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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.

 


Policy Matters – April 2022

Posted on April 29th, 2022

Welcome to the April edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. In this edition we cover the end of welfare mortgages in New York State, a final 2022 budget wrap-up, working to end abusive auto industry practices, and a training on coordinating HIV health benefits for people who are eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare. You can read an archived version of the newsletter here.

 

New Era For Low Income Homeowners

Regular followers of Policy Matters will remember that last year we achieved a long sought after victory by ending the practice of requiring homeowners to give a mortgage on their homes in exchange for receiving welfare benefits. New York was the last state in the nation to end this practice, which perpetuated a cycle of poverty and prevented very low-income people from achieving economic stability and security for decades.

This budget we completed this victory by wiping all existing welfare mortgages off the books for good.

The regulations were released by OTDA last week, reading in part, “Effective April 9, 2022, districts must not recover any TA real property and/or mortgage liens that were previously accepted and have not yet been satisfied.” We’re immensely proud of the work done on this issue over the past decade by Senior Attorney Susan Antos, Benefits Attorney Jessica Radbord, Senior Attorney Kirsten Keefe, CEO & President Kristin Brown, as well as Empire Justice alums Tamara Frazier, Saima Akhtar, Gary Grasso, Evan Baer, and everyone who contributed to ending this practice.

 

2022 Budget Wrap-up

Ending welfare mortgages was not our only budget victory. Our other funding and policy campaigns were very successful:

You can read more about all of these victories, as well as the budget overall, in our press statement: 2022 State Budget – Good Budget for Many Programs Benefitting Low-Income New Yorkers; Must Do More for Immigrants.

 

Pushing to End Abusive Auto Industry Practices

Senior Attorney Ruhi Maker took part in a New York/Connecticut roundtable discussion on abusive auto industry practices, and what can be done about them, with a collection of economists, advocates, and state representatives, including Yale’s Ian Ayres, Consumer Reports’ Chuck Bell, and Reps. Christopher Rosario and Quentin Williams.

 

HIV & Dual Eligible Benefits

Senior Health Attorney Fiona Wolfe and Health Attorney Alexia Mickles delivered a training on how to coordinate benefits for individuals living with HIV who are eligible for both Medicaid and Medicare on April 12. The webinar was designed for health or social services providers and legal advocates who work with or advocate for people with HIV/AIDs.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 


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

 

 

 

 


Policy Matters – February 2022

Posted on February 28th, 2022

Welcome to the February edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. In this edition we cover progress in plugging the funding gap for Crime Victims Services, our Housing and Human Services budget testimony, rallies to support health care coverage for all, and a push for equitable credit reporting for trans and nonbinary folks. You can read an archived version of the newsletter here.

 

Promising Progress for Crime Victims Services Funding

The budget process carries on, as the 30-Day Amendments have come and we now await the release of the One House Budgets sometime next month.

For legal services programs across the state, the 30-Day Amendments brought some measure of relief regarding the looming $26 million gap in funding for Crime Victims Services – an amendment to include $14.4 million help plug the gap. This gap is due to a temporary cut in Federal funding, and without closing this gap most providers will need to cut program services before full federal funding kicks back in.

We’re grateful to Governor Hochul for responding to this funding crisis, and we’re now looking to the Legislature to step up and fund the remainder.

 

Budget Testimony

We also continued our budget advocacy through the joint legislative hearings – Senior Attorney Kirsten Keefe prepared and submitted our Housing budget testimony on January 31, which covered the importance of fully funding the Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP) as New York State faces extremely high mortgage delinquency rates, especially for homeowners of color.

Emilia Sicilia, Statewide DAP Coordinator, delivered our Human Services budget testimony to the hearing on February 2. This testimony was prepared by Emilia, Senior Benefits Attorney Susan Antos, Health Attorney Alexia Mickles, and Senior Health Attorney Fiona Wolfe. This testimony covered a number of areas, with these three main requests:

 

Coverage For All

Immigrant advocates in New York City, Long Island, and Yonkers held rallies on February 18 to push legislators to pass the Coverage for All bill (A.880-A/S.1572-A)

Coverage for All would expand health care coverage to all New Yorkers by creating a state-funded health coverage option for all New Yorkers with income up to 200% of the federal poverty line, regardless of immigration status.

Empire Justice is a member of the robust coalition of community members, community organizations, health care providers, legal services providers, and labor, immigrant, and health care consumer advocates pushing this bill, and Senior Paralegal, Cheryl Keshner, was among the advocates quoted in a Harlem World Magazine article about the demonstrations: “Coverage for All will improve and expand access to essential and lifesaving healthcare for countless immigrants in New York State. This is a public health issue and will benefit all members of our community.”

 

Making Credit More Equitable

Transgender and nonbinary consumers face myriad credit reporting problems after a legal name change, with serious consequences for their financial and personal lives.

These issues can stop trans and nonbinary people from accessing banking services, mortgages, rental housing, auto financing, and even employment.

On February 24, we joined 145 LGBTQI, consumer, and antipoverty organizations in sending a letter to the largest credit consumer reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) and the Consumer Data Industry Association, urging action to fix these problems with five concrete steps, outlined in the letter.

 

Advocacy for Systemic Change

Manager for Policy & Communications, Eòghann Renfroe, will be presenting NYTAG Conversations: Advocacy for Systemic Policy Change on Monday Feb 28, at 7:00 PM.

This presentation, in partnership with the New York Transgender Advocacy Group (NYTAG) is for folks who want to learn how to translate personal or individual advocacy into systemic policy change advocacy – changing the systems and laws in which we live for the better.

NYTAG Conversations is a free conversation and workshop series for transgender, gender nonconforming, and nonbinary community members and accomplices. Register here.

 

CASH Is Helping Rochester Residents

We are proud to announce that CASH has already helped Rochester residents claim $2 million in Federal and State Refunds in the first 3 weeks of tax season!

“Just three weeks into the tax season it has been remarkable to watch our staff and volunteers work alongside our clients to connect them to the tax credits they have earned while saving them over $175,000 in processing fees,” said CASH Director, Yversha Roman. “As we know, every dollar back into the hands of our families equates to more secure housing, food on the table, and overall financial health.”

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

 

Legal Help Line

Don’t forget! Our Long Island Immigration Legal Help Line is available every Tuesday from 2:00-4:00 pm, at 631-533-2238 to speak to an immigration attorney from Empire Justice Center who will answer your questions on your legal rights. You can also email us at EJCimmigrationhotline@gmail.com to make an appointment. ¡Se habla Español!

 

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

 


Policy Matters – January 2022

Posted on January 31st, 2022

 

Welcome to the January edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. In this edition we cover the Executive budget, offer a preview of upcoming benefits legislation, our joint budget hearing testimony, a push for public banks, a victory for consumers, and the opening of free tax prep for Rochester-area folks. You can read an archived version here.

 

Executive Budget

Budget season is in full swing with the release of the Executive Budget (and the accompanying Briefing Book) last week, following the State of the State address at the beginning of the month.

For Empire Justice, the highlights of the Executive budget are:

We are also pleased at the Governor’s State of the State proposal to create a new office of language access.

One important thing missing from the Executive budget is gap funding for Crime Victims Services. The Office of Victims Services (OVS) has told providers to expect a 10-15% cut, due to a temporary reduction in federal funding. We are pushing for the inclusion of gap funding of $25 million dollars a year for three years to keep Crime Victims Services funded at the same level until the federal funding fully resolves.

 

Omnibus Benefits Legislation Is Coming…

Stay tuned in the coming days for some major policy updates in public benefits! Assemblymember Linda Rosenthal is championing a package that will help New Yorkers with basic necessities such as food and shelter.

 

Joint Legislative Budget Hearings

The Legislature has begun its joint legislative hearing process, and our President and CEO, Kristin Brown, submitted testimony before our first hearing, Public Protection, on January 25. We are requesting:

We will also be submitting testimony by Senior Attorney Kirsten Keefe to the Housing hearing on January 31. Emilia Sicilia, statewide coordinator for the DAP program, will be testifying at the Human Services hearing on February 2.

 

Pushing for Public Banking

Even before COVID-19 gripped our communities, New York faced widening income inequality, banking deserts, and lack of financial and lending opportunities, especially for communities of color. As New York moves toward a post-COVID future, local governments need a new tool to ensure a just recovery for all New Yorkers – public banks.

That is why we signed onto a letter of support with over 150 other advocacy groups calling for the passage of the New York Public Banking Act (S.1762-A Sanders/A.8290 Fahy).

“Our organizations are fighting for public banks that have a clear mission to advance racial, economic, and environmental justice,” the letter supporting the New York Public Banking Act states. “With these principles at their core, public banks would reinvest in New York’s low-income and immigrant neighborhoods and neighborhoods of color, meeting critical community needs and strengthening our ability to withstand future crises.”

 

Victory for Consumers

We had one last 2021 victory when Governor Hochul signed the Consumer Judgement Interest Act (S.5724-A Parke /A.6474-A Weinstein) on December 31. This law will now protect New Yorkers from excessive interest rate on money judgments arising out of consumer debt, including medical and student debt, by capping judgment interest rates to two percent.

Thanks again to sponsors Assemblymember Helene Weinstein and Senator Kevin Thomas!

 

CASH Is Open For Tax Season!

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

 

Immigration Help Line

Don’t forget! Our Long Island Immigration Legal Help Line is available every Tuesday from 2:00-4:00 pm, at 631-533-2238 to speak to an immigration attorney from Empire Justice Center who will answer your questions on your legal rights. You can also email us at EJCimmigrationhotline@gmail.com to make an appointment. ¡Se habla Español!

 

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

 

 

 

 

 


Disability Law News – January 2022

Posted on January 30th, 2022

The Disability Law News is a quarterly newsletter published for DAP Advocates. In this issue, Social Security Administration’s office remain closed and we discuss progress in SSA’s move towards “reentry”. The Supreme Court has heard oral arguments in U.S. v. Vaello-Madero that challenges the constitutionality of the exclusion of residents of Puerto Rico from the SSI program and appears posed to overturn the First Circuits decision. Also in this issue are several studies and reports from the GAO and OIG. Finally, several new Regulations and Administrative Decisions are included in this issue.

 

 


Policy Matters – Nov/Dec 2021 – 2022 Policy Priorities

Posted on December 13th, 2021

For this combined November/December edition of our Policy Matters newsletter we are sharing our 2022 Policy Priorities. You can read an archived version of the newsletter here.

The full PDF of the agenda is here: 2022 Policy Priorities – Empire Justice Center.

As a leading statewide organization working to achieve social and economic justice for people in New York State who are poor, disabled, and disenfranchised, our agenda will focus on making an impact in the following three areas:

 

Access to Justice                                                            

 

Social Justice

 

Economic Justice

 

Join Us In Being Changemakers

We are known for our ability to identify critical issues affecting low income New Yorkers, develop and implement creative solutions, and monitor ongoing results. Our staff has protected and strengthened the legal rights of people in New York who are poor, disabled or disenfranchised for more than forty years. We do this through three major areas of service:

We teach the law by providing training, support and technical assistance to legal services and
private attorneys and other community-based advocates to help them better serve their clients.

We practice the law by providing direct civil legal assistance and undertaking impact litigation.

We improve the law by engaging in policy analysis, research and advocacy.

This giving season, we invite you to join us in being changemakers by donating to Empire Justice Center and helping us continue to make the law work for all New Yorkers.

DONATE TODAY

 

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.

We also have a collection of 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


Policy Matters – October 2021

Posted on October 27th, 2021

Welcome to the October edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. In this edition we cover the release of the Rochester Latinx Agenda, SNAP benefits for prepared meals, the Sanctions bill, our new crime victims guide, how to receive the child tax credit, an overview of domestic violence legislation passed in the last two years, and an award for a lifetime of consumer advocacy. You can also read an archived version here.

 

Rochester Latinx Agenda

The Rochester Latinx Agenda has been released, with a mission to provide data on the impacts of systemic racism on the Latinx experience in Rochester and provide actionable recommendations to mitigate inequities. Empire Justice staff members Marlene Cortes, Yversha Roman, and Luis Ormaechea were among 70 community members who contributed to the comprehensive report.

Marlene spoke to WXXI about the report and work that has been done on language access, saying “In the past, there was never a language access plan in the County Clerk’s Office. If someone went to the DMV, they were asked, ‘Oh, you need to come back with an interpreter?’ We got involved and said, ‘No, you need to provide an interpreter.’”

The report addresses issues related to housing, education, health, youth development, economic development, LGBTQI+ identities, language access, and many other forces that shape and affect the Latinx community in Rochester.

 

SNAP Benefits for Prepared Meals

Governor Hochul signed legislation on October 4th that will, once implemented by OTDA, allow SNAP recipients to purchase prepared foods with their SNAP benefits. This will be extremely helpful to many recipients, especially those who live in shelters and lack access to kitchens, and disabled recipients who may be unable to cook for themselves.

Implementation of this program is still to come – let’s make sure New York State does this right!

 

The Sanctions Bill Is Still Waiting for Signature

Another month has gone by without Governor Hochul’s signature of S.0668/A.3227 – the bill to reform the benefits sanctions process, for which we have been advocating for years. This long overdue bill would allow individuals in the rest of the state the same “second chance” in the sanctions process that public assistance recipients in New York City already receive.

A previous version of this bill was vetoed by former Governor Cuomo in 2019, so Governor Hochul’s signature could signal a new, less punitive approach to public assistance recipients from the Executive Chamber.

 

Other Empire Justice Work

 

Lifetime Achievement

Congratulations to Senior Attorney Ruhi Maker on her lifetime achievement award from the Daily Record! Ruhi’s work on fair lending, access to credit, affordable housing and community reinvestment has positively impacted tens of thousands of low-income families across the state.

If you’d like to check out some of Ruhi’s work, try the report, Too Big to Fail… Too Poor to Bank: How Mainstream Financial Services Can Help Low-Income Working Families Succeed, or the essay, COVID-19 Disparities In Rochester, NY: The Legacy Of Redlining In The City Of Frederick Douglass And Susan B. Anthony, both co-authored with Barb Van Kerkhove.

 

Legal Help Lines

Don’t forget! Our Long Island Immigration Legal Help Line is available every Tuesday from 2:00-4:00 pm, at 631-533-2238 to speak to an immigration attorney from Empire Justice Center who will answer your questions on your legal rights. You can also email us at EJCimmigrationhotline@gmail.com to make an appointment. ¡Se habla Español!

Our Unemployment and Paid Leave Legal Help Line is on temporary hold as we work through a considerable backlog, but check back as we anticipate opening up again soon.

 

Thank You For Reading

If you’d like to keep up with our policy work, follow us on Twitter and Facebook, or visit the Policy Central page on our website.

You can find all of our COVID-19 free legal resources on our website, and if you need help, you can find contact information for each of our offices here.

The Empire Justice Policy Team


Disability Law News – October 2021

Posted on October 19th, 2021

The Disability Law News is a quarterly newsletter published for DAP Advocates. In this issue, we continue to report on SSI Eligibility in Puerto Rico. The Supreme Court will hear oral arguments in U.S. v. Vaello-Madero that challenges the constitutionality of the exclusion of residents of Puerto Rico from the SSI program. We also discuss SSA’s 2022 COLA increase and provide an update on COVID-19 and SSA’s office reopening plan. Finally, several new Regulations and Administrative Decisions are included in this issue.

 

 


Disability Law News – July 2021

Posted on October 14th, 2021

The Disability Law News is a quarterly newsletter published for DAP Advocates. In this issue, we summarize SSA’s recently released rules for disaster relief but no reopening plan and discuss the recent firing of SSA Commissioner Andrew Saul. In regulations, SSA announced temporary listing changes due to COVID; there are several new Administrative and Court Decisions and included is the 2020 Disability Decision Data waterfall chart.