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

Posted on May 12th, 2022

For Immediate Release: May 11, 2022

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


PRESS RELEASE: Advocates Applaude FHFA’s Move to Require Mortgage Lenders to Obtain Applicants’ Language Preference

Posted on May 4th, 2022


STATEMENT: 2022 State Budget

Posted on April 11th, 2022

 

For Immediate Release: April 11, 2022

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

 

 

2022 State Budget:

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

 

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

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

 

Funding Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP)

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

 

Upstate and Long Island Eviction Defense

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

 

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

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

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

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

 

Language Access

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

 

Expansion of the Gender Recognition Act

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

 

Public Benefits

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

 

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

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

 


PRESS RELEASE: Consent Decree Approved in Class Action Disability Suit Against Rochester City School District

Posted on March 10th, 2022

 

For Immediate Release: March 9, 2022

Contact for Empire Justice Center:

Maggie R. Robb

mrobb@empirejustice.org

(585) 295-5724

 

Contact for Nixon Peabody LLP:

Carolyn Nussbaum

cnussbaum@nixonpeabody.com

(585) 263-1558 

 

 PRESS RELEASE: Consent Decree Approved in Class Action Disability Suit Against Rochester City School District

March 9, 2022 – Nixon Peabody and Empire Justice Center are honored to announce the 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 settlement is an important step in helping Rochester City School District students with disabilities thrive and succeed on an equitable basis.  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.

“The heart of this case has always been about helping students with disabilities thrive in Rochester schools.  Empire Justice Center took on the case with a singular focus of ensuring that every student with disabilities in the District has meaningful opportunities for success and resources available to them.  Now our focus turns to implementation based on the Decree.  Years of hard work and collaboration between the parties will see fruition only if the School District continues to faithfully implement changes to achieve the negotiated measures,” said Maggie Robb, Senior Attorney at Empire Justice Center.

“We have been privileged to partner with Empire Justice Center to achieve a settlement that we believe will significantly enhance the equitable education of students with disabilities.  Our goal has always been to secure compliance with the law that ensures that these students are provided with a free appropriate public education that is tailored to their individual needs.  The years of effort by all parties must continue as the success of this settlement requires that the District make students with disabilities and their families a priority,” said Carolyn Nussbaum of Nixon Peabody LLP, who provided her time and litigation counsel on a pro bono basis.

 

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

 


PRESS RELEASE: $2 million in Federal and State Tax Returns claimed by Rochester residents through the CASH program

Posted on February 16th, 2022

For Immediate Release: February 16, 2022

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

 

$2 million in Federal and State Tax Returns

claimed by Rochester residents through the CASH program

Free tax-prep service available for low-income Rochester residents

 

 

Rochester, NY– Since opening on January 24th, families in the Rochester community have claimed over $2 million in Federal and State Tax Refunds through the CASH program. CASH is open for in-person and virtual tax preparation services with the help of over 80 volunteers, interns, and staff members who have contributed over 2000 hours and prepared over 500 returns in the first three weeks of opening.

 

“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.”

 

CASH (Creating Assets, Savings, and Hope) is a community coalition led by the Empire Justice Center.  CASH partners with over 40 organizations, including United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes, to offer free high-quality tax return preparation services that make tax filing easy to do and understand. These services ensure that Monroe County residents collect all the tax credits for which they are eligible, including the Advanced Child Tax Credit and the Earned Income Tax Credit. In addition to providing year-round tax advice and preparation, CASH connects clients to community partners with resources that can improve their financial well-being. These services include savings programs, health care, financial literacy, public benefits, and job counseling.

 

“We are proud to be able to support CASH and help directly combat some of the challenges of poverty we face as a region,” said Jaime Saunders, President, and CEO of United Way of Greater Rochester and the Finger Lakes. “Thank you to the hundreds of dedicated volunteers working at the C.A.S.H. sites, and to our donors who help to make these tax preparation and financial security programs possible, so working families get the money they deserve in tax returns and Earned Income Tax Credits.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, CASH is accommodating clients by appointment only. To schedule an appointment call 585-900-1004 or visit https://cashtaxprep2021.as.me/TaxPrep. Visit the website at https://empirejustice.org/cash/  for more information on available services and to learn more about how to volunteer with CASH.

 

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

 

 

 

 

 


PRESS RELEASE: The CASH Program is open for the 2022 tax season

Posted on January 24th, 2022

 

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: January 24, 2022

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

 

The CASH Program is Open for the 2022 Tax Season

 

Rochester, NY– On January 24th, CASH will open for in-person and virtual tax preparation services. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, CASH will be accommodating clients by appointment only. Visit the website at https://empirejustice.org/cash/  for more information on available services.

 

“We look forward to continuing to serve the community through our VITA (Volunteer Income Tax Assistance) program,” said CASH Director, Yversha Roman. “During a global pandemic, we helped our clients claim over 3-million dollars in tax credits while connecting them to various community resources. As we launch our tax preparation season, I would like to thank our community partners, volunteers, and staff for all the work that has been done thus far to make our site safe and accessible.”

 

Creating Assets, Savings, and Hope (CASH), a community coalition led by Empire Justice Center, has been a long-standing staple in the Rochester community. CASH offers free high-quality tax return preparation services that make tax filing easy to do and understand. These services ensure that people in our community collect all credits for which they are eligible. Monroe County Residents with children who make less than $58,000 are eligible for free tax preparation and may qualify for the Earned Income Tax Credit. CASH provides year-round tax advice and preparation and uses the “tax return moment” as an opportunity to connect clients with a wide variety of resources that can improve families’ financial wellbeing including, savings programs, health care, financial literacy, public benefits, and job counseling services.

 

“At CASH we know the impact that our tax preparation services have on our families, not just in the tax season but throughout the year,” said Ellen Oberton, VITA Program Manager. “Although the pandemic has changed how we reach our clients we are excited to offer the option to use our online services or to make in-person appointments to keep everyone safe.”

To schedule an appointment call 585-900-1004 or visit https://cashtaxprep2021.as.me/TaxPrep. For more information on this year’s Tax Season visit the website https://empirejustice.org/cash/tax-prep/.

 

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


PRESS RELEASE: Applications Being Accepted for Hanna S. Cohn Equal Justice Fellowship

Posted on August 12th, 2021

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                          

Applications Being Accepted for Hanna S. Cohn Equal Justice Fellowship

Fellow Will Focus On High Priority Legal Concerns of Low-Income People

 

ROCHESTER, New York (August 25, 2021) – Empire Justice Center is currently accepting applications for The Hanna S. Cohn Equal Justice Fellowship, a two-year post graduate legal fellowship that was established in memory of Hanna S. Cohn, who served as the Executive Director of Volunteer Legal Services Project (now known as Just Cause) for twenty years.  Former U.S. District Judge Michael Telesca characterized Hanna as a “drum major for justice… who devoted her life to those in need.”

The goal of this prestigious Fellowship is to increase legal advocacy for Greater Rochester’s low-income families in high priority areas that are currently underserved. The Fellowship will be awarded to a dynamic and talented new lawyer beginning a career in the practice of poverty law.

The Fellow will be placed at the Empire Justice Center in Rochester, NY and will represent low-income clients in complex areas of law through litigation, policy and systems change advocacy.  The Fellow’s background and interests will be matched with high priority legal concerns of low-income individuals that are not currently being addressed or that require additional resources.

The application deadline is October 29, 2021.  The Fellow will be notified in January, 2022 and will begin work in September, 2022.  Applications can be downloaded from Empire Justice Center’s website; applications can also be submitted online.

Issue areas addressed by past Cohn Fellows include: the legal rights of LGBT individuals, wage theft, consumer law and fair credit reporting, legal issues regarding clients with limited English proficiency, access to health care and on serving Monroe County’s deaf and hard-of-hearing population.

The Fellowship is made possible by Hanna Cohn’s family, through private donations to the Hanna S. Cohn Memorial Fund, and by a contribution from the Campaign for Justice, an annual fund drive that Hanna established to support the work of Just Cause, the Legal Aid Society and Legal Assistance of Western New York.

Jerry Wein, who was Hanna’s husband notes, “In creating the Cohn Fellowship our family’s vision was not to replace Hanna, but to recognize her journey by opening a door for a new lawyer–as one was opened for her.   We hoped to provide an opportunity, within a supportive legal community, for a lawyer entering the profession to build on their values and skills, and help fashion a world where the phrase “equal justice” has real meaning.  Thanks to the accomplishments of a remarkable group of Fellows, Empire Justice, the Campaign for Justice, the many friends who continue to contribute to the Hanna S. Cohn Memorial Fund, our vision is reality.”

“We are honored to have the opportunity to build upon Hanna’s legacy in Rochester by bringing bright new lawyers to Rochester to practice with our attorneys and learn firsthand how impactful systems change advocacy and poverty law can be”, said Kristin Brown, President & CEO of Empire Justice Center. “I want to personally thank Jerry, the Cohn family and the many contributors to this effort for creating this important program that has touched so many lives and launched incredible careers for former fellows.”

Empire Justice Center’s mission is to make the law work for all New Yorkers, but especially for those who need its protection most.  For more than 35 years, our staff has protected and strengthened the legal rights of people in New York who are poor, disabled or disenfranchised.  This is accomplished through three major and interconnected areas of service: providing training, support and technical assistance to legal services and other community-based organizations; offering direct legal assistance and undertaking impact litigation; and engaging in policy analysis, research and advocacy. Empire Justice has offices in Albany, Rochester, White Plains, Yonkers and on Long Island. To find out more, please visit www.empirejustice.org

Contact:
Kristi Hughes, Vice President for Development and Administration
khughes@empirejustice.org
(585) 295-5817

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


PRESS RELEASE: TLDEF and Empire Justice Center Celebrate Signing of New York’s Gender Recognition Act

Posted on June 24th, 2021

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 24, 2021

 

Contacts:

Jackie Yodashkin, TLDEF Communications Consultant

communications@transgenderlegal.org | 646-993-1677

 

Eòghann Renfroe, Empire Justice Center Policy & Communications Manager

erenfroe@empirejustice.org | 518-935-2856

 

 

TLDEF and Empire Justice Center Celebrate Signing of New York’s Gender Recognition Act

 

 

Albany, NY – Today, the Transgender Legal Defense & Education Fund (TLDEF) and the Empire Justice Center celebrated the signing of the NYS Gender Recognition Act (S.4402/A.5465) into law by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The Gender Recognition Act is a comprehensive law that has created streamlined and privacy-protective processes for transgender and nonbinary New Yorkers to update and obtain accurate identification documents.

 

 

“We are thrilled to know that after years of advocacy, transgender and nonbinary people in New York now finally have many more of the critical protections we need. The Gender Recognition Act makes updating ID documents easier and less expensive by removing both the requirement for a doctor’s note to change gender markers and the publishing requirement for court-ordered name changes” said Charlie Arrowood (they/them), TLDEF’s Name Change Project Counsel. “Having accurate ID documents that reflect who you are is critical for the health and safety of transgender and nonbinary New Yorkers.”

 

 

As organizations providing direct legal services to transgender and nonbinary New Yorkers, TLDEF and the Empire Justice Center worked with a robust coalition of more than twenty different transgender, LGBTQ, civil legal, and civil rights advocacy organizations to identify the myriad problems transgender and nonbinary people faced when seeking to update identity documents. They worked together with legislators to propose solutions, which have been adopted in the NYS Gender Recognition Act, which was signed into law today.

 

 

“This is a landmark bill for trans and nonbinary communities, taking issues that have long been tackled piecemeal – birth certificates, driver’s licenses, name changes, X gender markers – and pulling all these disparate pieces together into one comprehensive solution. There is still more work to be done, but the NYS Gender Recognition Act gives New York a fantastic foundation from which to move forward,” said Eòghann Renfroe (he/him), Empire Justice Center’s Policy & Communications Manager. “We are grateful to Senator Hoylman and Assemblymember O’Donnell for their leadership as sponsors of the NYS Gender Recognition Act, as well as Assemblymembers Jessica González-Rojas and Harry Bronson for their support, and former Assemblymember Ortiz for his prior championship of the bill.  We thank Governor Cuomo for signing this important bill into law. This bill is not just about securing documents that reflect our identities as transgender, nonbinary, or intersex people, it’s about securing our safety, our housing, our education, our health – in all the situations and places where that little ID card or scrap of paper is between us and what we need to survive and thrive.”

 

 

In addition, TLDEF Name Change Project client Sander Saba, a nonbinary transgender New Yorker seeking an “X” gender marker on their New York state driver’s license, agreed to put a hold on their lawsuit, brought by Lambda Legal, in exchange for Governor Cuomo agreeing to update the State’s legacy computer system to be able to issue state ID cards and official driver’s licenses with X gender markers by May 24, 2022.”

 

 

For transgender, nonbinary, and intersex New Yorkers, there have been a multitude of financial, logistical, and safety-related barriers to updating documents with the correct name and gender. According to the U.S. Transgender Survey, 88% of trans New Yorkers have not been able to update all of their identity documents, and 63% have not been able to update any of these documents. Mismatching ID documents leave transgender and nonbinary New Yorkers open to discrimination in employment, housing, education, travel, and health care.

 

 

The NYS Gender Recognition Act removes many of the barriers that transgender, nonbinary, and intersex New Yorkers have experienced in obtaining and updating accurate birth certificates, marriage certificates, driver’s licenses, and court-ordered name changes. It does this through the statutory creation of an X gender marker option for New York State-issued birth certificates and driver’s licenses, the implementation of a self-attestation standard for recognizing gender identity, removal of the requirement to publish in a newspaper for a court-ordered name change, addition of a requirement for justification for judicial notifications, and a host of other improvements. For more on what the law does, see the Joint Memo of Support for the NYS Gender Recognition Act, signed by the Gender Recognition Act Coalition, a group of more than 20 organizations led by TLDEF and the Empire Justice Center.

 

 

The Gender Recognition Act Coalition includes the Brooklyn Law School LGBT Advocacy Clinic, Gender Equality New York, Inc (GENY), GMHC, Lambda Legal, Latino Justice PRLDEF, Legal Services Staff Association, LSSA 2320, The LGBT Community Center, Make the Road New York, Law Office of Milo Primeaux, New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU), New York Legal Assistance Group, LGBTQ Law Project, New York State Gender Diversity Coalition (NYSGDC), New York Transgender Advocacy Group (NYTAG), Peter Cicchino Youth Project of the Urban Justice Center, Sylvia Rivera Law Project, Transgender Law Center, the TransLatinx Network, and feedback and support from nonbinary and intersex advocate Toby Adams and advocates from InterACT Advocates for Intersex Youth.

 

 

About TLDEF and Empire Justice Center:

 

 

TLDEF is committed to ending discrimination based upon gender identity and expression and to achieving equality for transgender people through public education, test-case litigation, direct legal services, and public policy efforts. To learn more about TLDEF’s work, visit tldef.org.   

 

 

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


STATEMENT: Empire Justice Center CEO Kristin Brown Shares Highlights of the 2021 Legislative Session

Posted on June 14th, 2021

 

For Immediate Release: June 14, 2021

Contact: Kristin Brown, 518-852-5766, kbrown@empirejustice.org

 

STATEMENT: Empire Justice Center CEO Kristin Brown Shares Highlights of the 2021 Legislative Session

 

The 2021 legislative session was both challenging and rewarding. Challenging because the pandemic made it harder to organize and interact with colleagues and legislators. Rewarding because we achieved major victories for low-income and marginalized New Yorkers in spite of the challenges.

 

On the funding front, all the programs we administer benefiting low-and-moderate income New Yorkers received at least level funding. These programs include the Disability Advocacy Program (DAP) for very low-income disabled people, the Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP) for homeowners facing foreclosure, the Liberty Defense Program for immigrants facing removal proceedings, and the Consumer Health Advocates (CHA) program for people coping with medical debt and unfair healthcare care decisions. We are also especially grateful to Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins for supporting our immigration work in Yonkers.

 

A project close to my heart during this session is the pilot Tenant Defense Program in Rochester. Senators Sean Ryan, Samra Brouk, Jeremy Cooney and the rest of the Rochester delegation fought for funding to allow all Rochester-area legal services organizations to provide representation for low-income tenants facing housing instability. This is the first step towards a large scale right-to-counsel program in New York state.

 

Empire Justice Center also led efforts in helping to pass several pieces of policy legislation affecting thousands of low-income and marginalized New Yorkers:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Much work remains in the immediate future:

 

 

 

 

I am so proud and grateful to our Empire Justice Center staff, coalition colleagues, and legislative champions including Assemblymembers Helene Weinstein, Linda Rosenthal, Dick Gottfried, Danny O’Donnell, Jeff Dinowitz, Al Stirpe, Harry Bronson, Sarah Clark, Catalina Cruz, Jen Lunsford, Demond Meeks, Latoya Joyner, Chuck Lavine, Jessica González-Rojas, Speaker Heastie and their hardworking staff, as well as Assembly Central Staff.

 

In the Senate, we are truly grateful to Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins, Senators Brad Hoylman, Jessica Ramos, Sean Ryan, Samra Brouk, Roxanne Persaud, Jeremy Cooney, Liz Krueger, Kevin Thomas, Brian Kavanagh, and their dedicated staff, as well as Senate Central Staff.

 

We find meaning in our work in making the law work for all New Yorkers.  Thank you for your commitment and interest in our work.

 

 

To find out more about Empire Justice Center, visit our website, www.empirejustice.org.

 

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

 

 

 


PRESS RELEASE: Historic Fix to New York’s Part-Time Unemployment System A Win For Workers

Posted on June 10th, 2021

 

Historic Fix to New York’s Part-Time Unemployment System A Win For Workers

Legislative Victory Boosts New York’s Economic Recovery By Encouraging Return to Work 

 

NEW YORK, June 08, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) — This week, New York’s legislature and Governor Cuomo announced a historic deal to fix the state’s worst-in-the-nation unemployment insurance rules for part-time work that were disproportionately hurting low-and-moderate income workers, especially Black and Brown workers, and holding back New York’s economic recovery. Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblymember Al Stirpe championed this long overdue reform.

Unlike in virtually all other states, New York’s unemployment insurance rules arbitrarily and sharply reduce an individual’s benefits when they return to work part-time a few hours a day spread over several days. The poorly designed policy unduly complicates decision-making by employers and workers considering a partial return to work, hurting hundreds of thousands of part-time workers across the state.

The new pair of measures (S7148 and S1042), collectively revamp New York’s partial unemployment system so that it reduces benefits based on earnings the worker receives from part-time employment, rather than the arbitrary days-worked approach. Currently, the system disincentivizes part-time work by taking away almost all unemployment benefits when a person works just a few hours per week spread out over three or four days.

The new law also establishes an earnings disregard equal to one-half of a worker’s weekly UI benefit. It puts New York on a par with its five neighboring states and a total of thirteen states nationally and the District of Columbia, which all provide for comparable or more generous partial unemployment benefits. The reform especially reduces the heavy burden on part-time workers whose hours are spread over three or four days per week.

In addition, the law requires New York State’s Department of Labor to implement an immediate interim fix by allowing workers to work up to 10 hours a week without reduction in part-time unemployment benefits, up from the current 4 hours. The full reforms implemented in the new law are scheduled to take effect by April 2022.

This historic reform is a meaningful step for New York economic recovery and for the 600,000 workers who currently receive part-time unemployment benefits. More than two-thirds of recipients come from low-and moderate-income industries including accommodations, food services, healthcare, social assistance, and retail and more than half are workers in Black and Brown communities.

“Making critical updates to New York State’s antiquated Partial Unemployment Insurance system is a huge win for working families across our state. By changing the way we calculate eligibility we are ensuring New Yorkers who are working part-time or being called back to work at reduced hours can do so knowing that they will be able to provide for their families no matter how many days and hours of work they are offered each week,” said State Senator Jessica Ramos, the bill’s Senate sponsor.

“For far too long, New York’s unemployment insurance benefits wrongfully penalized claimants seeking part-time work,” said Assemblymember Al Stirpe, the bill’s Assembly sponsor. “These arbitrary regulations have made it incredibly difficult for many part-time workers to make ends meet. After the significant challenges of the pandemic, our state should not have a system with a disincentive to part-time work built in. Instead we should have a system that helps our families get back on their feet and encourages economic recovery and growth.”

“Central to New York’s recovery is getting people back to work,” said Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “Expanding and increasing part-time unemployment insurance benefits will encourage New Yorkers to seek out and secure meaningful part-time work, while ensuring their income is supplemented appropriately to help them get back on their feet. This legislation passed by the New York State Senate Majority stands up for working-class New Yorkers whose hours were cut due to the pandemic or who were left unemployed and will help them in returning to the workforce. I thank Senator Jessica Ramos and Assemblymember Al Stirpe for championing this critical legislation, which will support New York’s economic recovery.”

“My colleagues and I in the Assembly Majority believe in putting New York families first and we know that unemployment benefits are a lifeline for families, especially during this health and economic crisis,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “Many workers have faced a reduction in their hours or are only able to find part-time work, and this legislation ensures that they can take that work without losing their unemployment benefits. This change is critical as families and businesses work to get back on their feet. I would also like to thank Assemblymember Al Stirpe for commitment to getting this bill across the finish line.”

“Throughout the pandemic, New York’s stingy partial unemployment rule has been denying urgently needed benefits to workers whose hours have been cut — and now that the pandemic is easing it’s punishing workers who return to work part-time. NELP thanks Senator Ramos, Assemblymember Stirpe, and the legislative leadership for championing this long overdue common-sense reform, and Governor Cuomo for supporting it,” said Paul Sonn, State Policy Program Director at the National Employment Law Project.

“Our research makes it clear that the reform will benefit both the unemployed, incentivizing them to take on part-time work and moderately increase their total income, and employers and the economy overall, supporting a return to work that helps businesses and allows workers to keep their skills current and mitigating the adverse effects of prolonged periods of high unemployment,” said James Parrott, Director of Economic and Fiscal Policies at the Center for New York City Affairs at The New School.

“With the passage of this legislation, New York State moves from one of the worst to one of the best states for part-time workers supporting the most vulnerable and essential workers in our economy. This new system allows more part-time workers to collect unemployment at a time when they need it the most,” said Nicole Salk, Senior Staff Attorney, Legal Services NYC.

“New York has transformed an outdated and unfair part-time Unemployment Insurance system to the benefit of our clients and all hard-working New Yorkers who will no longer be penalized for obtaining part-time work. We applaud State Senator Ramos and Assemblymember Stirpe for their leadership on this important reform,” said Young Lee, Director of the Employment Law Unit at The Legal Aid Society of NYC.

“With the majority of partially unemployed workers being low and moderate income workers who are disproportionately people of color, this long overdue reform to the unemployment insurance system will help reduce material hardship for people who want to return to work. We are grateful for the leadership demonstrated by Senator Ramos, Assemblymember Stirpe, and the Governor in making this vital reform a reality,” said Jason Cone, Chief Public Policy Officer of Robin Hood.

“We are proud to be part of the coalition that fought for and won big improvements for New York’s unemployed workers,” said Stuart Appelbaum, President of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union (RWDSU). “Many non-essential retail workers were laid off during the pandemic and are returning to what are now part-time jobs. These workers and countless others will now be able to return to work part-time without losing their entire unemployment benefit. As a result of the leadership of Senator Ramos and Assemblymember Stirpe, New York will have a faster economic recovery from the pandemic and tens of thousands of unemployed workers will be able to get back to work and still provide for their families.”

“As a statewide legal services organization, we handle many cases where a worker inadvertently loses all of their benefits simply by working a few extra hours.  The effect of the cliff is devastating and unfair. We applaud Senator Ramos, Assemblymember Stirpe and the Governor for implementing this historic reform,” said Kristin Brown, President and CEO of the Empire Justice Center.  

“This historic legislation will benefit thousands of New Yorkers who seek to sustain themselves during this time of economic uncertainty, while also creating a more economically just unemployment system for the future. NCLEJ applauds Senator Ramos and Assemblymember Stirpe for supporting low-wage workers and passing this bill,” said Jarron McAllister, Penn Law Fellow at the National Center for Law and Economic Justice.

“As an organizing project centered around the impacts of COVID, we believe that passing this bill will greatly improve New York State’s recovery, including getting people back to work. We thank Senator Ramos, Assemblymember Stirpe, and all of the legislative leadership for their work on this bill and for Governor Cuomo for signing it,” said Paul Getsos, Project Director of United Together Stronger Tomorrow.

Media Contact: Paul Sonn | Tel.: 917-566-0680 | Email: psonn@nelp.org