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WRITTEN TESTIMONY: Empire Justice Center Submits Testimony on Taxes

Posted on February 16th, 2024

Joint Legislative Public Hearings on 2024-2025 Executive Budget Proposal on Taxes 

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 that they are entitled to. To date, we have supported almost quarter of a million families though our VITA program, in the Rochester area, to set them on a path towards financial stability. Each year we provide direct service to over 10,000 families and connect them with additional resources that they may not be aware of.  

 Given all the families we work with, we see patterns. We’ve seen first-hand the impact of the changes in federal tax policy during the pandemic – notably extending the Child Tax Credit to include advanced payments – and how that helped so many families. Unfortunately, to date we’ve seen the negative impact that the failure to extend the Federal Advance Child Tax Credit and expand eligibility has had on families.   In 2023, our clients living in the Rochester area, received approximately $1 million less in refundable tax credits due to the changes in Child Tax Credit and eligibility rules. These drastic cuts directly impact our low or no wage filers. One family of four who had received a tax return of almost $8,000 left last year with approximately $300 in credits. That is a massive decrease in her year-over-year returns and will directly impact the quality of life of the children in this family.  

Based on our expertise, we see clear opportunities to lift New York children and families out of poverty with amendments to our tax law. 

In the 2024-25 budget, we urge New York to strengthen and expand its refundable tax credits in a similar way to the way the federal child tax credit was enhanced during the pandemic to have the greatest impact on child poverty. We applaud the work that has been done thus far, particularly around the passing of the Empire State Child Credit and look forward to building on this to continue to drive down poverty in New York State.  

 

Recommendation: Pass the Working Families Tax credit as drafted (S.277/A.4022) to help lift New York children out of poverty, and help their families meet their basic needs, like clothing, gas, childcare, rent, and food.  

Full written testimony is available: Tax Testimony

 


WRITTEN TESTIMONY – Empire Justice Center Submits Testimony on Housing

Posted on February 15th, 2024

Joint Legislative Public Hearings on   2024-2025 Executive Budget Proposal  on Housing

 

Support for New York State’s homeownership retention programs and assistance that support keeping families housed has never been more critical.  

 We will discuss the positions set forth below:  

 

Full written testimony is available: Housing Hearing Testimony


WRITTEN TESTIMONY – Empire Justice Center Submits Written Testimony on Higher Education

Posted on February 9th, 2024

Joint Legislative Public Hearings on Higher Education 2024-2025 Executive Budget Proposal 

Empire Justice Center Co-Chairs the Student Loan Workgroup for New Yorkers for Responsible Lending (NYRL), a statewide coalition of more than 160 organizations across New York State that promotes economic justice. Empire Justice Center supports Governor Kathy Hochul’s inclusion in the Executive Budget of $3 million in funding for EDCAP, and we urge the legislature to uphold its commitment to EDCAP by maintaining its current allocation of $500,000. 

 

The Need to Maintain EDCAP Funding 

Nationally, forty-three million borrowers collectively owe approximately $1.7 trillion in student debt. In New York State the cumulative debt is a staggering $98.9 billion held by 2.4 million borrowers. The average client’s loan balance is $80,000, nearly twice the national average(1). Women, communities of color, low-income borrowers and seniors bear a particularly heavy burden when it comes to student debt.  Women continue to face obstacles paying off their student debt. The data reflects these challenges. The majority of EDCAP clients, constituting 75% are women. 62% of EDCAP clients are people of color. A considerable proportion of clients, almost 50%, have a household income at or below $60,000.00. New York State has a 44% increase in the number of seniors grappling with student loan debt(2). EDCAP offers much-needed help to these vulnerable communities. 

Defaulting on student loan debt can trigger significant financial consequences, including wage garnishment, lower credit scores, and there is a risk of potentially forfeiting a part of your tax refund or social security. Additionally, a borrower may not receive additional federal student aid until steps are taken to bring the loan out of default(3). EDCAP assists borrowers in avoiding the dire consequences of default…

 

Full written testimony is available: Higher Education Testimony

 


WRITTEN TESTIMONY – Empire Justice Center Submits Testimony on Human Services

Posted on February 1st, 2024

Joint Legislative Public Hearings on Human Services 2024-2025 Executive Budget Proposal 

Support for New York State’s human services has never been more essential. As New York works to recover from the pandemic, we must strengthen access to healthcare and other benefits and address the disparities laid bare. We must prepare thoughtfully for coming changes, including the end of the public health emergency and the expansion of the Medicare Savings Program. We must acknowledge and address ongoing challenges – including the importance of programs that reduce homelessness and housing insecurity, and the imperative to support the increasing number of people suffering from long COVID. We urge the Legislature to decisively affirm its Constitutional commitment to aid and support the most vulnerable New Yorkers, to help ensure an equitable recovery for all of us.   

      

This testimony touches on the work of the New York State Office for the Aging, the Office of Children and Family Services, the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance, and the Department of Health.  We will discuss the positions set forth below:  

     

 

Full written testimony is available: Human Services Testimony

     *Updated 2/20/2024

 


TESTIMONY – Joint Legislative Public Hearings on 2024-2025 Executive Budget Proposal Public Protections

Posted on January 30th, 2024

Joint Legislative Public Hearings on 

2024-2025 Executive Budget Proposal 

Public Protection

Testimony by  

Kristin Brown, President and CEO

 

Introduction

 

Thank you for the opportunity to testify on this year’s Executive Budget. My name is Kristin Brown and I am President and CEO of Empire Justice Center. I am also co-vice president of the New York Legal Services Coalition and serve as co-chair the Coalition’s Steering Committee; the coalition consists of nearly 50 member organizations providing essential civil legal services to low-income and disadvantaged individuals throughout New York State. I also serve as a member of the New York State Unified Court System’s Permanent Commission on Access to Justice.

Empire Justice Center is a statewide, multi-issue, multi-strategy not-for-profit civil legal aid provider focused on changing the complex systems impacting low income and marginalized New Yorkers. With a focus on poverty law, Empire Justice takes a 360-degree approach to the areas of law we practice in, providing individual legal representation, policy research and analysis, training and technical assistance as well as impact litigation. Our work cuts across all significant areas of poverty law and involves three inter-related services:

We practice the law: Empire Justice Center provides a range of legal assistance from our offices in Rochester, Albany, Yonkers, White Plains, Central Islip, and Hempstead. We provide one on one representation and undertake impact litigation to address systemic issues impacting low income and marginalized communities.

We teach the law: Our history as a backup center for civil legal services providers began in the 1970’s and has developed so that we now also provide training, technical assistance and other
support services to a variety of other community-based organizations, keeping them apprised of changes in the law and regulations.

We change the law: In order to ensure that the needs of low-income families are heard within the state’s policy making processes, we engage in both legislative and administrative advocacy on a range of issues impacting our clients and we do the same as needed at the local and federal levels.

 

In today’s testimony, I am respectfully asking you to consider the following:

  1. Reject the proposal in the Executive Budget to sweep $100 million from Interest on Lawyers Account (IOLA) to the General Fund. 
  2. Support a multi-phase plan to achieve pay equity across government funded public interest legal systems. 
  3. Support the proposal in the Executive Budget to ensure funding for services for victims of crime.
  4. Support the Office of Court Administration (OCA) budget proposal to include cost of living increases for Judiciary Civil Legal Services and IOLA funding and 3% funding increases for JCLS

 

Reject the proposal in the Executive Budget to sweep $100 million from Interest on Lawyers Account (IOLA) to the general fund.

Empire Justice Center is deeply concerned about the proposal Executive Budget to sweep $100 million from the Interest on Lawyers Account to the general fund. IOLA funding not only supports essential services that help low-income New Yorkers obtain help with civil legal problems affecting their most basic needs, such as food, shelter, jobs and access to health care, it is a critical source of infrastructure dollars that the civil legal services community is in desperate need of. These funds are accumulated for distribution at the next round of grants to civil legal services providers, which are intended to assist in addressing the dual crises of an estimated $ 1 billion civil justice gap and community wide salaries that are at least 30% below counterparts in similar public interest and public sector fields.

 

There is an IOLA or IOLTA fund in every state across the country. Here in New York our fund was established in 1983, under New York State Finance Law (§ 97-v). With the recognition of the vast need for to fund civil legal services, these funds were created for the sole purpose of funding civil legal assistance. The legislative intent was as follows:

Legislative findings and declaration. The legislature finds that the availability of civil legal services to poor persons is essential to the due administration of justice. The purpose of this act is to provide funding for providers of civil legal services (emphasis added) [1] in order to ensure effective access to the judicial system for all citizens of the state to extent practicable within the means available for that purpose.

The Interest on Lawyers Account (IOLA) fund established by this act will be authorized to receive funds from any source for disbursement to nonprofit legal services providers for charitable purposes, including the delivery of legal services in civil matter to poor persons. The IOLA fund will receive the interest earned by qualified client funds held by attorneys in unsegregated interest-bearing accounts designated IOLA accounts. Funds which qualify for deposit in IOLA accounts are those which, in current practice, attorneys do not deposit in segregated accounts because insufficient interest would be earned to justify the expense of administration. When pooled in an IOLA account, funds which would be unproductive as individual accounts will generate income, the beneficial  interest in which will be held by the IOLA fund exclusively for charitable purposes (emphasis added).

 

Even during the most extreme financial crises in the past, IOLA funds have never been swept or used for any other purpose than to provide civil legal services to low-income New Yorkers. Now is not the time to divert or undermine the purpose of this critical resource.

 

IOLA distributes the accumulated interest dollars through competitive requests for proposals issued every two years. IOLA also collects and distributes outcomes and they are impressive. In 2023, IOLA grantees closed over 307,000 client cases, benefiting over 639,000 low-income New Yorkers. The top five areas of service from 2023 are housing, immigration, family law, education and health.

 

Since its inception, interest rates have fluctuated wildly. In the early days, this resulted in dramatic swings in funding for civil legal services, causing uncertainty and financial crisis for providers and loss of services for client communities. To guard against this, IOLA rightly shifted to a “rainy day” approach that creates a reserve of funds that can be used to avoid cuts in funding and thus civil legal services during periods where interest rates and thus earnings are low. This funding stability has been a godsend.

 

Furthermore, this attempted sweep could not come at a worse time. The civil legal services community faces a complex crisis. The value of and need for civil legal services has never been more front of mind in our state. Recognition that there is no civil Gideon for folks facing bankruptcy, loss of home, healthcare – the essentials of life – has grown among the public and policy makers as a result of educational efforts. The Access to Justice Gap, the space between the civil legal needs of low-income New Yorkers and the resources available to meet those needs has now been documented and assessed at a $1 billion over what is currently in the system. As noted in the Permanent Commission on Access to Justice’s 2023 report to the Chief Judge, “the Permanent Commission recently adopted its Funding Working Group’s report finding that between $842 million and $1 billion is a realistic estimate of the additional annual funding, over and above existing funding, to close the justice gap.” [2] Notably, this analysis focuses only on those earning up to 250% of poverty and does not include immigration related legal services.

 

Demand and need for our community’s services is vast, but the resources are not there, leaving far too many New Yorkers facing life altering legal junctures without an attorney who understands the process. At the same time, salaries, in comparison to any other government funded attorney services are so low, it is becoming impossible to compete with state, county and city positions. With the well deserved and long overdue increase in rates for assigned counsel in criminal matters, civil legal services salaries have fallen even further behind. The IOLA funds that are to be swept are slated to help address these very issues.

 

The New York Civil Legal Services Coalition is preparing a white paper that will be released in the near future to shed additional light on this issue, but as an overview, New York’s civil legal services providers, like Empire Justice Center, which provide legal services to low-income New Yorkers on behalf of the state, are funded at levels that hold entry-level salaries at 30% to 45% lower than other government funded legal services providers, and those inequities only grow throughout their careers. The widening salary gap is making it increasingly difficult to attract and retain legal talent and do the work that we are contracted with the state to do. Unfilled positions result in clients not served – unlawful evictions executed, homes lost to foreclosure, lifesaving health coverage not received.

 

In addition, IOLA has just launched a multi-year Justice Infrastructure project that will assist our under resourced community improving the delivery of services and create efficiencies across programs. The accumulated funds are what made it possible for the IOLA Fund to pursue this project.

 

We need the legislature’s support in addressing the needs of our client community through rejecting the proposal in the executive budget to sweep funding from IOLA. IOLA has been a key partner in all of our efforts to increase services and more recently to address pay parity. There is increased appropriation authority in the Executive Budget for IOLA to take a first step forward, with the expectation that the next round of competitive funding will be significantly larger and utilized to address both the crisis in salaries and the societal imperative to make progress toward closing the Justice Gap for in New York State. These funds, along with OCA’s efforts are essential to our community’s ability to make gains against the justice gap and to be able to fulfil existing promises for representation through being able to compete against others in our field for employees.

ASK: Reject the $100m sweep of IOLA funds and support pay parity for civil legal services providers

 

Ensure supports to Victims of Crime

Empire Justice Center is very supportive of the Governor’s proposal in the Executive Budget to support services for crime victims through the inclusion of a multi-year commitment of funding to support victim assistance programs through the Office of Victim Services and we urge the legislature to support this. In part, these funds support critical legal services that help victims of domestic violence rebuild their lives, including obtaining divorces and orders of protection, secure the safety and custody of their children, legally terminate joint leases, and assisting in maintaining employment while victims address their immediate needs. Empire Justice Center utilizes these funds to run the Crime Victim Legal Assistance Network, which provides training, resources, support and research to legal services organizations representing crime victims, as well as warm referrals for crime victims. We also provide individual legal assistance to immigrants who are victims of crime on Long Island and in Westchester County.

 

This funding is critical. As we testified at the Senate Committee on Social Services and Committee on Women’s Issues Joint hearing on Human Services Programs for Domestic Violence Survivors last fall, the largest and most crucial source of funding for the Office of Victim Services grants to Victim Assistance Programs is the federal Victim of Crime Act (VOCA) Victim Assistance fund. Yet due to shrinking deposits into the federal Crime Victims Fund, annual VOCA grants to states have declined, and with more uncertainty in the future. This fiscal uncertainty is especially problematic for legal services, who commit to a client for the length of a case, which may last beyond a grant.

 

We need a federal solution for this, but, in the meantime, we are grateful that Governor Hochul proposed a multi-year commitment to address this problem

 

New York can and must take steps to ensure crime victims have access to the services they need, and we urge the legislature to support the governor’s proposal.

 

ASK: Support Governor Hochul’s allocation of $20m in this budget and $100m in the next three subsequent budgets to ensure that crime victims have consistent access to critically needed services, including legal assistance.

 

Support the Office of Court Administration (OCA) budget as proposed including cost of living increases for Judiciary Civil Legal Services and IOLA funding and 3% funding increase for JCLS.

The Judiciary Civil Legal Services (JCLS) funding is a critical revenue source for Empire Justice Center and our peers and is a key element in our ability to help our clients access justice under the law. These funds support provision of civil legal services in the essentials of life. For Empire Justice Center, they primarily support our school discrimination, LGBTQ+ work, which includes providing assistance with name and gender marker changes and improvements to school-based practices, as well as improving access to government benefits, particularly for individuals with disabilities.

 

We are deeply grateful for the cost-of-living adjustments which help us to address the consistent growth in overhead costs and annual salary increases for staff. We are also very appreciative of the 3% increase proposed by OCA for our JCLS grants. Of course, we know that we have a long way to go to close the Access to Justice Gap and it will take all branches of government coming together to work toward that goal.

 

ASK: Support the cost-of-living adjustment and 3% increase in Judiciary Civil Legal Services

 

Conclusion
Thank you for this opportunity. I am happy to answer any questions you may have.

 

[1] Chapter 659 of the laws of 1983

[2] Permanent Commission on Access to Justice’s 2023 report to the Chief Judge, November 2023. https://www.nycourts.gov/LegacyPDFS/accesstojusticecommission/23_ATJ-Comission_Report.pdf

 


TESTIMONY – Health – Joint Legislative Budget Hearing 2024

Posted on January 24th, 2024

Joint Legislative Public Hearings on 

2024-2025 Executive Budget Proposal 

Health  

Written Submission by  

Alex Dery Snider, Policy and Communications Director 

Amanda Gallipeau, Policy and Communications Manager 

Alexia Mickles, Senior Attorney 

Fiona Wolfe, Managing Attorney  

 

Empire Justice Center is a statewide, multi-issue, multi-strategy non-profit law firm focused on improving the “systems” within which poor and low-income families live. With a focus on poverty law, Empire Justice Center undertakes research and training, acts as an informational clearinghouse, and provides direct representation and support to local legal services programs and community-based organizations. As an advocacy organization, we engage in legislative and administrative advocacy on behalf of those harmed by poverty and discrimination. As a non-profit law firm, we provide legal assistance to those in need and undertake impact litigation in order to protect and defend the rights of disenfranchised New Yorkers. The health law team is dedicated to ensuring access to quality, affordable health coverage for all New Yorkers. 

 

New York Should Increase Funding for Community Health Advocates  
(CHA) to $5.5 million in FY25 

CHA helps New Yorkers navigate today’s complex health care system by providing individual assistance, outreach, and education to communities throughout New York State. Since 2010, CHA has handled over 509,000 cases for consumers, helping them save approximately $197 million in healthcare related costs.1 CHA reduces or eliminates consumers’ medical debt in over 91% of its cases. Every dollar invested in CHA yields an estimated $5.73 in savings to consumers. Empire Justice Center is grateful that the Governor’s budget includes $3.5 million for CHA, and we urge the Legislature to allocate an additional $2 million in funding. 

Recommendation: We ask the legislature to include $2 million in funding for CHA, and we request that the final budget include $5.5 m for CHA 

 

Children in New York State Should Be Provided with Continuous Coverage from Birth to Age Six 

We are delighted to see the Governor’s commitment to include this issue in the 1115 waiver amendment request. Children eligible for Medicaid and Child Health Plus at birth should stay eligible for continuous comprehensive coverage until age six, without the risk of losing their health insurance during the annual renewal process. Low-income families should not have to climb over administrative hurdles in order to keep their youngest children enrolled in public health coverage. Oregon and Washington have been approved for this continued Medicaid coverage, and Oregon’s data showed that fewer than 1% of children lost Medicaid coverage because their families were no longer income eligible. This means that more than 99% of children who lost their coverage did so for administrative reasons, such as problems completing the redetermination process. New York should take similar steps to protect and invest in its youngest residents, by ensuring that young children do not churn on and off coverage, which puts them at risk of missing or delaying important childhood screenings and check-ups. Empire Justice Center agrees with Governor Hochul, and echoes Medicaid Matters NY (MMNY) and Health Care for All New York (HCFANY) (both of which we are member organizations), as well as our partner organization, New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG), that New York should offer the same continuous coverage to children from birth to age six. 

Recommendation: New York State should provide continuous Medicaid and Child Health Plus coverage to children until age six. 

 

Protect New Yorkers’ Access to Medications 

I. Retain Prescriber Prevails  

The Executive Budget once again proposes to eliminate “prescriber prevails.” This longstanding requirement (for Medicaid fee-for-service (FFS) and Managed care enrollees) ensures that an individual’s medical provider has the final say in any disputes over which drug would treat their patient safely and most effectively. In 2023, most Medicaid enrollees had their pharmacy benefit moved from managed care to the FFS program, NYRx, with the goal of improving and streamlining access to medications. The prior authorization process in NYRx, which incorporates prescriber prevails, is a clear benefit of the pharmacy transition and allows many issues to be addressed by the enrollee’s prescribing physician and without the need for individuals to go through the arduous fair hearing process to receive their necessary prescriptions. If prescriber prevails is eliminated, this will result in many more denials and disruptions to Medicaid enrollees who need access to their specific medications, including those who rely on drug combinations to treat complex medical conditions. Without prescriber prevails, New York will be jeopardizing the short and long-term health outcomes for the individuals who would be impacted by this change. It is more important than ever that this important protection remains in place. Empire Justice Center endorses the positions of MMNY and NYLAG 

 II. Retain Notice and Comment Period for Over-the-Counter Drug Lists 

Empire Justice Center opposes the Governor’s proposal to allow the Department of Health (DOH) to reduce coverage of over-the-counter (OTC) drugs and supplies without prior Notice and Comment. Allowing DOH to unilaterally remove items from the list of Medicaid-covered OTC drugs without a public comment and rulemaking process would be detrimental to Dual Eligible New Yorkers who rely on the Medicaid program for their OTC medical needs. The reasoning behind the proposal is to align NYS Medicaid coverage with the federal Medicare Part D program. However, this would have the opposite effect. Since all OTC drugs are explicitly excluded from the federal Part D benefit, Medicaid is only aligned with Part D when it covers all OTC drugs excluded from Part D. This means that products such as allergy medications, laxatives, head lice treatments, and more, are at risk of being unilaterally removed without public input. Many, if not all, Medicaid recipients lack the disposable income to pay for these medically necessary items out of pocket. Empire Justice Center fully endorses the statements of MMNY and NYLAG. 

Recommendation: New York needs to keep Prescriber Prevails, as well as prevent the removal of a Notice and Comment period for OTC drug lists. 

 

New York Should Provide Medicaid Eligibility Equity for People with Disabilities and Older Adults by Increasing the Asset Limit 

Empire Justice Center was delighted that last year’s enacted budget included Medicaid income eligibility expansion for people with disabilities and older adults, raising their eligibility from 84% of the Federal poverty level (FPL) to 138%, the same as the level for other adults. Income eligibility was also increased for the Medicare Savings Program. Both of these increases are already making a difference to so many New Yorkers. 

We commended the Governor for including in her 2022-23 budget repeal of the Medicaid asset test for older people and people with disabilities, but that provision fell out during budget negotiations. This means that currently, people who are over 65 years old or who have a disability are the only people whose assets are scrutinized when enrolling in Medicaid. As the basic costs of living continue to spiral, and we see only nominal increases to the Social Security Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs), all New Yorkers should be encouraged to set aside what they can for the future. More than ever, lower income seniors should not be unduly penalized for having modest savings. We fully endorse the position of MMNY and NYLAG and urge you to consider increasing the asset limit this year for this group of people. Short of full repeal, increasing the liquid asset limit will make access to health care more equitable. California has already eliminated the asset test, following a two-phased approach. In 2022, the asset limit was increased to $130,000, and then eliminated in 2024. New York can follow a similar approach, by passing A.5940A Kim/S.4881A Cleare, and raising the asset limit and then eliminating it thereafter.     

Recommendation: Provide equity in New York State’s Medicaid Program by increasing the Medicaid asset limit to 600% FPL for those who are elderly, blind, and disabled. 

 

New York Should Promote Community-Based Services and Supports 

I. New York Should Prioritize Fair Pay for Home Care Workers 

The staffing shortage in the home care workforce continues to negatively impact New Yorkers who rely on the services to live safely in the community. The lack of available aides across many regions – urban, suburban and rural – jeopardizes the rights of people with disabilities and older adults to live independently in their own homes. This problem will not fix itself. The home care workforce will not grow without adequate pay for its workers. Empire Justice Center fully endorses the position of MMNY and NYLAG that the State must invest in community-based services by raising wages for home care workers.  In addition, we urge the Legislature to maintain Wage Parity for workers in the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program (CDPAP).       

II. New York Should Repeal the Activities of Daily Living (ADL) Restrictions  

Currently, Personal Care Services (PCS) and CDPAP are available for those needing assistance with one ADL. In 2020, the budget included a provision that will limit access to PCS and CDPAP to those who need physical assistance with three ADLs. There is only one exception: those with dementia may qualify if they need cueing or supervision with two ADLs. This means that individuals with traumatic brain injury (TBI), developmental disabilities, vision loss, cognitive impairments other than dementia, and more, will be denied these vitally important services – simply because they do not need physical assistance with three ADLs. New York’s most vulnerable populations will now find themselves in a situation where they are at significant risk of institutionalization. 

This provision has not yet been implemented and Empire Justice Center echoes MMNY and NYLAG in strongly urging the Legislature to repeal it by passing S.328/A.6346. 

III. New York Should Repeal the Look-Back Period for Community-Based Long-Term Care Medicaid Services  

In 2020, the budget included a provision that added a look-back period for eligibility for community-based long-term Medicaid services. The proposed goal of the lookback is to prevent wealthy individuals from accessing Medicaid for long-term care. However, in practice, wealthier individuals can always find ways to shelter assets, via trusts, waiting out penalties, and retirement accounts, rendering them exempt from Medicaid. This means that individuals with moderate means, who tend to have savings in cash rather than a home or retirement accounts, end up being the ones who are penalized with a lookback. This provision has not yet been implemented and Empire Justice Center agrees with MMNY and NYLAG that the Legislature should repeal it. We are already seeing longer delays at local districts as understaffed offices process full Medicaid renewals for the first time since the public health emergency. If the new lookback is implemented, and districts are forced to process even more paperwork, this will undoubtably have a detrimental effect on the system that is already stretched too thin. As a result, New York’s most vulnerable populations will bear the brunt of the consequences.   

Recommendation: New York needs to support those who receive Medicaid home-based care through the fair pay of workers and retaining wage parity for CDPAP aides, repeal restrictions on activities on daily living, and repeal the look-back period. 

 

New York Should Take Steps to Reduce Medical Debt 

I. New York Should Adopt and Expand the Governor’s Budget Proposal to Improve the Hospital Financial Assistance Law 

Empire Justice Center echoes the position of HCFANY, and fully urges the Legislature to improve upon Hospital Financial Assistance Law (HFAL) by adopting provisions from the Ounce of Prevention Act (S.1366A/A.6027A).  Modernizing HFAL is an immediate and concrete step that New York can take toward addressing the devastating financial harm that too many individuals and families face as a result of needing medical care. Between 2015-2020, over 54,000 New Yorkers were sued by non-profit hospitals. We applaud the Governor for proposing an increase in the income eligibility limit for HFAL from 300% to 400% of the federal poverty level (FPL), and for eliminating the 90-day application timeframe. But there is still much more that can be done. These hospitals receive $1 billion annually in Indigent Care Pool funds to support their uncompensated care losses. However, most patients are never told about New York’s HFAL. The Ounce of Prevention Act would increase the income eligibility cut off from 300% to 600% FPL, simplify and improve the discount schedule,2 eliminate the 90-day application time frame (many patients do not even receive medical bills within this time frame), and eliminate the resource test for low-income patients. Additionally, the final HFAL should incorporate last year’s budget provision that requires hospitals to use a uniform application form provided by the Department of Health. 

We support the appointment of a director of patient advocacy to work on (among other things) the important issue of patient’s rights related to hospital financial assistance.  

II. New York Should Pass the Prohibition on State-Operated Hospitals Suing Patients for Medical Debt Act 

Empire Justice Center supports the position of HCFANY and fully supports the Prohibition on State-Operated Hospitals Suing Patients for Medical Debt (S.7778/A.8170). Among the five state-funded hospitals, it was found that patients are sued at higher rates than non-state hospitals, and that over 50 percent were in zip codes were predominantly people of color. 77% of those who were sued lived in zip codes with incomes that would have made them eligible for hospital financial assistance, for which these hospitals already receive substantial funding to cover the cost of care.    

III. New York Should Eliminate Insurance Copayments for Insulin  

By supporting Governor Hochul’s proposal for Zero-Cost Insulin, New York can lead the way for the 738,000 New Yorkers living with diabetes who use insulin. Although New York State has capped the cost at $100 per month, the cost is still $1200 per year for diabetes medicine alone. It is shown that diabetes impacts communities of color at higher rates than their white counterparts. Diabetes-related complications such as blindness, limb-loss, and kidney failure impact people of color at higher rates, and Black New Yorkers are twice as likely to die from diabetes-related issues than those who are white. By eliminating cost-sharing, medication adherence increases, which improves health outcomes for all communities. In doing so, health plans will save money. One study, led by Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana in 2021, found that eliminating co-pays for prescription medications that treat chronic conditions, including insulin, increased medication adherence for most enrollees, especially those with the lowest incomes. The follow-up evaluation of the program found a 10 percent decrease in medical spending, leading to an average net savings of $63 per member per month.3 

 Empire Justice Center fully endorses the position of HCFANY. 

Recommendation: New York needs to reduce the burden of medical debt on families by adopting and updating provisions from the Ounce of Prevention Act, passing the Prohibition on State-Operated Hospitals Suing Patients Act, and by eliminating copayments for insulin. 

 

New York Should Expand Eligibility for and Improve Access to Public Health Insurance Programs 

We support the budget provisions that improve healthcare affordability and access for all lower income New Yorkers – the increased premium subsidies for Qualified Health Plans will help consumers who are over the income limit for Essential Plan but who cannot afford high deductibles and coinsurance. 

In 2023, we applauded Governor Hochul for expanding the Essential Plan eligibility from 200 – 250% of the federal poverty level. Once again, we applaud the Governor for the planned expansion of the Essential Plan through the updated 1332 Waiver which now includes Deferred Action Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients. However, this leaves New Yorkers between the ages of 19 and 64 uninsured due to their immigration status. Despite this shortfall, the Governor’s proposed budget excludes affordable and comprehensive health care for people who do not have immigration documentation.  

Empire Justice Center joins with MMNY, HCFANY, and NYLAG, in calling for access to affordable health coverage for all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status. This can be achieved with S.2237B Rivera/A.3020B Gonzalez-Rojas, using federal funds to cover the cost of expanding the Essential Plan. 

Recommendation: New York should pass S.2237B Rivera/A.3020B Gonzalez-Rojas to expand Essential Plan coverage to immigrants aged 19-64. 

 

Conclusion 

Empire Justice Center supports the proposals in the Executive Budget that would expand access to health insurance coverage and health care. However, there are still clear shortfalls in certain areas – such as access for immigrants, and seniors and people with disabilities who seek to live independently at home. By addressing these inequities, the Legislature can help the entire system reach greater equity for all New Yorkers, but there is more to be done longer-term. The health care patchwork that exists today is failing New Yorkers, insured and uninsured alike. A single-payer program would eliminate coverage disparities based on income and immigration status, as well as funding disparities between safety-net hospitals and hospitals in wealthier communities.  

 

Recommendations 

 Thank you for this opportunity. 


TESTIMONY: Joint-Senate Standing Committee Hearing on Human Services Programs for Domestic Violence Survivors

Posted on October 5th, 2023

New York Senate  

Committee on Social Services and  

Committee on Women’s Issues  

Joint hearing  

On Human Services Programs for Domestic Violence Survivors 

 

Presented by: Remla Parthasarathy, Esq., Managing Attorney  

10/3/2023

Prepared by: 

Remla Parthasarathy, Esq., Managing Attorney  

Alex Dery Snider, Policy and Communications Director 

Amy Schwartz-Wallace, Esq., Director of Training and Technical Assistance 

Read the testimony as a PDF. 

 


TESTIMONY: Chief Judge’s 2023 Hearing on Civil Legal Services in NYS

Posted on September 18th, 2023

 

The Chief Judge’s 2023 Hearing on

Civil Legal Services in New York

 

Presented by: Kristin Brown, President and CEO

9/18/2023

 

Good afternoon. My name is Kristin Brown and I am President and CEO of Empire Justice Center. We are a statewide, not for profit law firm and advocacy organization with seven offices across the state: in Albany, Rochester, Yonkers, White Plains, Central Islip, and Hempstead.

 

Empire Justice focuses on areas of law where we can have the most impact, with the goal of addressing the root causes of injustice through our 360-degree approach to systems change. We center client experience to identify barriers and we break them down using targeted training, legal intervention, and policy advocacy. In this way, we practice, teach, and change the law to make it work for all New Yorkers.

 

Thank you, Chief Judge Wilson; Presiding Justices LaSalle, Renwick and Whalen; Justice Clark;, Chief Administrative Judge Zayas; and New York State Bar President Lewis. We are deeply grateful for the Office of Court Administration’s ongoing commitment to civil legal services. The Judiciary Civil Legal Services (JCLS) funding is a critical revenue source for Empire Justice Center and our peers and is a key element in our ability to help our clients access justice under the law. We are especially grateful for the recent commitment to cost of living adjustments for the JCLS funding which have assisted us in absorbing the increased cost of doing business.  Each year, rent, health insurance, office supplies – the less interesting but integral elements of doing this work – consistently rise in cost and until 2022 our JCLS funding did not reflect this. Thank you.

 

Our JCLS funding is absolutely critical to our ability to hire attorneys to represent clients in the essentials of life in both individual and impact cases.  As you heard from Ms. Tupper’s involvement in not one, but three separate cases, Empire Justice Center’s impact cases addressed the need for timely economic and medical resources that once available, served to dramatically change her life for the better.  Ms. Tupper was just one of the over 365,000 New Yorkers who benefited from these cases.

 

When we are successful in impact cases, our experienced attorneys ensure that scores of New Yorkers are able to assert their civil rights, access government benefits and critical services that stabilize lives so people can focus on jobs, school, family; putting food on the table in a safe and stable home—the essential aspects of every day life. The ability to do this work is particularly important for marginalized communities, including Black and Brown New Yorkers, LGBTQ+ and low-income individuals and families, folks with disabilities, and so many others. Examples of current cases in our Civil Rights practice include a pandemic related action involving thousands of bus drivers and bus attendants who were denied unemployment insurance benefits and another case addressing lack of access to special education services for thousands of students with disabilities across the Rochester City School District.

 

Life-altering systems change cases like these require a high level of expertise and talent. Seasoned attorneys are needed to guide our junior attorneys in their professional development and supervise their work. Unfortunately, filling positions is becoming increasingly difficult. Our civil rights managing attorney position has remained vacant for the better part of a year, and we have vacant housing, immigration, language justice, and educational debt advocacy positions.  At the same time, the need is so great, we could easily triple the work we are doing if we could fill the positions. Speaking with colleagues from across the state, I know the hiring challenges and the acute need for services are not unique to Empire Justice Center.

 

A key element of the challenge in filling these critical roles is that civil legal service attorneys’ salaries are so much lower than our peers in public interest law, including those working at public defenders’ offices, within county and state government, and certainly, within the private bar.  And while we were supportive of the much-needed increase in assigned counsel rates last year, increasing the salary in other areas of public interest law widens the public interest salary gap, compounding the civil legal services community’s recruitment challenge.

 

Recognizing this, over the summer, the New York Legal Services Coalition, the membership association for civil legal services in New York state, conducted an informal survey of salary data from legal services providers. Preliminary findings indicate that civil legal service attorneys earn approximately 20-40% less than their counterparts working directly for the government. This is hard evidence demonstrating what we have known anecdotally for a long time.  Starting attorney salaries in civil legal services are consistently the lowest paying public interest attorney jobs across the state. The widening salary gap is making it increasingly difficult to attract and retain legal talent. And of course unfilled positions result in clients not served – unlawful evictions executed, homes lost to foreclosure, lifesaving health coverage not received.

 

We all share the same goal of ensuring that justice is served for those who need it most. In order to achieve this goal, we have two requests.

 

First, we ask that you continue to make progress toward closing the justice gap by increasing the JCLS funding by a substantial amount so that we may meet the overwhelming need.

 

Second, we must come together to solve these salary and recruitment and retention challenge as well. To do this we ask that you develop a plan to engage in discussions with the Governor and Legislative leaders to work together on a multi-phase plan to achieve pay equity across government funded public interest legal systems.

 

We recognize that these are not small problems to be solved, but our community, working with our partners in government, solves intractable problems all the time. We know how to do this. Together, we can continue to close the justice gap, expanding services into critical areas of law, such as medical and consumer debt and public benefits, while also taking steps to ensure that our civil legal services providers are able to recruit attorneys with the skills and ability to meet these challenges with us.

 

Thank you so much for your attention today, for your past and future support for the work of Empire Justice Center and our colleagues in the Civil Legal Services community.

 

 

 

 


TESTIMONY: Chief Judge’s 2023 Hearing on Civil Legal Services in NYS, presented by Terri Tupper

Posted on September 18th, 2023

 

The Chief Judge’s 2023 Hearing  

on Civil Legal Services in New York 

Presented by Terri Tupper 

September 18, 2023 

 

My name is Terri Tupper. I have been a client of Empire Justice Center on and off since 2008 and I was a member in three class action lawsuits. The outcome of these lawsuits greatly improved my family’s quality of life.  

 

In 2007, I was diagnosed with severe lipo-lymphedema which is the combination of two highly inflammatory disorders. The two conditions in tandem caused severe swelling in my lower extremities that, without daily compression and decongestive therapy, leaves a hardening of the tissues which is irreversible. Because I could not afford compression garments at $2,000 a pair, infections followed one after the other. I endured many hospitalizations, sometimes for weeks, with extremely high fevers that lead to Sepsis. Coupled with other autoimmune disorders this all forced me to stop working. I had been a nurse LPN since 1990 and also in the medical billing field since 1999. I quickly became bed bound and had to rely on Social Security Disability Income. 

 

Around 2008, my family was having difficulty getting through the Medicaid application process. I reached out to Linda Hassberg Esq., at Empire Justice Center and became a client in a class action suit wherein ultimately I was granted access to Medicaid. 

 

While she was assisting me, I explained to Ms. Hassberg that I could not get the custom compression garments I needed. Ms. Hassberg referred me to another Class Action in progress that was to ensure compression stockings were included as a Medicaid benefit. That suit was also successful, and I eventually was able to get compression garments, begin physical Therapy, leave the bed and, over the next few years get considerably healthier. I became an advocate for People with Disabilities as well as a New York State Ambassador for the Lymphedema Treatment Act, petitioning on a federal level for similar rights to those which Empire Justice won at the state level. The Lymphedema Treatment Act was passed by Congress, and the new insurance coverage will go into effect on January 1, 2024. 

 

In October 2018, my family was rendered homeless due to a Holdover Eviction wherein the Suffolk County Human Rights Commission later found “probable cause” existed that the Landlord had engaged in discriminatory behavior. My family was approved for Temporary Housing Assistance, but Suffolk County Department of Social Services denied my reasonable accommodation requests for my own hospital bed and a dorm-size freezer to store the ice packs I needed to alleviate swelling. I reached out to Linda Hassberg again and became a class member of an action (Newkirk v. Pierre) filed on behalf of Suffolk County residents with disabilities who needed reasonable accommodations to access Suffolk DSS benefits and services. After being informed by DSS representatives if I asked for my hospital bed to come with me to shelter again, I would instead be sent to the nursing home, Ms. Hassberg made a phone call and my reasonable accommodation requests were immediately granted. 

 

In 2020 my family came up on a HUD Mainstream list and qualified for Section 8. We gratefully turned in our Voucher to accept project-based housing in Bay Shore where we now still reside. Since we have been in permanent housing, our 16-year-old son — who was originally a straight “A” student before we became Homeless — has gone from failing almost every subject to Cum Laude status and is on track to become a Biochemist. My son has expressed that one day he would like to find the cure for Lymphedema. Drawing on my lived experience, I co-founded a grass roots not for profit called Long Island Connections, in an effort to assist others by connecting them with resources and advocacies such as Empire Justice Center. We host a Peer Support Group on Facebook called HomelessLI which has a member base of over 3,000; we also have a Mobile Medical Equipment Lending Closet and work with the local VA and the Community. 

 

In this work, I came across the organization Legal Hand, offering remote volunteer positions where I could do work similar to what I was already providing in my own group but on a larger scale. I jumped at the chance (well -if I could, I would have). Soon after Long Island Coalition for the Homeless saw the work I was doing and offered me a part time paid position assisting on their Helpline remotely. I have now been with the Coalition for 15 months and volunteering at Legal Hand for nearly three years. I am striving to work full time again and no longer be dependent on Social Security Disability Income. My first-hand experience as a person with long-term disabilities and Lived Experience Homeless has greatly informed my work in advocacy every day. 

 

I would not be where I am today if it were not for the assistance of Empire Justice Center. My contacts with Empire Justice Center did not end with the 3 Class Action suits. There were many ADA questions and questions related to DSS policy and procedure which lead to dozens of exchanges along the way. Their advocacy has been incredible, and I am so grateful. Without Empire Justice Center’s assistance, I would never have known the power of Reasonable Accommodation under the ADA. My life is propelled forward now in a positive & uplifted way. I have tools I so desperately needed to piece life back together for my family and I am a survivor now instead of a statistic. 


TESTIMONY – Health – Joint Legislative Budget Hearing 2023

Posted on February 28th, 2023

You can read a pdf of the testimony here.

 

Joint Legislative Public Hearings on

2023-2024 Executive Budget Proposal

Health

 

Written Submission by

Empire Justice Center, Health Law Unit

February 28, 2023

 

Empire Justice Center is a statewide, multi-issue, multi-strategy non-profit law firm focused on improving the “systems” within which poor and low-income families live. With a focus on poverty law, Empire Justice Center undertakes research and training, acts as an informational clearinghouse, and provides direct representation and support to local legal services programs and community-based organizations. As an advocacy organization, we engage in legislative and administrative advocacy on behalf of those harmed by poverty and discrimination. As a non-profit law firm, we provide legal assistance to those in need and undertake impact litigation in order to protect and defend the rights of disenfranchised New Yorkers. The health law team is dedicated to ensuring access to quality, affordable health coverage for all New Yorkers.

 

New York Should Maintain Funding for Community Health Advocates at $5.234 million in FY24

CHA helps New Yorkers navigate today’s complex health care system by providing individual assistance, outreach, and education to communities throughout New York State. Since 2010, CHA has handled over 470,000 cases for consumers, helping them save approximately $154 million in healthcare related costs. CHA reduces or eliminates consumers’ medical debt in over 90% of its cases. Every dollar invested in CHA yields an estimated $5.10 in savings to consumers.

 

New York Should Expand Eligibility for Public Programs to Include Immigrants

I. New York Should Pass Coverage 4 All

We applaud Governor Hochul for expanding the Essential Plan eligibility from 200 – 250% of the federal poverty level. However, an estimated 245,000 New Yorkers between the ages of 19 and 64 are uninsured due to their immigration status. Despite this shortfall, the Governor’s proposed budget excludes affordable and comprehensive health care for people who do not have immigration documentation.

Empire Justice Center joins with Medicaid Matters NY (MMNY) and Health Care For All New York (HCFANY) (both of which we are member organizations) in supporting the Coverage 4 All campaign, calling for access to affordable health coverage for all New Yorkers, regardless of immigration status. This can be achieved with the Coverage4All legislation (S.2237, Rivera/A.3020, Gonzalez-Rojas), providing authorization to include immigrants with low income between the ages of 19 and 64 in the application to the federal government to expand the Essential Plan.

 

II. New York Should Provide Continuous Medicaid Coverage for Children from Birth to Age Six.

Children eligible for Medicaid at birth should stay eligible until age six if their families earn under 200% of the federal poverty level. Families should not have to climb over administrative hurdles in order to keep their children enrolled in public health coverage. Oregon was approved for this coverage expansion in September 2022, and Oregon’s data showed that fewer than 1% of children lost Medicaid coverage because their families were no longer income-eligible. This means that more than 99% of children who lost their coverage did so for administrative reasons, such as problems completing the redetermination process. New York should take similar steps to ensure that young children do not churn on and off coverage, which puts them at risk of missing or delaying important childhood screenings and check-ups. Empire Justice Center agrees with MMNY and HCFANY that New York should offer the same continuous coverage to children from birth to age six.

 

 

New York Should Provide Medicaid Eligibility Equity for People With Disabilities and Older Adults

I. Increase the Medicaid Asset Limit for the Disabled, 65+, Blind populations from 150% of the federal poverty level to 600%

Empire Justice Center was delighted that last year’s enacted budget included Medicaid income eligibility expansion for people with disabilities and older adults, raising their eligibility from 84% of the Federal poverty level to 138%, the same as the level for other adults. Income eligibility was also increased for the Medicare Savings Program. Both of these increases are already making a difference to so many New Yorkers.

We commended the Governor for including in her 2022-23 budget repeal of the Medicaid asset test for older people and people with disabilities, but that provision fell out during budget negotiations. This means that currently, people who are over 65 years old or who have a disability are the only people whose assets are scrutinized when enrolling in Medicaid. As the basic costs of living continue to spiral, and we see only nominal increases to the Social Security Cost of Living Adjustments (COLAs), all New Yorkers should be encouraged to set aside what they can for the future. More than ever, lower income seniors should not be unduly penalized for having modest savings. We fully endorse the position of MMNY and urge you to consider increasing the asset limit this year from 150% to 600% of the federal poverty level for this group of people. Short of full repeal, increasing the liquid asset limit will make access to health care more equitable. An asset limit of six times the annual income limit would be $112,536 in 2022 (single person). This is lower than California’s asset limit, which has now increased to $130,000 as California phases in full repeal of the asset test.

 

II. New York Should Expand the Medicaid Buy-In for Working People with Disabilities (MBI-WPD).

Empire Justice Center applauds the Governor for including expansion of the MBI-WPD in this year’s proposed budget. The MBI-WPD increases the income limit to allow people with disabilities to earn above the mainstream threshold. This is important because Medicaid covers long term services and supports that are not covered by Medicare and other coverage. The budget proposes to increase the income limit and eliminate the age limit and spousal income limit. We fully endorse the positions of MMNY and HCFANY and urge the Legislature to enhance the Governor’s proposal by eliminating premiums and the proposal to cap the program at 30,000 people.

Additionally, the asset test calculation should not be limited to a household of two. People with disabilities have families too, and the asset test should reflect the actual number of people who live in the home.

 

New York Should Promote Community-Based Services and Supports

I. New York Should Include Fair Pay for Home Care

The staffing shortage in the home care workforce continues to negatively impact New Yorkers who rely on the services to live safely in the community. The lack of available aides across many regions – urban, suburban and rural – is jeopardizing the rights of people with disabilities and older adults to live independently in their own homes. This problem will not fix itself. The home care workforce will not grow without adequate pay for its workers. Empire Justice Center fully endorses the position of MMNY that the State must invest in community-based services by raising wages for home care workers and including Fair Pay for Home Care in the budget.

In addition, Empire Justice Center urges the Legislature to restore Wage Parity for workers in the Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program.

 

II. New York Should Repeal the Activities of Daily Living (ADL) Restrictions

Currently, Personal Care Services (PCS) and Consumer Directed Personal Assistance Program (CDPAP) are available for those needing assistance with one ADL. In 2020, the budget included a provision that will limit access to PCS and CDPAP to those who need physical assistance with three ADLs. There is only one exception: those with dementia may qualify if they need cueing or supervision with two ADLs. This means that individuals with traumatic brain injury (TBI), developmental disabilities, vision loss, cognitive impairments other than dementia, and more, will be denied these vitally important services – simply because they do not need physical assistance with three ADLs. New York’s most vulnerable populations will now find themselves in a situation where they are at significant risk of institutionalization.

This provision has not yet been implemented and Empire Justice Center echoes MMNY in strongly urging the Legislature to repeal it.

In 2020, the budget included a provision that added a look-back period for income eligibility for community-based MLTC. The proposed goal of the lookback is to prevent wealthy individuals from accessing Medicaid for long-term care. However, in practice, wealthier individuals can always find ways to shelter assets, via trusts, waiting out penalties, and retirement accounts, rendering them exempt from Medicaid. This means that individuals with moderate means, who tend to have savings in cash rather than a home or retirement accounts, end up being the ones who are penalized with a lookback. This provision has not yet been implemented and Empire Justice Center agrees with MMNY that the Legislature should repeal it.

 

New York Should Protect Safety-Net Hospitals

The Indigent Care Pool (ICP) provides over $1 billion to hospitals to support them for caring for people without insurance or with Medicaid. Unlike other states, New York distributes funds from this pool to almost all hospitals, instead of reserving it for safety-net hospitals that care for the most uninsured people. Over the years, this resulted in an unfair distribution of funds, without prioritization of improved access to health care for medically underserved people and communities.  The proposed budget includes a $235 million cut to the ICP for hospitals other than safety-net hospitals.

Empire Justice Center joins with HCFANY and MMNY in seeking that the ICP funding should be redirected and specifically targeted to hospitals that qualify as Enhanced Safety Net Providers.

 

New York Should Pass S1366 & S4907 to Reduce Medical Debt

Empire Justice Center echoes the position of HCFANY, and fully supports the passing of the Ounce of Prevention Act (S.1366/A.8441 (2022 version)), as well as the Fair Medical Debt Reporting Act (S.4907).  Modernizing the hospital financial assistance law and prohibiting adverse reports to credit agencies related to medical debt are immediate and concrete steps that New York can take toward addressing the devastating financial harm that too many individuals and families face as a result of needing medical care.

 

Retain Prescriber Prevails

The Executive Budget once again proposes to eliminate “prescriber prevails.” This longstanding requirement ensures that an individual’s medical provider has the final say in any disputes over which drug (in certain drug classes) would treat their patient safely and most effectively.  This requirement is necessary because these medications are used to treat complex medical conditions which, if denied or disrupted, can jeopardize an individual’s short- and long-term health. Empire Justice Center opposes this change and strongly urges that prescriber prevails be restored.

 

New York Should Remove the Medicaid Global Cap

New York’s Medicaid spending cap has been in place since 2011. The cap was presented as a mechanism to limit growth in Medicaid spending and instill discipline in Medicaid budgeting. The cap was set indiscriminately, and it was not designed to keep pace with the growth of the program.

Empire Justice Center fully endorses the position of MMNY in seeking removal of the global cap. Most significantly, the cap is not designed to be responsive to increases in the number of people covered by the program or the cost of health services. As the COVID-19 pandemic has demonstrated, we need flexibility to respond to urgent needs that increase Medicaid enrollment and spending, without the constraints of the arbitrary cap.

 

Conclusion

Empire Justice Center supports the proposals in the Executive Budget that would expand access to health insurance coverage and health care. However, there are still clear shortfalls in certain areas – such as access for immigrants, and seniors and people with disabilities who seek to live independently at home. By addressing these inequities, the Legislature can help the entire system reach greater equity for all New Yorkers, but there is more to be done longer-term. The health care patchwork that exists today is failing New Yorkers, insured and uninsured alike. A single-payer program would eliminate coverage disparities based on income and immigration status, as well as funding disparities between safety-net hospitals and hospitals in wealthier communities.

 

Thank you for this opportunity.

 

Fiona Wolfe, Esq.

Senior Managing Attorney,

Health Law Unit

fwolfe@empirejustice.org

(585) 295-5804

 

Alexia Mickles, Esq.

Senior Attorney,

Health Law Unit

amickles@empirejustice.org

(585) 295-573