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Policy Matters – June 2024

Amanda Agallipeau June 28, 2024

Welcome to the June edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. This month, we will cover the end of legislative session – including steps you can take to help – an update on reducing child poverty in New York, our class action lawsuit for fair hearing delays, proposed ban on transgender youth in sports, and more.

We hope you enjoy!

 

 

2024-25 Legislative Session Has Wrapped

The official legislative session has ended for this year. We are proud to report that several of the bills we championed this session have passed both houses of the legislature, and we will continue to push for the governor to sign these bills into law. Below is a bit of information about two key bills, and information on how you can help to keep the momentum going. More comprehensive information on all of our legislative session activities is available in our End of Session Highlights.

You can help by taking action on the two following bills right now: 

  • Contracting Reform (S.4877-A Mayer/A.2740-B Paulin): This is a critical bill that begins to address the ongoing delays with contract execution. Because nonprofit agencies like Empire Justice rely heavily on funding from state agencies, timeliness of state contracts and payment is essential to ensuring that services to communities will not be delayed. This bill will establish a “non-compliant state agency” category that outlines three circumstances of delays or non-action by an agency on a contract.
  • Notarization Fix (S.9032-A Ryan/A.9478-A McMahon): Clarifies the intent of 2023 changes to the notarization law by allowing any person to submit an affirmation under penalty of perjury in lieu of an affidavit in an administrative proceeding. This bill will remove a barrier to justice.
    • Complete the Memo of Support using the template provided, and send to America Rivera who will include it in the package of memos she sends to the Governor’s office.

 

Homeowner Protection Program Bill 

HOPP Codification (S.7297 Kavanagh/A.7636 Solages): HOPP, or the Homeowner Protection Program is the only statewide program that provides free legal help and housing counseling to thousands of homeowners targeted by mortgage fraud, scams, and those facing foreclosure in every county of the state. This bill enshrines the program into law. In an unprecedented move, the 2025 Enacted Budget swept funds from the Interest on Lawyers fund (IOLA fund) – money that is earmarked specifically for civil legal services to serve low-income New Yorkers – to cover the expenses of HOPP. We support full funding for HOPP every year, but it must not come from IOLA, as that would deplete resources badly needed for civil legal services at the expense of legal services overall, in an environment where an estimated $1 billion additional investment is needed.

 

An Update on the Urgent Need to Reduce Childhood Poverty

The full Child Poverty Reduction Advisory Council met on June 6 to review proposed models for each committee with the goal of reducing New York’s childhood poverty rate by 50% over the next ten years. April’s edition of Policy Matters discussed information on how New Yorkers could provide feedback on their experience in applying for and/or receiving benefits. At the June 6 meeting, the council reviewed the insight and feedback provided by the community, analyzed different proposals, and is moving forward to consider four packages of recommendations. Each package consists of varying degrees of assistance for families with children, including tax credits, housing vouchers, removal of asset tests, increase of basic allowances, and creating a food allowance. After the Urban Institute is able to model the data provided in these packages, the council will then reconvene to discuss best options moving forward. We will be sure to keep you updated.

Empire Justice Center is eager to see progress in this effort to tackle childhood poverty. New York’s child poverty rate is one of the highest in the country and continues to worsen. For more information see the New York State Comptroller’s Office report detailing the state’s troubling trend of childhood poverty.

 

Lawsuit Filed: Fair Hearing Delays Hurt Ailing Communities

Earlier this month Empire Justice Center and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice (NCLEJ) filed a class action lawsuit against the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) due to the agency’s failure to provide timely fair hearings to individuals who received adverse decisions related to their Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Temporary Assistance (TA) benefits.

People who are receiving or applying for SNAP or TA benefits are able to request a fair hearing when their local Social Services District makes a decision to reduce, deny, or end their benefits. The fair hearing takes place before an Administrative Law Judge employed by OTDA who determines if the Social Services District made the decision in error. For SNAP benefits, the agency is legally required to render a decision in 60 days, and in 90 days for TA. As of May 31, 2024, there were 15,797 hearings that had been pending for a year, and 6,511 that had been pending over two years. To make matters worse, throughout 2023 and 2024, only 14.2% of fair hearings upheld the initial decision to deny or reduce benefits, suggesting that most individuals being deprived of benefits due to delays in fair hearings would have otherwise been legally eligible to receive them. Additionally, many individuals have incurred significant debts from benefit overpayments that would not have occurred if the agency had held their fair hearings within legally required timelines.

Check out this Spectrum News coverage of this case and if you would like more information, see the petition and press release.

 

Supporting Transgender Youth in Sports

Empire Justice Center was proud to be involved in the production of the New York State Bar Association Task Force on the Treatment of Transgender Youth in Sports recently released a report opposing the proposed ban on transgender youth in sports. The report asserts that “legislation enacted to prevent transgender youth from participating in sports is based on fear instead of fact. The New York State Bar Association stands against attempts to isolate and bully youth.”

While the New York Supreme Court struck down Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman’s attempt to ban transgender youth from sports in May, there are continued attempts to pass legislation that would ban transgender people from playing sports in Nassau County. Empire Justice Center strongly opposes these attempts. In addition to being an ongoing waste of taxpayer dollars through lawsuits, the legislation does nothing to protect women and girls, as is the stated aim.

 

Stolen Benefits

In December of 2022, Congress passed a bill to replace benefits that were stolen and protect people from theft going forward. Empire Justice Center has long rallied in support for affected New Yorkers, calling for upgrades to technology in addition to reimbursements. President and CEO Kristin Brown was quoted in Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s Press Release when introducing the legislation on the issue. Unfortunately, the law only requires states to replace SNAP benefits through September 30, 2024. For TA, after September 30, 2024, households will only be eligible to receive one replacement TA cash benefit in a single Federal fiscal year. New York State has information available to people who have been affected, along with the application to replace stolen SNAP or TA benefits. Please share this information widely with your networks on X (formerly Twitter), Facebook, or LinkedIn!

 

Affordable Housing

Senior Attorney, Ruhi Maker, was recently quoted in Shelterforce, an affordable housing publication, regarding a Community Benefit Agreement (CBA) between KeyBank and the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC). As the new CBA is implemented, it will be crucial that NCRC and community stakeholder groups work to ensure that the data KeyBank is reporting is accurate. In the previous CBA from 2016, it was found that the bank was reporting aggregated data for low- and moderate-income borrowers. Ruhi shared that by not reporting the data by individual markets, “they were merging the numbers. They could say they’d met their goal, but we independently had no way to verify that.”

In our April issue of Policy Matters, we covered the CBA between KeyBank and NCRC to renew ties and work together to improve lending and investments in lower-income and communities of color. KeyBank pledged to invest $25 million into underserved communities, by way of grants, down payment assistance, fee waivers, and to increase access to credit and help loan applicants, with NCRC helping to allocate the money.

 

Capital Pride Celebration

Empire Justice Center staff attended Capital Pride Celebration in Albany, June 8-9. We talked to attendees about the services we provide and had tons of fun!

 

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.

 

We Are Hiring! 

Are you a dedicated, determined and passionate advocate who wants to make a significant impact on the lives of low-income New Yorkers? Check out our open positions!

 

The Empire Justice Policy Team