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Policy Matters – April 2024

Amanda Agallipeau April 29, 2024

Welcome to the April edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. In this edition, we will discuss additional policy in the 2024-25 budget, a wrap-up of the 2024 tax season – including the outcomes of last year’s tax advocacy, our work to reduce childhood poverty, progress in our work to support nonparent caregivers, the latest news, staff training, as well as staff recognition.  We hope you enjoy!

 

 

2024-25 Budget Overview

In this issue, you will find a deeper dive on some of our budget activities. To read our recent budget outcomes on our policy priorities, see our recent overview.

 

Health

There were substantial wins in the Health Budget this yearMedical Debt Reform includes a number of successes, including a sliding scale payment schedule; no asset test for eligibility; notice of hospital financial assistance upon discharge; no denial of care due to unpaid past bills; financial assistance can be applied for anytime during collection process; and, no lawsuit or debt collection for 180 days after the first post-service bill was issued.

The Governor and legislature included a provision providing No-cost Insulin, making New York the first in the nation to ban cost sharing for this critical maintenance drug. This will be life changing for those who struggle to cover the costs of their insulin medication, it even helps those with health insurance who currently pay for deductibles and copays!

Importantly, the budget also included language to ensure children under the age of six will receive continuous coverage under the Medicaid and Child Health Plus programs, making it less likely that kids in families who move often will lose coverage due to the need to reapply repeatedly.

Unfortunately, in a blow to those who receive long-term care services in their home, the budget included a move to a single fiscal intermediary with regional contractors throughout the state for those who receive Consumer Directed Personal Care (CDPAP) Services through Medicaid. This move could cause a disruption in home care services to tens of thousands of disabled and elderly New Yorkers and will put over 10,000 out of work. People will risk losing access to workers who speak their language, understand their cultural needs, and who they trust in their home.

 

Investments In Child Care

The budget included long-overdue investments in child care assistance that will allow New York to increase eligibility for many families. However, there is more work to be done, notably making permanent investments in the child care workforce and providing equitable access to child care for children whose parents or caregivers work irregular or split shifts or combine work with education and training. In these cases, district approval for child care is tied to each work activity and split into parts of days, resulting in disrupted days for the children and transportation difficulties for the parents. Empire Justice Center has developed a Memo of Support for the Decoupling Bill (S.5327A Brisport/A.4986A Hevesi) which would provide care for children whose parents work non-traditional hours. This bill had passed the legislature previously, but was vetoed due to a technical error.

 

Tax Season Wrap-up

Our CASH team wrapped up another successful tax season! This year, our Monroe County clients received approximately $7 million in tax refunds for their families, with just over 3000 returns completed. Because CASH offers free tax return services for low- to moderate-income people, we were also able to save families $1.1 million in tax-preparation costs this year. For those who are not familiar with the program, CASH, or Creating Assets Savings and Hope, uses the tax return moment as an opportunity to connect clients with a wide variety of resources that can improve families’ health and financial well-being, including financial institutions, public assistance, legal services and credit counseling.

We were also able to see first-hand the positive outcome of our tax policy advocacy last year! Last year’s state budget expanded the Empire State Child Tax Credit to cover children 0-3. This year, we had nearly 200 clients with 225 children who were newly eligible for the credit as a result of this change in policy. These clients received a total increase of $58,684 in credits, an average increase in refunds of $301 per household!

We have continued to advocate for the Working Families Tax Credit Bill this year and while it was not enacted this budget season, the final budget did adopt an Assembly proposal to create a one-time supplement of the Empire State Child Credit. This will give families refundable credits in the fall of 2024, which will be helpful. However, this will not have the same impact on those living in poverty that Working Families Tax Credit would have and does not offer a permanent solution for families. For more information on the Working Families Tax Credit (S.277A Gounardes/A.4022A Hevesi), take a listen to our Director of Strategic Partnerships and CASH, Yversha Roman who appeared on Connections on WXXI with Evan Dawson, along with Pete Nabozny of the Children’s Agenda and Senator Gounardes.

 

Child Poverty Reduction Advisory Counsel 

As part of an effort to reduce child poverty in New York, the Legislature passed and Governor Hochul signed legislation that sets a goal to reduce childhood poverty by 50% over the next ten years.  As part of the law, the Child Poverty Reduction Advisory Council (CPRAC) was created to advise the Governor in this process. Empire Justice Center’s CEO, Kristin Brown is a member of the Public Assistance Advisory Committee and has joined other Committee members in providing expertise and input on policy changes to Public Assistance, SSI, and SNAP as the Council works toward its goal. In the most recent meeting of the Committee, President and CEO Kristin Brown provided feedback and guidance on data modeled by the Urban Institute, which quantifies the impact of policy changes on poverty reduction.

Want to get involved in reducing child poverty??! CPRAC is hosting a public hearing to provide an opportunity to hear directly from New Yorkers about their experiences applying for and receiving public benefits. The hearing will focus on the topic of “administrative burdens” related to key public benefit programs like Public Assistance, SSI, and SNAP, including but not limited to:

  • Challenges completing application forms
  • Understanding requirements related to each program
  • Managing benefits once receiving them
  • Getting help with these processes

The Public Hearing will be held on Monday, April 29, 2024 at 5:30 p.m. in New York. However, written statements will be accepted through May 15. The website contains more information on providing a written statement along with a spot to RSVP for those who can attend in person.

We also encourage people to take the survey to provide feedback with their experience with applying for and receiving public benefits such as Public Assistance, SSI, and SNAP. The deadline for the survey is May 15.

 

Kinship Care Network Bill Introduced 

You might recall in previous issues our discussion of kinship care. Due to escalating crises in New York, more children have been separated from their parents. A bill introduced (S.478A Salazar/A.9222 Hevesi) would establish a kinship legal network to help address the issues caregivers face when caring for children placed in their care. Kinship care refers to instances where grandparents, relatives, or family friends are caretakers for children. The kinship legal network would assist these nonparent caretakers in issues such as: custody, child support, abuse and neglect, adoption, eligibility for public benefits, foster care certification, and establish and coordinate a statewide kinship information and referral network. Without representation, caregivers can face exclusion from court proceedings and struggle to navigate complex legal systems. Unlike parents, caregivers are not guaranteed legal representation, highlighting the need for support in the legal process.

 

New Agreement Reached on Community Reinvestment 

Thanks, in part, to the ongoing work of Ruhi Maker, Senior Attorney, and Barb van Kerkhove, Researcher and Policy Analyst, the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) – of which Empire Justice Center is a member – and KeyBank reached an agreement to renew ties and work together to improve lending and investments in lower income and communities of color. KeyBank has pledged to invest $25 million into underserved communities, in grants, down payment assistance, fee waivers, and to increase access to credit and help loan applicants, with NCRC helping to allocate the money. NCRC is a network of organizations and individuals working to solve America’s historic racial and socioeconomic wealth, income, and opportunity divides. For more about the work they are doing, see this article, which quotes Ruhi on her efforts and recent events.

 

We Teach the Law 

On March 28, Student Debt Loan Counselor Manager, Jordan Daniels of our EDCAP project, hosted a statewide know-your-rights program to consumers entitled, Finding Student Debt Relief: Navigating the One Time Adjustment, Forgiveness and Repayment Options.

On April 8, Managing Attorney, Public Benefits Advocacy and Litigation, Susan Antos along with attorneys from National Center for Law and Economic Justice, The Legal Aid Society-NYC, NYLAG, and Bronx Legal Services delivered a 6-hour hybrid-webinar to over 215 advocates nationwide for the Practicing Law Institute entitled New York Public Assistance and Food Stamp Advocacy 2024: Beyond the Basics.

On April 24, Marlene Cortes, Senior Manager, Language Justice Program, was a panelist at the Rush Henrietta School District’s Equity and Inclusion Professional Learning Series where she spoke on Language Access and Justice to school staff, community members, and students.

Also on April 24, our Crime Victim’s Legal Network (CVLN) team hosted a statewide webinar, Scams, Cons, and Fraudulent Schemes: How Advocates Can Help Victims of Crime.  Presenters included Lisa Schifferle a Senior Policy Analyst in the Office for Older Americans at the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and Carol Kando-Pineda who serves as Counsel in the Division of Consumer and Business Education at the Federal Trade Commission.

On April 30, Immigration Rights Practice Group attorneys, Julia Kudlacz and Amrita Ashok Khan, presented a statewide webinar for CVLN’s crime victim attorneys and advocates entitled, Common Forms of Immigration Relief Available to Crime Victims.

 

New York Legal Services Coalition

We are excited to share that our President and CEO, Kristin Brown, was elected President of the Board of Directors at the New York Legal Services Coalition (NYLSC). NYSLC is a coalition of statewide legal services organizations whose mission is to advocate on legal issues affecting low-income communities and the delivery of civil legal aid; identify and promote best practices in the civil legal aid profession; provide capacity building resources for our members; and work to support fairness for all in the judicial system. We congratulate Kristin on this honor and are excited to continue our collaboration with the members of the NYLSC.

 

Awards and Celebrations

Congratulations to Managing Attorney, Crime Victims & Project Leader of the Crime Victims Legal Network, Remla Parthasarathy, for the much-deserved recognition of the NYSBA Committee on Civil Rights’ Haywood Burns Award! This award is given “to honor an individual, not necessarily a lawyer, who has contributed to New York State in a manner that reflects Dean Burns’ commitment to the struggle for justice and the qualities that made him an outstanding advocate for civil rights and the empowerment of the powerless.”

Congratulations to Marlene Cortes, Senior Manager, Language Justice, who won the Edgar Santa Cruz Outstanding Coalition Member Award at the Speak Life! 2024 Conference. This award is given to Common Ground Health Coalition members who uplift the work of the coalition by leveraging their networks and connections to integrate the coalitions’ mission into the work they do and throughout the community. Edgar was a passionate Social Justice Advocate who recognized the impact of language barriers in perpetuating racism and oppression.

We are proud to note that our work with Rochester’s RASE Commission (Racial and Structural Equity) for both pretext stops and housing was recently recognized. RASE was appointed in August 2020 by then Mayor Lovely Warren and County Executive Adam Bello to review local city and county laws, policies, and ordinances to identify areas of structural inequity and recommend ways to change those laws to achieve fair application for all citizens.

 

Thank You For Reading

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

If you need civil legal help, you can email us.

The Empire Justice Policy Team