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Comment on Proposal to Adopt a New Part 60 of the Rules of the Chief Judge and a New Part 160 of the Rules of the Chief Administrative Judge, to Establish General Statewide Rules for the Referral of Civil Disputes in the Trial Courts to Alternative Dispute Resolution

Posted on April 5th, 2022


GRCRC Comments on M&T Bank Corporation’s Proposal to Acquire People’s United Financial and People’s United Bank

Posted on April 29th, 2021

In its letter, the Greater Rochester Community Reinvestment Coalition urges the Federal Reserve Board and the Federal Reserve Bank of New York to make the approval of M&T Bank’s application to acquire People’s United Bank contingent upon M&T’s commitment to negotiate and sign a community benefits agreement (CBA) with the National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) and its member organizations located within the bank’s post-merger footprint.

 

Read the letter here.


COMMENTS: Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Community Reinvestment Act Regulations

Posted on April 8th, 2021

 

Comments on behalf of the Greater Rochester Community Reinvestment Coalition (GRCRC) to oppose the proposed changes to the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) regulations. The proposal by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) lessens the public accountability of banks to their communities by broadening the performance measures on CRA exams so that they do not accurately measure a bank’s responsiveness to local needs. Contrary to the agencies’ assertions that their changes would increase clarity and CRA activity, the result will be significantly fewer loans, investments and services to low-moderate income (LMI) communities.

Read full comments here: Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Community Reinvestment Act Regulations


GRCRC Comments on M&T Bank CRA (Community Reinvestment Act) Exam

Posted on October 8th, 2020

In its letter, the Greater Rochester Community Reinvestment Coalition provides its comments regarding M&T Bank’s CRA Exam conducted by the Office of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York (FRBNY) for 2014 through 2019.

 

Read the letter here.


Joint Comment Letter – Opposition to Proposed SSA Rulemaking on Hearings Held by Administrative Appeals Judges

Posted on February 18th, 2020

RE: Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Hearings Held by Administrative Appeals Judges of the Appeals Council, 84 Fed. Reg. 70080 (December 20, 2019), Docket No. SSA-2017-0073

As Co-coordinators of New York State’s Disability Advocacy Program (DAP), Legal Services NYC and Empire Justice Center work with advocates throughout New York State who provide similar services, in particular advocates who are funded by the State of New York under the DAP grant to represent low-income claimants who have been denied disability benefits. We submit these comments on behalf of the New York DAP providers.

Overall, we do not recommend that SSA proceed to adopt the proposed rules. The NPRM raises significant issues with respect to the Administrative Procedures Act and other due process concerns, and it fails to offer sufficient – or sometimes no—justification for the proposed changes. We agree with the comment submitted by the National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR), which also recommends that SSA rescind this NPRM and consider other options.

 

Read full comment letter here: Joint Comment Letter – Opposition to Proposed SSA Rulemaking on Hearings Held by Administrative Appeals Judges


Joint Comment – Opposition to Proposed SSA Rulemaking Regarding Continuing Disability Reviews

Posted on January 31st, 2020

RE: Notice of Proposed Rulemaking on Rules Regarding the Frequency and Notice of Continuing Disability Reviews, 84 Fed. Reg. 36588 (November 18, 2019), Docket No. SSA-2018-0026

As Co-coordinators of the Disability Advocacy Program (DAP), Empire Justice Center and Legal Services NYC work with advocates throughout New York State who provide similar services, in particular advocates who are funded by the State of New York under the DAP grant to represent low-income claimants who have been denied disability benefits. We submit these comments on behalf of the New York DAP providers.

We endorse the extensive and thorough comments submitted by the National Organization of Social Security Claimants Representatives (NOSSCR) and other organizations cited below who oppose these proposed regulations.

The proposed rules are published with practically no information to justify the changes, or to explain how they are to be applied. We agree with the comments submitted today from Community Legal Services (CLS) that object to the NPRM’s reliance on “SSA’s Mysterious ‘Predictive Model’” as the basis for the proposed changes to the CDR diary categories. As noted by CLS, “[t]he omission of details regarding this predictive model is glaring.” The NPRM offers no information whatsoever about it.

 

Read the full comment letter here: Joint Comment – Opposition to Proposed SSA Rulemaking Regarding Continuing Disability Reviews.


COMMENTS: Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Community Reinvestment Act Regulations

Posted on January 28th, 2020

 

Empire Justice Center opposes the proposed changes to the Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) regulations. This proposal by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) lessens the public accountability of banks to their communities by broadening the performance measures on CRA exams so that they do not accurately measure a bank’s responsiveness to local needs. Contrary to the agencies’ assertions that their changes would increase clarity and CRA activity, the result will be significantly fewer loans, investments and services to low-moderate income (LMI) communities. Empire Justice reserves the right to submit additional comments before the end of the comment period.

Read full comments here: Comments on Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, Community Reinvestment Act Regulations


Comment Letter: Comments on Proposed Regulations – SNAP Standard Utility Allowances

Posted on December 3rd, 2019

December 2, 2019

Program Design Branch
Program Development Division
Food and Nutrition Service (FNS)
3101 Park Center Drive, Room 812
Alexandria, VA 22302

RE: Docket No: FNS-2019-0009
Docket RIN: RIN 0584-AE69
Docket Name: Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program: Standardization of State Heating and Cooling Standard Utility Allowances

We recommend you view the comments here.

Dear SNAP Program Design Branch:
I write on behalf of Empire Justice Center, a statewide, multi-issue, multi-strategy public interest law firm focused on changing the systems in which poor and low income New Yorkers live.

We appreciate the opportunity to comment in response to the proposed regulatory changes seeking to set more homogeneous heating and cooling standard utility allowances (“SUA”) in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), published in the Federal Register on October 3, 2019.

Because SNAP is often the first line of defense against hunger in New York, Empire Justice Center strongly opposes any regulatory changes that will reduce or deny benefits to qualifying households or limit food benefits available to those who need this critical assistance. Consistent with the stated statutory intention in the creation and operation of SNAP,1 Empire
Justice Center supports food policy that provides robust and meaningful access to low-income individuals and families needing this assistance to avert food insecurity and promote well-being.

The Food and Nutrition Act of 2008 substantially maintained existing statutory provisions of the SNAP eligibility determination process that permitted states to set their own SUA. Pursuant to 7 U.S.C. § 2014(e)(6)(c), a state may choose to use a default value for purposes of estimating the monthly utility costs payed by SNAP households in the process of determining eligibility for and budgeting the amount of SNAP benefits the household may receive. Using a default value rather than requiring individual documentation of each household’s actual ongoing utility costs helps to streamline the application and recertification processes, in addition to reducing administrative burden on both the eligibility worker and the beneficiaries.2

Within the broad framework of the authorizing statute, existing regulations of the Food and Nutrition Service (“FNS”) of the United States Department of Agriculture (“USDA”) allow for states to: set either a single or tiered SUA; limit which utility expenses would be included in those SUA’s at different levels; and provide for variability in the utility allowance based on season, geography and household size.3 By regulation, states submit the methodology for calculating their SUA to FNS for approval, conduct an annual review of the SUA, and seek approval from FNS if there are changes to the SUA methodology at any point in time.4 At state option, the SUA maybe mandated for SNAP households, or allowed as an option in lieu of documenting actual utility costs.5

The existing statute and regulations expressly do not specify a single methodology for determining the SUA level or levels. Rather, the regulations identify what costs may be factored into setting the SUA levels and require the state to submit the methodology with the proposed SUA levels themselves for FNS oversight and approval. By using localized or state level utility cost data in setting SUA levels, the current regulations provide a simple and elegantly flexible manner of approaching wide variability in weather conditions, housing stock, fuel sources and costs, taxation, and utility infrastructure that all play out in the localized variability of utility costs across an entire nation.

A. The Proposed Regulatory Revision Is Fundamentally Flawed and Should Be
Withdrawn.

In this proposed rule-making action, FNS has put forth an incomplete and flawed document that should be withdrawn. The proposed language put forth as the revised regulation states only that “FNS will calculate the standards and caps described in paragraph (d)(6)(iii)(A) of this section annually, with the exception of the standards described in paragraph (d)(6)(iii)(B)(4) of this section.”6 The commentary states that the agency is planning to standardized the SUA’s but fails to detail the actual calculation methodology the agency is theoretically putting forth to supplant the various state methodologies currently in use.7 There is no actual standardized SUA calculation put forth in the draft regulation and, thus, the current draft of the proposed regulation is fatally flawed and entirely incomplete.

The process of federal rulemaking requires that the proposed rule be publicly put forth for review and followed by a period for public comment.8 A rule is the “whole or part of an agency
statement…designed to implement, interpret or prescribe law or policy…and includes the approval or prescription for the future of…valuations, costs or accounting, or practices bearing
on any of the foregoing.”9 For the current rule making process to be proper and valid, the reasoning and proposed methodology for determining a standardized SUA should have been
included in the regulatory provisions to permit meaningful review and input on the that methodology.

USDA has not provided details about how the agency proposes to determine the new federal SUA, nor how identified variables will be weighed in that methodology. The lack of concrete information or data deprives both the state agencies who administer SNAP and the public from presenting alternatives, analyzing the data or providing meaningful input. Further, the proposed rule and accompanying regulatory impact analysis (“RIA”) provide minimal details on the specific steps and data that the agency proposes to use in setting its new SUA calculation
methodology. USDA does not discuss the data sources or calculations methods in the 2017 SUA study it references; nor does USDA compare the proposed, undisclosed new methodology to
those currently used by the states, which FNS has previously reviewed and approved.

Nor does the notice of proposed rule-making (“NPRM”) specifically identify a problem with the existing state methodologies; the NPRM states that there are concerns with how “flexible” the existing options are. There is no description of how this unknown new methodology would fix the existing, nonspecific problem with the various states’ SUA calculation methodologies. There is no actual explanation or description of why states’ current SUA methodologies, which FNS has approved for years, are inappropriate or why these methodologies need to be changed. The existing regulatory process already permits FNS to review and oversee the SUA calculations that states use, yet there is no indication the existing control mechanisms already permitted by regulation were undertaken by FNS or proved inadequate.

In summary, FNS has failed to justify the need for or even provide a standardized SUA calculation methodology at this time. The proposed rule should be withdrawn and re-issued when the agency is prepared to layout its methodology and data in full for public scrutiny; in the alternative, a final rule based on this wholly insufficient shell proposal must include an annualized process for receiving input and weighing current data sources as a routine part of setting a standardized SUA and adjusting it for state variation and cost fluctuations.

B. The Proposed Regulatory Change Will Operate Contrary to Statutory Language.

The proposed regulatory changes are overbroad and in excess of the authorizing statutory language because the impact of the regulation is inconsistent with the goals of the SNAP program set forth in statute. “It is declared to be the policy of Congress, in order to promote the general welfare, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s population by raising levels of nutrition among low-income households….to alleviate such hunger and malnutrition, a supplemental nutrition assistance program is herein authorized which will permit low-income
households to obtain a more nutritious diet through normal channels of trade by increasing food purchasing power for all eligible households who apply for participation.”10

The proposed rule would result in deep cuts to SNAP in New York State. Projections from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities (“CBPP”) indicate that, on average, SNAP households in NY would face a benefit reduction of $55 per month, for those who were even able to remain on benefits.11 Analysis of 2017 SNAP Quality Control data conducted by CBPP indicates that nearly 40% of SNAP households in New York would lose SNAP altogether if the SUA methodology were drastically changed.12 Current SUA levels are consistent with the statutory goals articulated in the Food and Nutrition Act. In the NPRM, FNS fails to discuss the implications of the deep and disturbing cuts to SNAP on food insecurity and well-being that would result from implementation of this rule. Existing benefit levels are barely adequate, even though SNAP recipients use a variety of savvy shopping practices to stretch their limited food dollars. The harm from benefit inadequacy is evident in studies that examine end-of-the-month effects, such as the adverse impacts on dietary quality, health, behavior, and learning when SNAP benefits, which are inadequate to last the whole month, are running low for households.13 No mention is made in the NPRM of increasing food insecurity and hunger as a result of this illadvised rule.

Additionally, the NPRM states that the agency aims to make SUAs more equitable14 without defining the alleged inequitability being remedied. The required Civil Rights Impact Analysis of the proposed rule identifies disproportionate impact on elderly and disabled households receiving SNAP because of their uncapped shelter deductions.15 CBPP analysis further indicates that nearly 38% of SNAP households containing elderly household members and 31% of SNAP households containing disabled household members would lose their SNAP eligibility as a result of the proposed rule.16 The SNAP case closures in New York would disproportionately impact these households; almost 50% of the SNAP case closures in New York following a SUA change would fall on households with elderly members.17 This disproportionate impact on a protected category of recipients goes unaddressed by the agency in its rulemaking.

Finally, the proposed rule might create new concerns of equity that are unaddressed in the NPRM. Specifically, the proposed rule eliminates the options for states to vary their SUAs by
household size, geographic area of the state, or season because these options are not currently used by a large number of states.18 Adjusting a benefit level based on household size provides
protection to larger families. To the extent that the agency now proposes to withdraw a state option that may benefit households with children, it should similarly describe and explain the
civil rights impact on this population of younger people who would face reduction and termination of benefits under the new proposed rule. Geographic variation within a state may
also be a critical metric in a state with significant geographic features, such as intensely mountainous or desert regions, or facing critical intra state variations in heating fuel source
(e.g.—deliverable fuels being used more extensively in rural areas away from municipal gas and electric supply19), weather conditions, variability of housing stock, state taxation (e.g.—
surcharges20), as well as the age and capacity of local utility infrastructure (infrastructure upkeep and replacement are a significant source of rate increases for gas and electric service
providers21). As these options are used by relatively few states, they would not be the root cause of the theoretical “inequitable distribution” of SUA’s the agency claims to be addressing, and
these state options should simply be retained in any final rule as a means of helping to address problems and cost insensitivity in a new homogeneous SUA calculation that fails to account for real variations at the state level.

Thank you again for the opportunity to provide input and comments regarding proposed changes to the regulations pertaining to determination of SUA levels in SNAP. Empire Justice
Center strongly opposes these proposed rule changes that will reduce or end benefits for tens of thousands of food insecure New Yorkers, and hinder the ability of states to address local hunger needs in a thoughtful and meaningful manner.

Sincerely,
Saima Akhtar
Senior Staff Attorney
Empire Justice Center
119 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY 12210
(518) 462-6831 x 2851
sakhtar@empirejustice.org
www.empirejustice.org

1 7 U.S.C. § 2011.
2 Federal Register, Vol. 84, No. 192, FNS-2019-0009, 52809 (October 3, 2019).
3 7 C.F.R. § 273.9(d)(6)(iii)(A).
4 7 C.F.R. § 273.9(d)(6)(iii)(B).
5 7 C.F.R. § 273.9(d)(6)(iii)(D).
6 Fed. Reg., Vol. 84, No. 192 at 52814 for proposed regulatory language revising 7 CFR 273.9(d)(6)(iii)(B).
7 Fed. Reg., Vol. 84, No. 192 at 52810.
8 5 U.S.C. § 553(b)-(c).
9 5 U.S.C. § 551(4).
10 7 U.S.C. § 2011.
11 Unpublished analysis by Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, received by email on November 26, 2019 (data
on file with the author).
12 Id.
13 See https://frac.org/wp-content/uploads/snap-initiatives-to-make-snap-benefits-more-adequate.pdf.
14 Fed. Reg., Vol. 84, No. 192 at 52810.
15 Fed. Reg., Vol. 84, No. 192 at 52813.
16 Unpublished analysis by CBPP.
17 Id.
18 Fed. Reg., Vol. 84, No. 192 at 52811.
19 U.S. Energy Information Administration, Beyond Natural Gas and Electricity; more than 10% of U.S. Homes Use
Heating Oil or Propane, Nov. 28, 2011, available at https://www.eia.gov/todayinenergy/detail.php?id=4070.
20 Talia Buford, The Obscure Charges That Utility Companies Add to Your Bills, October 21, 2019, available at
https://www.propublica.org/article/the-obscure-charges-that-utility-companies-add-to-your-bills.
21 See generally, Joshua D. Rhodes, The Old, Dirty, Creaky US Electric Grid Would Cost $5 Trillion to Replace,
March 16, 2017, available online at http://theconversation.com/the-old-dirty-creaky-us-electric-grid-would-cost-5-
trillion-to-replace-where-should-infrastructure-spending-go-68290 .


Comment Letter – Opposition to SNAP Eligibility Cuts

Posted on September 23rd, 2019


COMMENT: Regulations Protecting Transgender New Yorkers from Discrimination (GENDA)

Posted on August 21st, 2019

 

August 21, 2019

 

Angela Fernandez, Commissioner

New York State Division of Human Rights

One Fordham Plaza, Fourth Floor

Bronx, NY 10458

 

Dear Commissioner Fernandez:

 

Empire Justice Center writes to strongly support the proposed amendment to section 466.13 of Title 9 NYCRR regarding gender identity and expression, which appeared in the July 3, 2019 edition of the New York State Register.

 

Empire Justice Center is a statewide legal services organization with offices in Albany, Rochester, Westchester and Long Island. Empire Justice Center advocates for low-income New Yorkers using litigation, policy advocacy, and community education as tools to improve the lives of our clients and communities.  Our mission is to protect and strengthen 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.  Since its founding, Empire Justice Center has worked to oppose discrimination and challenge barriers to equality, including barriers based upon sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

 

The Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) was intended to expand the protections already afforded to transgender and gender non-conforming residents of New York.  The regulatory impact statement makes it clear that the regulations will be expanding the protections of transgender and gender non-conforming New Yorkers under the New York Human Rights Law, and therefore that the protections already in place will remain.

 

The regulatory impact statement notes that, because discrimination based on gender identity or expression is sex discrimination, the additional protections based upon sex discrimination will still apply to discrimination based on gender identity or expression.  Harassment based on gender identity or expression is sexual harassment, and is therefore entitled to the additional protections from sexual harassment, including protection in all work places and not just those with four or more employees.  Discrimination based on gender dysphoria is discrimination based on disability, and therefore entitled to disability protections including reasonable accommodations.

 

To conform the regulations to GENDA, the amended regulations additionally add gender identity and expression as a protected category in itself, as well as to mirror the definition of “gender identity” to the definition in GENDA.

 

Transgender and gender non-conforming persons experience disturbingly high levels of discrimination and violence.  Trans and GNC people are still routinely denied basic needs like health care and shelter.  According to the New York State Report  of the 2015 U.S. Transgender Survey , 26% of transgender New Yorkers reported being fired, denied promotion, or not hired because of their gender identity or expression; 21% had experienced housing discrimination such as eviction or being denied housing in the past year; and 74% of K-12 students who were out or perceived as transgender experienced harassment or discrimination at school, with 14% being forced to leave their school altogether. With such barriers, it is no surprise that a stunning 37% of transgender New Yorkers are living in poverty.

 

These proposed regulatory changes will help ensure that when New Yorkers experience harassment or discrimination based upon their gender identity or expression, whether that harassment or discrimination occurs in the workplace, housing, place of public accommodation or school, they will have legal recourse including the complaint process under the Human Rights Law in New York.  The amended regulations also send a strong message that discrimination based on one’s gender identity or expression is unacceptable in New York.

 

 

Sincerely,

M. Lettie Dickerson

LGBTQ Rights Attorney