally and press event at the Day of Action for the New York State Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NYSCADV). Melinda Fithen, together with other members of the NYS UI Coalition, has created a letter of support for a proposed bill in the NYS Senate relating to the recovery of overpayments of unemployment benefits. The bill would protect “low-income benefits claimants who are overpaid benefits through no fault of their own from punitive benefits claw backs. The bill will particularly aid people of color, limited English proficiency claimants, and claimants with limited technological access who are disproportionately burdened with unfair overpayments.”

Some additional pieces of legislation we are working to get passed:

 

SNAP Processing Delays Hitting New Yorkers Across the State

New York Focus spoke with Senior Benefits Attorney Jessica Radbord about the explosion of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) processing delays that are affecting applicants across the state. Tens of thousands of New Yorkers who have applied for SNAP have had their benefits delayed for more than 30 days, in violation of federal law.

“Applicants are subject to so much scrutiny to access a level of assistance that is astoundingly low,” Jessica told New York Focus.

We are currently analyzing county-level data on these delays in order to develop next steps to address this growing problem.

 

A Decent Home – For Whom?

Senior Attorney Kirsten Keefe appeared on the PBS program MetroFocus along with documentary film director Sara Terry on May 24 to talk about the economics of mobile home parks and the injustices experienced by residents. Terry’s film A Decent Home details how private equity firms and wealthy investors buy up parks, making sky-high returns on their investments while squeezing every last penny out of the mobile home owners who lack rights and protections under local and state laws, and must pay rent for the land they live on. Kirsten joined the conversation to discuss the legal protections New York legislators have in the works to support residents of the state’s 1,800 trailer home parks.

 

NYS Nursing Home Survey

We need your input! In partnership with Center for Elder Law & Justice and through funding made available by the New York Health Foundation, we are pleased to announce the expansion of our nursing home resident rights resource guide.

We want to hear from community members who have had personal experiences with nursing homes, whether as a resident, family member, friend or employee. In connecting with our community, we will identify issues for nursing home residents, create educational materials, and advocate for change.

To take the survey, visit Nursing Home Experience Survey.

 

Pretext Stop Questionnaire

Empire Justice Center’s newly formed Police Reform Project has collaborated with JustCause (formerly known as Volunteer Legal Services Project), University of Rochester, and Rochester Institute of Technology to launch a survey to determine the physical and mental health impacts that police-citizen interactions have on our community. If you have been stopped by the police in the City of Rochester, and are over the age of 18, we want to hear from you — fill out our  Pretext Stop Questionnaire.

Participants can enter a drawing to win one of four $100 Amazon gift cards. Check our website for more information on our Police Reform Project.

 

Tackling the Intersection of Domestic Violence and Animal Abuse

Amy Bogardus, our Regional Attorney Manager for our NY Crime Victims Legal Help Program has written an article on the intersection of DV and animal abuse with tips for practitioners on how to recognize and respond to this issue. The article, “What Lawyers Can Do When Pet Abuse and Domestic Violence Intersect” is featured in the May/June edition of the New York State Bar Association Journal.

 

Cheryl Keshner Honored by Women’s Diversity Network

On April 29 Senior Paralegal Cheryl Keshner was honored at the Women’s Diversity Network’s 2023 Annual Diversity Summit. Cheryl has been an active advocate for racial and economic justice, police reform and for language access on Long Island.

Cheryl coordinates the Long Island Language Advocates Coalition, which works to ensure that all people receive equal access to programs and services, regardless of English proficiency. She also contributed to The People’s Plan, collaborative effort which contains numerous recommendations to reimagine policing and public safety and address bias in law enforcement in Nassau and Suffolk County. Congratulations Cheryl!

 

Jill Paperno Receives Rodenbeck Award

Our Chief Strategy Officer, Jill Paperno, received the prestigious Adolph J. Rodenbeck Award, presented by the Monroe County Bar Association! Jill is a former Monroe County Public Defender who has dedicated her career to improving access to justice for underserved communities.

The Rodenbeck Award, the Bar Association’s highest honor, recognizes improvements in the administration of justice; encouraging the public understanding of the history and traditions of the law, the courts, and the legal profession; promoting the responsiveness of legal institutions and the legal profession; and community service. Congratulations Jill!

 

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

 


Policy Matters: March & April 2023

Posted on April 28th, 2023

Welcome to the combined March & April edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. In this edition we cover the ongoing fight to fund foreclosure prevention; our push for solutions to benefits skimming to be included in this year’s state budget; continued advocacy for NYS tax credits for families; our work to support non-parent caregivers; continued work pushing for increases for the shelter and basic needs allowances; budget testimony on higher education, health, and housing; our support for moving on from outdated notarization practices; the need for more language justice in banking, an educational opportunity on how to reduce student loan debt; and appreciation for the appointment of Rowan Wilson as Chief Judge of the NYS Court of Appeals. You can also read an archived version of the newsletter here.

 

NYS Budget Talks Keep Going… But No Word Yet on Homeowner Protection

While the Governor announced conceptual budget agreement last night, there has still been no confirmed deal guaranteeing full funding for the Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP). This important program has been providing free legal assistance to New Yorkers to avoid foreclosure since 2012 and has already helped over 120,000 New Yorkers avoid homelessness, crushing debt, and displacement. Last year Governor Hochul included HOPP funding in the Executive Budget for the first time, so its omission in this year’s Executive Budget has been especially striking and concerning to housing advocates and the public.

Earlier in the budget process we worked hard to push for inclusion of HOPP funding in the Governor’s 30 day amendments, but despite this, the funding was still absent when the 30 day amendments were released in early March. Our President & CEO Kristin Brown responded in a press statement: “By not funding the Homeowner Protection Program, Governor Hochul is putting is today’s struggling homeowners at risk, in favor of building new housing years from now. All but 2% of funds from last year’s budget will be spent by the time the existing contracts end. Make no mistake: New York homeowners will lose their homes without HOPP’s protection, which will have disastrous impacts for them, their families, and their communities.”

Spectrum News covered the HOPP press conference at the NYS Capitol on March 22, which was attended by legislators such as Assembly Housing Chair Linda Rosenthal and Senate Housing Chair Brian Kavanaugh, along with advocates and members of the public to push for the inclusion of HOPP funding in the final budget.

“What’s the sense of building more homes when you’re going to lose many more before you even get to the first stick in the ground,” state Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal said.

“We do not want to neglect the homeowners in this state,” state Senator Brian Kavanagh said. “Homeownership has been a way for people build wealth and build equity for generations.”

City Limits also published a story on this issue in early March: In ‘Year Of Housing,’ Hochul’s Budget Leaves Out Anti-Foreclosure Program, which interviewed our Senior Staff Attorney Kirsten Keefe, along with other advocates. Kirsten praised a number of the Governor’s other housing proposals, such as the Homeowner Stabilization Fund, which will und home repairs in 10 areas of the state with high concentrations of low-income homeowners of color, and the Homeowner Assistance Fund, or HAF which can help homeowners pay property taxes, water bills, mortgage delinquencies and coop and condo fees.

However, as Kirsten points out, “These [HOPP] agencies, and primarily the housing counseling agencies, are the ones who meet with homeowners and help them apply” to these types of programs, along with all the other work HOPP advocates engage in to keep people from losing their homes.

It’s clear that HOPP remains an essential tool to improving housing access in New York State, and must be included in the final budget.

 

Time Running Out to Protect New Yorkers from Skimming Scams

Time is also running out to address the issue of benefits skimming – a practice by which scammers install a card reading device at point-of sale terminals to steal users’ account information, SNAP benefits, and cash assistance. When these benefits are stolen, they are not reimbursed, leaving vulnerable families with no income for food or the necessities of life.

We’ve been working on this issue since the autumn, and were pleased to see proposals to address benefits skimming in both the Senate and Assembly one houses, in addition to the proposal put forth by the Governor in her Executive Budget. However, all three of these proposals differ from each other in fundamental ways, and none of them as currently written fully address the problem, as you can see in the comparison chart in our memo of support.

We have been working with Senator Persaud and Assemblymember González-Rojas, who have both introduced stand-alone legislation to address benefits skimming (S.4736/A.4452-A), to try to synthesize these differing proposals and develop a strong, protective solution. We have also organized other advocacy groups to join us in sign-on letters to Governor Hochul and to the Legislature pushing for a strong solution to skimming to be included in the final budget. New York State of Politics covered these efforts in an article on April 25.

 

Pushing for Tax Credits for Families

Our President & CEO Kristin Brown joined advocates from the Schuyler Center, Senators Jeremy Cooney and Andrew Gounardes, Assemblymembers Andy Hevesi, Pat Fahy, MaryJane Shimsky, and Dana Levenberg, and other advocates for a press conference on March 27 to speak about the urgency amending tax law in the final budget to help lift NY families out of poverty.

Our CASH program (Creating Assets, Savings, and Hope) provides free tax preparation services to low income people every year. In the wake of ending tax credits associated with lifting the burden on families during the height of the COVID pandemic, national estimates expected tax returns to come in approximately 11% less than last year, but at CASH we are seeing our clients are getting an approximately 50% reduction in their federal returns. This is why we have written a memo of support for the Working Families Tax Credit (S.277-A/A.4022-A), which is estimated would result in a 13.4% reduction in children under the age of 18 living in poverty, with a 19.6% reduction for those under 18 living in deep poverty.

 

Supporting Non-Parent Caregivers

When family members step in to care for children who cannot be with their parents, these Kinship Caregivers face hurdles that make a difficult situation even harder. They are not entitled to assigned counsel, and without legal representation it can be a struggle to navigate the judicial system.

We wrote a memo of support for Assembly Children and Families Committee Chair Andrew Hevesi’s proposal to establish a Kinship Legal Network, which would provide Kinship caregivers with legal representation, information, and advice to navigate New York’s justice and social services systems. It builds off the existing Kinship Navigator and a successful model used in other legal services. It was included in the Assembly one-house bill, and we recommend funding be included in the final budget.

 

Advocating for More Equitable Shelter Allowance and Cash Assistance

We are continuing to push for better quality of life for New York’s poorest families by advocating for increases in the shelter allowance and basic needs allowance for people on public assistance. The cash assistance shelter allowance has not been updated for households with children since 2003, and for adult-only households since 1988. The current cash assistance shelter amounts are so low that, aside from federally subsidized housing units with rents set at 30% of tenant income, there are literally zero habitable rental units priced at the level of the shelter allowance anywhere in New York State.

We organized a large number of advocacy groups from all across the state to sign onto a letter of support to legislative leadership calling for increases in the shelter allowance and basic needs allowance (also known as cash assistance) on March 9.

In addition, we submitted comments to the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance’s (OTDA) rule review of the shelter allowance and shelter supplements on March 29. This rule is reviewed every five years, and if the agency opts to continue a rule without modification, it must include a statement setting forth a reasoned justification. However, we believe there is no justification to continuing to keep the shelter allowance grants so low that obtaining housing for a family of three in any area of New York State is currently impossible to afford. We encourage OTDA to modify the rules at 18 NYCRR Part 352 to increase the shelter allowance to 100% of the HUD FMR and to require districts to provide supplements to 100% of the HUD FMR.

 

Nonprofit Operations & State Contracts

President and CEO Kristin Brown spoke with Dave Lombardo of the Capitol Pressroom about issues with nonprofit contracts with the state; the interview will be airing later today, April 28. This is following a 2020 interview about the same topic.

 

Budget Testimony

In addition to the Human Services and Taxes budget testimony we shared in our last edition of Policy Matters, we also wrote and submitted testimony on important topics to low income New Yorkers, including:

 

Removing Barriers to Access to Justice

Not all of our work over the past two months has been on the state budget! On March 13 we shared a memo of support for S.5162/A.5772 – this bill would remove significant barriers to access to justice for low income New Yorkers especially in housing, civil and family court matters by allowing litigants in civil cases to swear to a statement under penalty of perjury without having to notarize the document.

The notary requirement is an outdated burden to access to justice in civil proceedings. There is no evidence that notarization increases the truth of statements made. Under Federal Law and in more than 20 states unsworn and unnotarized declarations are accepted as long as they include a statement that the document is true under penalty of perjury.

Requiring a notary disproportionately affects low-income and unrepresented individuals, especially communities of color and deepen the digital divide. The “opportunity” to notarize court documents remotely only works for those who have access to the internet and necessary technology, and are digitally literate.

For example, a client of Empire Justice Center, K, had an expired driver’s license, and was not able to get her name change petition notarized at her local bank, despite having the expired driver’s license, social security card, and birth certificate. The attorney working with her had to drive 50 miles to notarize the petition for her – something that the vast majority of unrepresented New Yorkers would not have been able to access. Stories like K’s are why we strongly support the passage of this bill.

 

Why Non-English Speakers Can Struggle at Banks

Marlene Cortés, our Senior Manager of Language Justice, spoke with the American Banker podcast on the barriers faced by people who are not English proficient when trying to access banking products, such as home or business loans.

Marlene saw the effects of language barriers often during and after the financial crisis, when she was working with Empire Justice clients who were facing foreclosures and didn’t understand the documents they were receiving. She co-founded a local language access coalition in Rochester and following the relocation of many Puerto Ricans to the Rochester area following Hurricane Maria, but that more than just translation services are necessary.

“It shouldn’t just be the tellers having cultural competency training, understanding language justice work. It has to be all the way to the top,” she says.

 

Your Path to Student Loan Freedom

Our Student Debt Counselor Jordan Daniels will be hosting a webinar on May 23 called Your Path to Student Loan Freedom. This presentation will show you how to maximize your student loan forgiveness options, and discuss a wide variety of topics including loan cancellation, programs to manage and eliminate debt and how to prepare for payment resumption. If you have student debt, make sure to sign up and tune in!

 

Appointment of Rowan Wilson as Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals

One last note – we applaud Governor Hochul’s appointment, and the Senate’s quick confirmation, of Rowan Wilson as Chief Judge of the NYS Court of Appeals. This appointment prioritizes the people who need the law’s protection the most, and we welcome and look forward to Judge Wilson’s leadership of the New York Court of Appeals.

 

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

 

 

 


Policy Matters – February 2023

Posted on February 28th, 2023

Welcome to the February edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. In this edition we cover absent funding for foreclosure prevention, wins and misses in the Executive Budget, budget testimony on Human Services and Taxes, the launch of our Police Reform Project, and recognition for Empire Justice staff members. You can also read an archived version of the newsletter here.

 

Key Homeowner Protection Funding Missing from the Executive Budget

While this year’s Executive Budget includes a number of positive proposals, we are concerned that funding for the Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP) in entirely absent. This important program has been providing free legal assistance to New Yorkers to avoid foreclosure since 2012 and has already helped over 120,000 New Yorkers avoid homelessness, crushing debt, and displacement. Last year Governor Hochul included HOPP funding in the Executive Budget for the first time, and the final budget included a $15 million increase that brought overall funding for HOPP to $35 million, so its omission in this year’s Executive Budget is especially striking and must be addressed.

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 crisis has had a disproportionate impact on homeowners of color, with 16.8% of homeowners delinquent on their mortgages vs 5.8% of white homeowners delinquent at end of 2022. Statewide, 43% of HOPP clients are homeowners of color (and in NYC, that number jumps to 75%).

Following the spike in mortgage delinquencies due to COVID, last year funding for HOPP was increased to $35 million to tackle the issue – $20 million from the Governor in the Executive budget, plus a $15 million add-on from the Legislature. This year HOPP is seeking a total of $40 million in order to fully address the problem and keep New Yorkers in their homes.

These services are key across the state, including Governor Hochul’s home turf of Buffalo, which is why the Buffalo News editorial board has published an editorial in support of HOPP funding. Senior Attorney Kirsten Keefe also appeared on the Capitol Pressroom with David Lombardo on February 17 to discuss the crisis, and our push for Governor Hochul to include funding for HOPP in her 30-day amendments to the Executive Budget.

 

Executive Budget a Mixed Bag for Low Income New Yorkers

We’re in the thick of the budget season after Governor Hochul’s Executive Budget bills landed on February 1, following her State of the State address on January 10.

Despite the absence of HOPP funding, we were pleased to see that the Governor did include funding for the Disability Advocacy Program (DAP), which provides free legal assistance to disabled New Yorkers seeking federal SSI/SSD benefits; the Community Health Advocates (CHA), which provides free assistance, outreach, and education to New Yorkers navigating the complex health care system; and the Education Debt Consumer Assistance Program (EDCAP), which helps New Yorkers to manage and resolve issues with their student debt. We’re continuing to advocate for the Legislature to add their share to these programs in the upcoming one house bills.

We were also pleased to see proposals from the Governor to index the minimum wage to inflation, and to address the problem of benefits skimming, an issue we have been working on with colleagues from The Legal Aid Society in NYC, where scammers install a card reading device at point-of sale terminals to steal users’ account information, SNAP benefits, and cash assistance. When these benefits are stolen, they are not reimbursed, leaving vulnerable families with no income for food or the necessities of life.

Unfortunately, HOPP was not the only missed funding opportunity in the Executive Budget. Regular readers of Policy Matters will be very familiar with the longstanding underfunding of the shelter allowance and cash assistance grants for people on public benefits. There is not a single county in NYS where the current shelter allowance, which is what New Yorkers on public assistance receive to pay for housing, comes even close to the fair market rent – the county that comes closest is Chautauqua, where the $285 shelter allowance for a household of three with children comes to only 34.5% of the fair market rent of $826. In all other counties the shortfall is even greater. While we are very pleased to see the Governor’s investment in building new housing, that initiative on its own will not resolve the issue that the shelter allowance is not remotely sufficient to pay for housing for people on public assistance.

To push the Governor to include this as part of her housing package we partnered with The Legal Aid Society NYC and more than 60 other organizations to send a letter on January 31 calling on Governor Hochul to increase funding for the shelter allowance and cash assistance programs that have remained stagnant for decades. Empire Justice will also be releasing a report analyzing the problems with the current shelter allowance and cash assistance levels in March, so stay tuned to learn more.

 

Budget Testimony

If you’re in the mood for comprehensive, data-driven budget testimony, Empire Justice is here for you. Senior Staff Attorney and Statewide Coordinator of the Disability Advocacy Program (DAP) Emilia Sicilia delivered our Human Services Joint Budget Hearing Testimony on February 13, which covers:

Our Director of Strategic Partnerships & CASH, Yversha Roman also submitted our Taxes Joint Budget Hearing Testimony on February 9, which urges the passage of the Working Families Tax Credit, which would combine and strengthen two existing refundable tax credits: the Empire State Child Credit (ESCC) and state Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), creating one more inclusive and generous Working Families Tax Credit (WFTC). It is estimated that enacting this tax credit would result in a 13.4% reduction in children under the age of 18 living in poverty, with a 19.6% reduction for those under 18 living in deep poverty. In the first few weeks of tax return preparation being done by our tax preparation program CASH (Creating Assets, Savings, and Hope) in Rochester, NY, we are already seeing approximately a 50% reduction in the average amount of federal returns for our clients.

We are also planning testimony for the upcoming Higher Education, Health, and Housing Joint Budget Committee hearings, which you’ll be able to find on our Policy Central page and on social media after each hearing. We will also share in our next edition of Policy Matters.

 

Stop the Stops

Empire Justice has launched our new Police Reform Project, which aims to promote equity, antiracism, and social justice within established criminal justice systems such as law enforcement departments and institutions of pre-trial incarceration. The Project’s first initiative was the release of a preliminary report called Stop the Stops: The Disparate Use and Impact of Police Pretext Stops on Individuals and Communities of Color.

A pretext stop is when a police officer stops a motorist, cyclist, or even a pedestrian, for a minor offense – like not having a bell on a bicycle or having something hanging from a car’s rear view mirror – when the real reason for the stop is something else.  The other reason may be a suspicion without enough of a legal basis that the person stopped has done something wrong, or another reason that would be illegal, like racial profiling. The types of offenses upon which these low-level Vehicle and Traffic Law violations are based do not involve enhancing safety.  These stops are often conducted in communities of color and are often directed against young Black men. Multiple studies reflect the racial disparities in who is subjected to pretext stops.

Our preliminary report:

The goals of this preliminary report are to educate the public, develop support for legal and policy changes we seek, and obtain your input to guide us in our preparation of a second report to be issued later this year. In light of these goals, we have also created short form versions of our preliminary report in both English and Spanish.

 

ATHENA Young Professional Award

Yversha Roman, Director of Strategic Partnerships & CASH, was a 2023 ATHENA Young Professional Award finalist, recognized by the Greater Rochester Chamber of Commerce Women’s Council. The ATHENA Young Professional Award program was founded in 2007 by ATHENA International to honor emerging women leaders who demonstrate excellence, creativity and initiative in their business or profession. Congratulations to Yversha on this well-deserved recognition!

 

NYS Bar Association Vanguard Award

Amy Schwartz-Wallace, Senior Attorney and Director of Training & Technical Assistance, was also honored recently, when she received the Vanguard Award from the NYS Bar Association in recognition of her work on the intersection of LGBTQ rights and domestic violence.

Amy organized the first LGBTQ roundtable meeting for legal services domestic violence advocates working with LGBTQ clients at the New York State Bar Association Partnership Conference more than 15 years ago. She provides legal training and technical assistance to attorneys, courts, LGBTQ+ groups, domestic violence programs and other agencies statewide. Amy has also been key both behind the scenes and in front on numerous pieces of public policy and legislation, including the Right to Call 911 bill which we successfully passed in 2019. This law now protects domestic violence and other crime victims from being evicted from their homes for calling the police when they are the victim of a crime. Congratulations to Amy on this well-deserved recognition!

 

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 – 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.