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2020 Legislative Priorities

Posted on January 27th, 2020

We are excited to share our 2020 Legislative Priorities. This year, our priorities focus on proposals that focus on advancing Access to Justice, Social Justice, and Economic Justice for New York State.

Please read here: Empire Justice Center: 2020 Legislative Priorities.


2019 Consumer Finance & Housing NYS Legislative Wrap-up

Posted on December 23rd, 2019

 

Updated December 23, 2019

 

Reverse Mortgage and Loans bills

 

Mortgage Servicing and Foreclosure Prevention

 

Vacant and Abandoned Properties and Neighborhood Preservation

 

Community Banking

 

Contract Law

 

Student Lending and Higher Education

 

 


2019 LGBT DV Legislative Update

Posted on December 19th, 2019

View this resource here.


2019 State Legislative Agenda

Posted on March 6th, 2019

2019 State Legislative Agenda
Promoting Strength, Protecting Justice

We recommend you view the PDF here.

COMMUNITIES FIRST: After the financial crisis hit, thousands of homeowners faced foreclosure and New York responded by constructing a network of protections and supports aimed at saving homes and preventing homelessness and neighborhood deterioration. Now, funding for homeowner services is running out – 2/3 of all services will run out of funding in March 2019. New York homeowners and communities need a new program to combat neighborhood deterioration, save homes, and prevent homelessness.
ASK: Provide $20 million for an innovative program, Communities First, which will take a holistic, regional approach in preventing foreclosures and zombie properties and will stabilize communities across the state.

COMMUNITY HEALTH ADVOCATES (CHA): Challenges to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and fear of changes to public health programs at the federal level have brought confusion and uncertainty as New Yorkers sort through the complexities of health insurance coverage. Since 2010 CHA has helped 337,000 New Yorkers navigate those challenges, get the treatment they need, and get it covered by insurance.
ASK: Fund CHA at a total of $6.5 million.

IMMIGRANT RIGHTS: In the face of attacks against immigrants from the federal level, the Liberty Defense Project was created to uphold the rights of immigrant New Yorkers, providing legal representation to those most at risk. In order to keep families together, businesses booming, and communities whole, this project must not only continue but expand to areas where legal resources have been scant or absent.
ASK: Fund the Liberty Defense Project at a total of $20 million.

CIVIL LEGAL SERVICES: Equal access to justice is a core value that New Yorkers share. Civil legal services are essential to ensuring that low income New Yorkers can access justice regarding the necessities of everyday life – housing, safety, public benefits, and civil rights.
ASK: Expand and stabilize the delivery of quality civil legal assistance by supporting:
• The Office of Court Administration proposed funding for civil legal services.
• Maintaining Legislative Funding for civil legal services and legal assistance for DV victims from the Legal Services Assistance Fund.

DISABILITY ADVOCACY PROGRAM (DAP): New Yorkers who are disabled and low income need stable income to help to manage disabilities. The Disability Advocacy Program (DAP) helps provide that stabilized income by assisting in accessing federal disability benefits. As a bonus, New York’s state and local governments benefit from the more than $1 billion in federal dollars leveraged over the history of the program.
ASK: Fund DAP at a total of $10.26M.

DISABILITY BENEFITS: The SSP State Supplement Program (SSP) provides a New York supplement to federal SSI and SSD benefits. Since New York’s takeover of the SSP in 2014 disabled and elderly New Yorkers have encountered problems navigating the complex process and there has been no cost of living increase for the state program, while both SSI and SSD have annual cost of living adjustments.
ASK: Provide an increase in the SSP amount for disabled New Yorkers, and provide funding to enable not-for-profit organizations to assist people with the complex SSP process.

CHILD CARE: For working families, affordable child care is indispensable. Low income working parents often require financial assistance to meet the cost, which for many families is more expensive than rent.
ASK: Empire Justice Center supports the Empire State Campaign for Child Care’s budget request, including investment of $51 million to restore the investment in child care subsidies to 2016 levels accounting for inflation, $21 million to cap child care co-payments at an affordable level, and reinstating the 75% market rate percentage and assist providers who must comply with increased minimum wage increases.

HOMELESSNESS PREVENTION: The number of homeless individuals and families in New York State continues to break records and the rent portion of public assistance bears no relationship to the soaring cost of housing. Home Stability Support will create a statewide rent supplement program to bridge the gap between the existing shelter allowance and 85% of the fair market rent for those facing homelessness, experiencing domestic violence, or living in hazardous housing conditions, as well as provide a heating differential for those whose heat is not included in the rent.
ASK: Provide funding and authorization for HSS in the State Budget.

TRANSGENDER RIGHTS: This year is the 50th anniversary of Stonewall, an event that began decades of LGBTQ activism and advocacy with New York seen as a worldwide leader. When it comes to transgender rights, however, New York has lagged behind many other states. This year, as attacks on the transgender community at the federal level continue at an unprecedented rate, New York must stand up as a leader once more and pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) and codify protections for transgender and gender non-conforming New Yorkers.
ASK: Pass the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA).

STUDENT LENDING AND HIGHER EDUCATION ACCOUNTABILITY: The Trump administration has dismantled federal protections for students to keep them from being taken advantage of by high-cost, low-quality higher education programs. New York has been a leader in higher education through its free tuition program and must now step in to protect the state’s students and taxpayers from being taken advantage of by institutions in the higher education sector.
ASK: Enact protections including a state-based gainful employment rule, protections for veterans from predatory recruitment, enhanced aid to defrauded borrowers, preserving students’ legal rights, and banning untrustworthy accreditors.

# # #

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:
Kristin Brown
(518) 852-5766
kbrown@empirejustice.org

Eòghann Renfroe
(518) 935-2856
erenfroe@empirejustice.org

Updated 3/5/19


Press Release Celebrating Disability Advocacy Program 35th Anniversary

Posted on February 27th, 2019

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE: February 27, 2019
CONTACT: Seth Hoy, 646-442-3575, shoy@lsnyc.org

LAWMAKERS, ADVOCATES ASK NEW YORK STATE LEGISLATURE FOR $2 MILLION INCREASE IN FUNDING FOR STATEWIDE PROGRAM HELPING NEW YORKERS WITH DISABILITIES ACCESS FEDERAL BENEFITS
Statewide Disability Advocacy Program (DAP) helps thousands of New Yorkers with disabilities get federal benefits they deserve while saving New York taxpayers tens of millions each year.
We recommend you view the PDF here.

Albany, New York – Today, touting the 35th anniversary of the Disability Advocacy Program (DAP), lawmakers and advocates from across the state gathered at the Capitol to call on the New York State Legislature to increase funding by $2 million to the vital statewide program, which helps New Yorkers with disabilities access federal benefits, saving New York State taxpayers tens of millions in the process. Last year DAP was funded at $8.26 million, $5.26 million from the Executive budget and $3 million from the Legislature. However participating service providers have reported that they are unable to meet the demand for services in their areas, turning away thousands of applicants who need help – one person for every individual they are able to assist. This year, the DAP program is seeking an additional $2 million from the Legislature over last year’s funding level, for a total of $10.26 million to help meet the strong demand.

“DAP has made a real difference in the lives of disabled New Yorkers for 35 years,” said Assembly Health Committee Chair Richard N. Gottfried, original sponsor of the DAP legislation. “It helps disabled New Yorkers access the steady sources of income they are legally entitled to, and generates $2 in state and local savings and federal payments for every $1 we spend. DAP is a tremendously successful program, and I’m delighted the Legislature has been able to support it and look forward to continuing to do so.”

“I applaud the diligent and compassionate work of the Disability Advocacy Program (DAP) which has helped disabled New Yorkers obtain vital federal benefits for over a generation,” Senator Roxanne J. Persaud, Chair of the Senate Social Services Committee, said. “Given that Washington is adding new barriers to the review procedure, it is essential that New York State invests more in this invaluable safety net program”.

“The federal government continues to impose policies that further complicate SSI and SSD procedures, and it thereby falls upon us in the state legislature to ensure resources are available to help vulnerable New Yorkers navigate an already complicated system of appeals. This program is a proven measure to ensure those eligible receive the services they deserve, and need, while saving taxpayers millions in unnecessary public assistance costs. Thank you to Assemblymembers Gottfried, Steck, and Gunther for their leadership, I am proud to join my
colleagues in calling for this additional funding for the DAP.” Said Assemblymember Andrew Hevesi, Chair of the Assembly Standing Committee on Social Services.
For the last 35 years, the DAP program has been fighting to help some of the most vulnerable New Yorkers, including those with disabilities and the elderly, get access to federal benefits such as Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and Social Security Disability (SSD). All too often, New Yorkers with disabilities’ applications for SSI or SSD are denied or discontinued due to lack of medical evidence or other complications. DAP service providers help applicants navigate the complex process of obtaining federal benefits and assist them at every stage of the process, including gathering medical evidence, working with hospitals and doctor’s offices to track down medical records, and representing claimants at their hearings.

“I am proud of the work we do through the Disability Advocacy Program. We are able to make a tangible difference in people’s lives. However, it’s dismaying to have to turn so many people away that could be helped, especially knowing that in doing so, we are losing the opportunity to stabilize the finances of the disabled person while saving taxpayers money”, said Louise Tarantino, Senior Attorney at Empire Justice Center.

“New Yorkers with disabilities rely on the DAP program to get the federal benefits they’re entitled to,” said Jane Aoyama-Martin, Project Director of Bronx Legal Services. “But right now, many providers are finding in difficult to keep up with the growing demand. Additional funding would help expand existing services to meet the growing need and continue to save New York State millions each year.”

In 2018, DAP providers helped close nearly 5,000 cases on behalf of New Yorkers unable to work due to disabilities and medical problems, saving New York State and counties more than $36 million in retroactive benefits, federal dollars paid back to the state, and savings to localities after applicant moves from locally-funded benefits programs to longer term federal assistance. The program has also allowed programs to focus on outreach to severely vulnerable communities, including homeless and unstably housed people, those who struggle with mental health, immigrants, LGBTQ people, and veterans.

For more information or to find a local provider, click here.


Lackluster Legislative Session Leaves Important Proposals for Child Care, Immigrants, and Homeowners on the Table

Posted on June 21st, 2018

At the beginning of this legislative session Empire Justice Center noted that this year provided an opportunity for New York State to uphold our shared values in the face of significant shifts in policy perspective at the federal level. While we are pleased that we were able to accomplish the vast majority of our 2018 legislative priorities during this year’s budget process, a series of bills we worked to pass before the end of session that would have helped working parents and children, immigrants, and homeowners were left on the table.

Access to affordable child care is key to ensuring working parents can stay employed. A.0290 (Jaffee)/S.1455 (Avella), which passed the Assembly but failed to advance in the Senate, would have authorized the development of a cost estimation model to determine the actual cost of quality child care by geographic region. This model has been used as a tool for improving child care subsidy rates in over a dozen other states, and would have provided a robust tool to policy makers. A.11242 (Jaffee)/ S.8804-A (Helming) would have enacted the criminal the background check provisions required by the Child Care Development Block Grant (CCDBG). An alternate version of the bill, A.11055 (Jaffee) would have provided critical due process protections as well as protection to immigrant families. The consequences of not passing these bills could be significant: the state may face fines of $12 million, which will be pulled from already scant child care resources. Neither bill advanced in the Senate, while the latter bill was passed by the Assembly.

While immigration issues have been dominating the headlines, here in New York State, the Legislature did not advance a number of bills that would have provided relief to immigrant communities impacted by the relentless negative actions of the federal government. This includes: A. 10607-A (Solages)/S. 7569-A (Sepulveda), which would provide continued access to health coverage for immigrants who lose their Temporary Protected Status (TPS); A.8054-A (Gottfried)/S. 8618 (Rivera), which would expand access to the Child Health Plus insurance program to through 29 years of age who are ineligible for other health insurance coverage due to their immigration status; A.10273 (Crespo)/S.8680 (Sepulveda) which
would provide access to standard drivers licenses for immigrants; and ensuring access to justice for all New Yorkers with A.11013-A (Solages)/S. 8925 (Alcantara), also known as the Protect Our Courts Act, which would protect the integrity of our state’s court processes by requiring U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) to only enter NYS courtrooms if they have a judicial warrant.

The Assembly unanimously approved, but the Senate failed to pass A.1408 (Weinstein)/S.6171 (Hamilton), which would protect home owners, by providing protections to address ever evolving deed theft and foreclosure prevention scams.

Another year has gone by without the passage of A.0628 (Rosenthal)/S.0579 (Peralta), also knowns as Securing Wages Earned Against Theft (SWEAT), which would create tools that are needed to ensure accountability in cases of wage theft, giving employees and the State a better chance to collect the money they are owed while removing unfair competition for law-abiding businesses.

And on a final, more positive note, the Senate did include critical funding to provide legal assistance to survivors of domestic violence in the final days of the session.

For more information about our 2018 State Legislative Priorities, please visit our website: www.empirejustice.org

# # #
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 four offices in Albany, Rochester, Yonkers, White Plains and Central Islip on Long Island.


Empire Justice Victory Means Thousands of Immigrants in NY with Humanitarian Status Can Access Financial Assistance

Posted on March 29th, 2018

Read more here.


Empire Justice Center 2018 State Policy Priorities

Posted on February 1st, 2018

Promoting Strength, Protecting Justice
As New Yorkers, we unite around the concepts of liberty, equality and opportunity. Now we face the most significant shift in policy perspective at the federal level that’s been seen in a generation, but opportunities for New York to uphold our shared values are everywhere. In 2018, Empire Justice Center’s top priorities will be focused on identifying and fostering ways to strengthen New York’s laws, our communities, and each other, to protect justice for ALL New Yorkers.

FUNDING PRIORITIES

COMMUNITY HEALTH ADVOCATES (CHA): Sorting through the complexities of health insurance coverage and figuring out how to access needed health care is often daunting. Since 2010 CHA has helped regular New Yorkers navigate those challenges, get the treatment they need, and get it covered. With shifting health care priorities at the federal level, CHA is needed NOW more than ever.
ASK: Fund CHA at a total of $4.75M.

IMMIGRANT RIGHTS: New York was built by immigrants. Our diverse culture, vibrant communities, and economy thrive thanks to immigrant families. The dismantling of protections at the federal level is an attack on fellow New Yorkers and it continues to tear families apart, separating friends and coworkers, and destabilizing entire communities.Our state must maintain its investment in legal services for immigrants, helping to uphold their basic civil and human rights as they face persecution from the federal government.
ASK: Continue funding for legal assistance through the Office for New Americans at least$14.6M.

DISABILITY ADVOCACY PROGRAM (DAP): Disabled New Yorkers who are low income are better able to manage their disabilities when their income is stable. DAP helps low income people access federal disability benefits, providing a measure of financial stability. As a bonus, New York’s state and local governments benefit from the more than $1 billion in federal dollars leveraged over the history of the program.
ASK: Fund DAP at a total of $9.26M.

CIVIL LEGAL SERVICES: Equal access to justice is a core value that New Yorkers share. Civil legal services are essential to ensuring that low income New Yorkers have that access with the necessities of everyday life – housing, safety, public benefits, and civil rights.
ASK: Expand and stabilize the delivery of quality civil legal assistance by supporting:

CHILD CARE: For working families, affordable child care is indispensable. Low income working parents require financial assistance to meet the cost, which can be more expensive than rent for
many families. Still, only 17% of eligible children receive child care subsidies as New York has reduced the number of children served in order to try and cover rising costs and that was before a $7M funding cut was implemented.
ASK: Invest $100 million to restore the investment in child care subsidies to 2016 levels, account for inflation, restore last year’s $7 million cut, reinstate the 75% market rate percentage and assist providers who must comply with increased minimum wage increases.

HOMELESSNESS PREVENTION: Homelessness is an epidemic in New York State, causing harm to families, undermining children’s success in school, and costing taxpayers far more than it would to just invest in keeping those on public assistance in their homes. Home Stability Support (HSS) would create a statewide housing supplement program to bridge the gap between the existing shelter allowance and 85% of the fair market rent for those facing homelessness, experiencing domestic violence, or living in hazardous housing conditions. Importantly, it would also provide a heating differential for those whose heat is not included in the rent.
ASK: Provide funding and authorization for HSS in the State Budget.

LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES

WAGE JUSTICE: $1 billion of wage theft occurs every year in New York State, pushing more than 25,000 families under the poverty line and leaving honest businesses without tools to combat unfair competition. Loopholes in State law give bad faith employers the opportunity to engage in wage theft without facing consequences – allowing them to transfer assets so that even if a court decides against them, they can continue their business under a new name, hide property and assets, and avoid paying what they owe to employees and the State. Securing Wages Earned Against Theft (SWEAT) will create tools that are needed to ensure accountability when wage theft occurs, giving employees and the State a better chance to collect the money they are owed while removing unfair competition for law-abiding businesses.
SOLUTION: Pass SWEAT A.628 (Rosenthal)/S.579 (Peralta)

REVERSE MORTGAGES: Reverse mortgages have become an emerging trend in homerefinancing, but they come with risks about which many older homeowners are unaware or uninformed. Although they can help some seniors stay in their home and pay off debts, they do this by using up home equity. Many seniors do not find out they have used all the equity in their home until they need to tap into it in order to move out of the home or into a nursing facility, and discover they cannot afford to. They also face increased risk of foreclosure, either from an inability to keep the house in good repair, falling behind on taxes and fees, or even their loans coming due if they are forced to spend an extended time in an assisted living facility while recovering from health problems.
SOLUTION: Draft and introduce legislation dealing with issues resulting from reverse mortgages.

ADMINISTRATIVE PRIORITIES

DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH: Having strong, efficient and fair health care insurance options, such as Marketplace plans, expanded Medicaid, and the Essential Plan have been a win- win-win for New York and for New Yorkers. The state must continue to work with advocates to advance the strongest possible consumer protections, monitor and react carefully to Federal level developments, and ensure the huge gains in the number of New Yorkers able to access health insurance are retained.
SOLUTION: Empire Justice will continue to work with the Department of Health through issue spotting, educating and working collaboratively on improving the ways in which people can access and use health coverage and crafting innovative approaches to meet consumer needs.

NEW YORK STATE EDUCATION DEPARTMENT: New York State released guidelines for transgender and gender non-conforming students in 2015 which have been extremely successful in creating safer, more equitable school environments for New York students, and even cited at the national level. However, implementation of these guidelines has been variable across the state, meaning too many students are still being left behind.
SOLUTION: Empire Justice Center will work with NYSED and other advocates to create and implement a regulation that will ensure that every student has access to an equal opportunity at education, regardless of gender identity or expression.

For more information:
Kristin Brown (518) 852-5766
kbrown@empirejustice.org

Eòghann Renfroe
(518) 935-2856
erenfroe@empirejustice.org


Governor Cuomo Signs Law Ensuring Free Medical Records

Posted on October 30th, 2017

Disabled New Yorkers scored an important victory with the passage and enactment of legislation (A7842/S6078) that will streamline the process to obtain medical records needed to support applications for government benefits free of charge. Governor Cuomo signed the bills into law on September 13, 2017.

The legislation amends New York State’s Public Health Law Secs. 17 and 18 and Mental Hygiene Law Sec. 33.16. The laws now clearly state that no charge may be imposed for providing, releasing, or delivering medical records “where requested for the purpose of supporting an application, claim or appeal for any government benefit or program.”  Because the language is clear on its face, there was no need to include additional language restricting the application of the law to specific individuals (i.e., the patient, a representative, a parent, or other qualified person acting on the patient’s behalf). Instead, as long as the purpose of requesting the medical records by any individual is to support an application, claim or appeal for any government benefit or program (including federal, state, county, or local government benefit or program), no charge may be imposed. This applies to records maintained in either electronic or paper form. We recommend that any medical records release contain language to the effect that the records are needed to support an application for government benefits.

If an attorney requests a patient’s medical records on behalf of the patient for the purpose of supporting the patient’s application, claim or appeal for any government benefit or program, no charge may be imposed. It is the patient that benefits from the receipt of the medical records the patient needs to support a claim for government benefits. Medical records are often requested by a patient through counsel. The expense of obtaining medical records is borne by patients; patients generally are required to reimburse their attorneys for such expenditures where, in the past, fee waivers were not granted. The attorney merely acts as an agent of the patient in requesting the records for the patient.

The same holds true if a parent, guardian, social worker or other qualified person acting on the patient’s behalf requests the records on behalf of the patient to assist the patient in filing an application, claim or appeal for benefits. In fact, many patients who need government benefits require the assistance of other individuals to obtain records to support their claims because they are not capable of making the requests directly due to medical or psychiatric conditions.

When disabled New Yorkers have timely access to their medical records, they can submit this evidence with their applications for government benefits such as Social Security disability or SSI. Without this critical evidence, eligible applicants are often denied benefits. With ever increasing wait times for processing appeals in Social Security cases, a denial at the initial stage means claimants go long periods of time without much needed financial assistance, often resulting in housing instability. With this change in the law, many eligible claimants can be expected to get their disability benefits more quickly.

Advocates from the Empire Justice Center, New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), Queens Legal Services and the Urban Justice Center worked collaboratively to draft the new legislation, meet with Assembly sponsor Richard Gottfried and Senate sponsor David Valseky, and move the bill through the legislature.


Amendments to the Welfare Worl Rules: Financial Literacy and Non-Traditional Jobs

Posted on September 28th, 2017

On September 12, 2017, Governor Cuomo signed into law a modification of the public assistance work rules aimed at helping women gain greater access to jobs in traditionally male-dominated fields, and encouraging participation in financial literacy and personal finance instruction.  To some degree, the structure of the new law may limit its effectiveness, but advocates and welfare recipients should be aware of the possible opportunities the legislation may offer.  In addition, advocacy may be needed to ensure that local districts make the optimal use of these new provisions in the law.

I have previously described this law in some detail; see Policy Matters, July 2017.  In this article I will briefly review the main features of these Social Services Law amendments, point out some features of the law that unfortunately may render it less effective than I think the sponsors intended, and suggest ways that advocates and public assistance recipients can work to maximize the opportunities presented by these statutory changes.

NON-TRADITIONAL EMPLOYMENT

The Social Services Law (SSL) sets forth a list of work-related activities that local districts may assign to PA recipients.  The list includes “job search and job readiness.”  The new amendments add to the job search/job readiness description by stating that the local district may work with the state Department of Labor to provide workforce guidance and information regarding “higher paying jobs and careers including jobs traditionally dominated by men.” [1]

FINANCIAL LITERACY/PERSONAL FINANCE 

In addition to the general list of work-related activities cited above, the SSL also provides a list of educational activities that districts may offer. [2]  Effective March, 2018, the amended SSL will add to this list “…education or a course of instruction in financial literacy and personal finance that includes instruction on household cash management techniques, career advice to obtain a well-paying and secure job, using checking and savings accounts, obtaining and utilizing short and long term credit, securing a loan or other long term financing arrangement for high cost items, participation in a higher education course of instruction or trade school…”

THE GOOD NEWS, THE NOT-SO-GOOD NEWS

Promising opportunities

On the positive side, it is quite likely that in the near future, some districts around the state will offer guidance about gaining access to historically male-dominated jobs, and courses in financial literacy and personal finance.  Some of these program offerings may indeed be effective and valuable to participants.

That annoying discretionary verb “may”

I believe that the new SSL amendments are less promising than they might have been, largely because of a three-letter word that appears and reappears in the Social Services Law.  That word is “may.”  So the local districts may work with the local department of labor to provide information and guidance concerning jobs traditionally dominated by men; the districts must make educational activities available, but as to any specific activity on the list, such as financial literacy, the district may include it.  Thus there is no mandate that districts take any action at all in response to these amendments.  The Assembly’s Memorandum of Support of the amendments inaccurately states that financial literacy training is now added to the list of “…activities that social services districts must make available…”  Unfortunately, it is added to the list of activities that districts may make available.

As many advocates have argued over the years, if particular activities, programs and rules are critical or of indisputable value, then it should be mandated that they be offered, at least once a determination has been made that the activity, program or rule will benefit the individual.

The looming threat of sanctions

This is a more general critique of the welfare work rules:  Even when high quality, worthwhile programs and activities are involved, they tend to be assigned or mandated, rather than offered.  As a result, a failure to fully participate, even for very understandable reasons, will likely trigger the sanction process, threatening the loss of benefits for a designated period of time.  Bear in mind that a state law applying only to New York City has dramatically diminished the punitive aspect of the work rules.  It is absurd that it does not apply statewide- a battle for another day… [3]

Will clients know about these programs?

The Social Services regulations direct districts to inform applicants and recipients of “activities… for which they are eligible, including… education, employment and training opportunities… under the local plan…” [4]  Will clients be adequately informed about these options?  As is so often the case concerning this type of legal requirement, the quality of information provided to clients is likely to vary significantly from one district to the next.  And in this case, if individuals are not properly advised, there is little probability they will have any chance to avail themselves of these opportunities.

Engaging in training for those traditionally male-dominated jobs

Finally, the SSL amendments allow for guidance and information about jobs not traditionally held by women, once the individual has received such guidance and information, will she be authorized to participate in whatever training, education or other assistance may be essential to enable her to secure such a job?  The amendments are silent, though there may be remedies, as discussed in the following section.

WHAT CAN ADVOCATES AND RECIPIENTS DO TO TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THESE CHANGES?

I fear that the preceding section might cast doubt on the value of these work rules changes.  I am hopeful that the amendments might in fact be of some value, contingent upon advocates and recipients having knowledge of the new options and persuading reluctant districts to ensure that they are offered and live up to their very positive objectives.  Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Familiarize yourselves with the new provisions and take steps to ensure that your clients are aware of them as well.  A simple one-page flyer can easily convey the basics (I’m happy to help!).  Make sure that the districts provide the information in various, accessible ways.
  2. Perhaps most important, the local districts are given complete discretion whether to offer guidance about historically male-dominated jobs and financial literacy instruction.  If you think some folks might benefit from these programs, urge your district to add them to their list of countable work activities.  I know that in some districts that is a tough slog.  On the other hand, these activities should be less politically charged than others.  They are very practical, and either completely job-oriented (guidance about traditionally male-dominated jobs), or focused on financial management skills for folks seeking employment (financial literacy).  Since the bill has just been signed, there are no regulations yet, but I expect that regulations will be adopted that require districts that wish to offer these programs to add these activities to their biennial employment plans.  The districts should be strongly encouraged to do this.  Local district employment plans are available on the OTDA website, http://otda.ny.gov/resources/employment-plans/.
  3. If the district does decide to include these programs in their activity lists, make sure that recipients have a reasonable chance to have them included in their individual employability plan.  The Assembly Memorandum of Support states that the law will allow “…caseworkers to decide, on a case-by-case basis, whether participation in financial literacy and personal finance courses would be of additional benefit.”  It is true that caseworkers may ultimately decide whether the activity will be authorized.  But the Social Services Law actually affords some concrete rights to the recipient:

SSL §§335(2) and 335(a)(2) require first that, based on the individual’s assessment, the worker must develop an employability plan “…in consultation with…” the individual.  Admittedly, that terminology may be somewhat vague.  But a bit further along in the same sections, the law mandates that “to the extent possible, the employability plan shall reflect the preferences of the participant…”  And if the plan does not reflect those preferences, the reason must be set forth in writing in the employability plan.

There is room for both policy advocacy and individual client advocacy to ensure that the objectives of this legislation translate into meaningful opportunities for public assistance recipients.  If we at Empire Justice can be of assistance, please feel free to contact us.

End Notes:
 [1] The list of work-related activities is set forth in SSL §336(1).  Job search and job readiness, with the new provision concerning historically male-dominated jobs, are described in SSL §336(1)(f).  Actually, the section (f) cross-references §10-c of the Labor Law, which is where the language about this employment can be found.
 [2] The list of educational activities can be found at SSL §336-a(1).
 [3] Compare SSL §§341 and 342 (rest of state) with SSL §§341-A and 342-A (NYC).
 [4] 18 NYCRR §385.5(1).