×

Policy Matters – Spring 2024

Amanda Agallipeau April 02, 2024

Welcome to the latest edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. In this edition, we will discuss the latest with the state budget, including: funding for the Homeownership Protection Program, Community Health Advocates, Civil Legal Services, Working Families Tax Credits, and more; press event for an increase in cash assistance; updates and information on tax foreclosure bills; and staff recognition. We hope you enjoy! You can also read an archived version of the newsletter here.

 

Late Budget Advocacy

The Governor released the Executive Budget mid-January, setting her priorities for the budget season. The Senate and Assembly released their proposals on March 11-12, which puts us now into the negotiation stage. We are hoping for a final budget in the near future.

  • Homeowner Protection Program: The Assembly and Senate both included our ask of $40 million for the Homeowner Protection Program (HOPP) – New York State’s only homeowner retention program. Our team has been hard at work with other advocates across the state to ensure that full funding is included in the final budget. On March 14, members of the legislature joined advocates at the Capitol to rally around the HOPP program, with a former client speaking about the importance of HOPP, and how the program saved her mother’s home from foreclosure.
  • Community Health Advocates: CHA helps New Yorkers navigate today’s complex health care system by providing individual assistance, outreach, and education to communities throughout New York State, helping ensure access to services and helping to keep money in people’s pockets. This month, advocates from across the state reached out to speak to lawmakers about the importance of including full funding of $5.5 million in the final budget.
  • Civil Legal Services Funding: In addition to Interest on Lawyers Account (IOLA) and Judiciary Civil Legal Services funding, Empire Justice and our upstate legal services colleagues have been advocating for continuation of the Senate’s Upstate Legal Services Funding at $3.5 million. This funding supports important programs in upstate regions, including the Telesca Partners Tenant Defense Project (TDP) in Monroe County. The TDP helps to protect tenants facing eviction by providing tenants with information, advice, and when necessary, representation.
  • Consumer and Small Business Protections Act (CSPA): As part of our Policy Priorities, Empire Justice Center is working to ensure that New York consumers and businesses are protected from unfair business practices. While 43 states and the federal government ban “unfair and deceptive” businesses practices, New York consumer law does not prohibit “unfair” practices. This means that when bad actors take advantage of New York consumers – such as when a lender does not send a bill then charges people for late payment – New Yorkers have limited recourse. The Times Union recently ran a story about the Consumer and Small Business Protection Act and an op ed from an impacted individual as well. Both the Executive Budget and the Senate proposal included consumer protection language. We’re working with the Executive and Legislature to ensure the language in the final budget is the strongest protection for consumers. Stay tuned!
  • Education Debt Consumer Assistance Program: To assist New York’s student loan borrowers with our Education Debt Consumer Assistance Program (EDCAP), we asked for funding of $3.5 million in the state budget. We thank the Governor for funding the program at $3 million, and the Senate and Assembly for each proposing to fund the program at $250,000. We look forward to the program being fully funded in the final budget!
  • Victims of Crime Act (VOCA): This year, the state provided additional VOCA program funding of $120 million through 2028! These funds will help offset the uncertainty of the federal funding so crime victims continue to have access to the services they need. In October 2023, Managing Attorney Remla Parthasarathy submitted testimony regarding the importance of continued, stable funding for this critical program. Empire Justice Center applauds the Governor, Senate, and Assembly for their commitment to ensuring there are services for New York’s crime victims.
  • Working Families Tax Credit (WFTC): Families in New York deserve effective tools to combat poverty by directly increasing their income. Tax credits, such as the Working Families Tax Credit, play a crucial role in assisting families in covering essential expenses and supporting their households. For instance, our tax preparation program, CASH in Rochester, demonstrates the impact of these tax credits, which can inject thousands of dollars into households. These resources not only lift families out of poverty, they help maintain homes, purchase food and meet other essential needs.
  • Increase in Cash Assistance: On March 4, 2024, advocates and lawmakers spoke at a press event about the need to increase the amount of New York’s cash assistance programs. As inflation and the cost of housing have risen over the years, those already living in poverty are disparately impacted. There has not been an increase in the Basic Needs grant (S.5270A Persaud / A.5500 Rosenthal) since 2012, and the personal needs  grant (S.8655 Cleare / A.5507 Rosenthal) was last increased in 1997. The two bills referenced above have the potential to put more money into the pockets of families, resulting in more money to pay for necessities such as transportation and medication, helping to ease some of the burden.

On that note, the Assembly proposal contains language that would increase the public assistance grant amounts for current Basic Needs grant recipients.

  • 1 person household from $183.50 + $106.00 = $289.50
  • 2 person household from $291.50 + $168.00 = $459.50 
  • 3 person household from $389.00 + $225.00 = $614.00 
  • 4 person household from $501.70 + $290.00 = $791.70 
  • 5 person household from $618.70 + $358.00 = $976.70 
  • 6 person household from $714.29 + $413.00 = $1,127.20 

While this is far from enough, it would improve the lives of the people living in deep poverty, and Empire Justice strongly supports including it in this year’s final budget.

Empire Justice Advocacy Day in Albany

In addition to the advocacy we do in our many coalitions, Empire Justice Center staff met with legislators on March 19 for an advocacy day on our own. In our meetings, we highlighted our work within different client communities, particularly with our HOPP and CASH programs. CASH is our free tax prep program, that provides year-round financial advice and access to education and other resources. Yversha Roman Director of Strategic Partnerships and CASH, and Jim Dukette, HOPP Anchor Partner Program Director, traveled in from our Rochester offices, to discuss the impact and successes of our programs.

Right to Counsel in Eviction Matters

Empire Justice Center continues to support legislation that would create a statewide Right to Counsel in eviction cases (S.2721 May). Ensuring that the tenants in eviction cases have lawyers helps to ensure that people continue to have access to not just homes but also stability in the community. Funding and elements of the legislation were included in both the Senate and Assembly proposals, showing growing support for advancing this essential right.

Child Support Recoupment

Parents with children in foster care face significant hurdles as they try to reunite with their children. One such hurdle is the financial obligation of child support levied on the parent to recoup the cost of foster care for the children. This financial burden disparately impacts people of color at higher rates and jeopardizes a family’s ability to afford basic necessities such as food and housing, exacerbates financial instability and drives families deeper into poverty. These costs delay and even prevent parents from regaining custody of their children. There is a bill that will change the way child support cases are being handled for children who are in foster care, including pausing the process of dealing with child support in some situations (A.4027 Kim / S.7054 Hoylman-Sigal).

Empire Justice has been concerned about the issue of counties recovering the cost of foster care from the parents of children in foster care since 2001, when we filed an amicus brief in the case of Dutchess County v. Day (2001). We successfully argued that parents of children in foster care were not liable for the entire cost of foster care, but instead could only be charged in accordance with child support guidelines that cap liability for support at a percentage of income. For more information, check out our memo in support.

In the News

Homeowners who have paid off their mortgage but have fallen behind on their tax bill are subject to tax foreclosure. The city, town, or county in which they live and owe taxes to may sell the property to satisfy the outstanding tax debt, but will do so at fair market value, and keep the remaining money from the sale. The Supreme Court recently ruled that when the government takes a home at a property tax foreclosure and keeps the homeowner’s equity after paying the tax arrears, it is violating the United States Constitution. While the decision provides compensation for those losing their homes it doesn’t provide protections for those facing tax foreclosure. Empire Justice supports a bill that does this by (S.8512 Thomas) implementing procedures for providing “just compensation” to homeowners in response to the Supreme Court ruling. The bill also creates a Taxpayer Bill of Rights to provide homeowners at risk of tax lien foreclosures with the same protections that are afforded to borrowers in residential mortgage foreclosure proceedings. Consumer Finance and Housing Managing Attorney and HOPP Anchor Partner Program Manager Lisa Milas was quoted in the Times Union regarding the issue of tax foreclosure, and Times Union also opined in support of the issue.

 

Staff Attorney, Katie Blum appeared on Rochester radio show, Street Voices, to talk about our school discrimination helpline, hosted by local activist, Lentory Johnson.

CASH Season Is Wrapping Up!

In our work at CASH (Creating, Assets, Savings and Hope), we provide tax preparation support to low-income people, helping to ensure they are claiming all the tax credits which they are entitled. As the month of April begins, we are also coming to the close of tax season. If you live in Monroe County and need help with your taxes, please contact our free tax assistance program – CASH! You can make your appointment online, or call 585-900-1004.

Awards and Celebrations

Women of Excellence 

Congratulations to our Chief Legal Officer, Maggie Robb for her selection as a Rochester Business Journal 2024 Women of Excellence honoree! “This year’s Women of Excellence are change makers who demonstrate professional success, break barriers and mentor other women. They work hard and play hard and create better lives for their teams, their networks and their families,” said Suzanne Fischer-Huettner, managing director of BridgeTower Media/Rochester Business Journal.

 

Congratulations also to Empire Justice Board member Erin Elmouji on being awarded the Monroe County Bar Association’s Raymond J. Pauley Award and Telesca Center Partner Lori O’Brien on being awarded the Monroe County Bar Association’s Charles F. Crimi Memorial Award.

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