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

Posted on February 3rd, 2023

 

For Immediate Release                     

February 3, 2023

For More Information Contact Alex Dery Snider:

Aderysnider@empirejustice.org / 518-462-6831

 

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

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number of notable gaps, including increasing the Shelter Allowance and Cash Assistance grant levels, which are woefully out of date.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

 

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

 

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

 

About Empire Justice Center

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

 

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Read the Statement as a PDF


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

Posted on February 3rd, 2023

 

For Immediate Release                     

February 3, 2023

For More Information Contact Alex Dery Snider:

Aderysnider@empirejustice.org / 518-462-6831

 

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

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

 

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

 

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

 

About Empire Justice Center

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

 

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Read the Statement as a PDF


STATEMENT: Empire Justice Center Condemns the Murder of Tyre Nichols

Posted on January 31st, 2023

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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

(585) 295-5739

 

Empire Justice Center Condemns the Murder of Tyre Nichols

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

 

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

 

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

 

View This Statement as a PDF.

 

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 ABOUT EMPIRE JUSTICE CENTER

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


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

Posted on January 10th, 2023

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Posted on October 27th, 2022

Read this Press Release as a PDF

For Immediate Release: October 27, 2022

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

Empire Justice Center has launched a statewide school helpline that will provide advice and counsel to students and families who may have been the subject of discrimination at a school in New York State.  

 

Any students or families concerned they have been the subject of discrimination in a school setting in New York State can call (800) 724-0490 Ext. 5827 or email schooldiscriminationhelpline@empirejustice.org to get legal guidance to understand and navigate their options. More information is also available at https://empirejustice.org/school-discrimination 

 

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

 

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

 

New York State prohibits schools from denying the use of its facilities or permitting the harassment of any student on the basis of race, color, religion, disability, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, military status, sex, age, or marital status. Harassment or bullying based on any of these protected characteristics can include words, signs, jokes, intimidation, or physical violence. It can also include actions that are offensive to a recipient or cause the recipient discomfort or humiliation. 

 

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

 

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

 

ABOUT EMPIRE JUSTICE CENTER 

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

 

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

Posted on August 9th, 2022

For Immediate Release: August 9, 2022

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

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

CLICK HERE for the notice in Spanish

CLICK HERE for Audio Recording of this Notice

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


PRESS RELEASE: Free summer tax prep is available through the CASH Program.

Posted on June 7th, 2022

For Immediate Release: June 7, 2022

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

 

Free summer tax prep is available through the CASH Program.

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

 

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

 

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

 

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

 

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


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.