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Laurie- practice, teach, improve

Laurie, a young mother and homeowner, applied for temporary assistance from the local Department of Social Services (DSS) to get her family through a difficult time. But in exchange for receiving public assistance, Laurie signed away her only asset to the county—she signed over her home. Over 20 years later, with her children grown and living on their own, she decided to sell the home. She knew she owed the county, but she never received a statement itemizing the amount that she owed. When she contacted them to find out how much was owed, DSS inaccurately advised her that it was over $42,000. DSS wrongfully included duplicate charges and left out child support payments. DSS also charged Laurie to repay three federally funded programs--food stamps, child care, and HEAP--none of which they can legally collect. Correcting these inaccuracies decreased the amount to $20,000.

Empire Justice took Laurie’s case, representing her and advocating on her behalf. We insisted that DSS give her an itemized statement of the debt, and challenged the inaccurate calculation.

Laurie wasn’t alone. Advocates from legal service agencies across the state saw the same thing happening in their communities. So Empire Justice Center investigated and researched the issue, then published the report “Don’t Lien on Me.” The report demonstrates how the law burdens public assistance recipients with debt and blocks their ability to move ahead in life.

Empire Justice informed and educated lawmakers about this policy that was so detrimental to low-income homeowners. Because of this education and advocacy, informed by our direct representation, Empire Justice led the effort that changed this harmful law. Now:

  • DSS must provide a notice of what can be recovered;
  • Homeowners will receive information on how they can make payments;
  • DSS must provide annual statements informing homeowners of how much they owe, and giving them a chance to challenge any improper charges;
  • Homeowners will have an opportunity not to sign over their homes and get a smaller grant instead.


ecard Donate Butoon