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Significant Victories in State Budget to Benefit Struggling New Yorkers

For Immediate Release

March 29, 2012

Contact: Kristin Brown,  (518) 462-6831

After an initial review of the budget agreement struck by the Governor and Legislative leaders this week, the Empire Justice Center declared victory on several important initiatives that will have a positive impact on New Yorkers who are struggling financially. 

“While we know that several critical items, like the Health Insurance Exchange and Charity Care Reform did not get hammered out in the budget, we still see this budget as a positive outcome for our clients.  From our perspective, the safety net has been strengthened,” said Anne Erickson, President and CEO.

“In a remarkable show of unity and a clear recognition of how critical housing counseling and legal services are to homeowners at risk of foreclosure, Governor Andrew Cuomo and both houses of the Legislature worked with Attorney General Eric Schneiderman to provide immediate funding so that these services could to continue.  They were scheduled to cease March 31, just 2 days from now,” said Kirsten Keefe, Senior Attorney working on foreclosure prevention programs.  “We are so fortunate that the timing of the Multi State Settlement made it possible for the Attorney General to make the funds available,” she noted.

“We couldn’t be more pleased,” said Kristin Brown Lilley, Director of Policy Advocacy.  “It was incredible to see such strong across the board support for the services provided through the foreclosure prevention program to continue.  We truly appreciate Governor Cuomo, Speaker Sheldon Silver and Majority Leader Dean Skelos’ leadership in working with the Attorney General to strike a deal and of course our Committee Chairs, Assemblymembers Vito Lopez and Helene Weinstein and Senators Cathy Young and Joe Griffo for working so closely with us and our statewide campaign to bring about this positive outcome.“
“The budget agreement also increases funding for the Disability Advocacy Program,” noted  Senior Attorney Louise Tarantino.  The Disability Advocacy Program generates up to three dollars for every dollar invested by representing disabled New Yorkers whose SSI or Social Security Disability applications have been denied.  “This is a smart investment for the state –it not only helps low income disabled people stabilize their income with federal dollars, it saves the state and local governments millions of dollars each year.  We particularly appreciate the leadership of Assemblywoman Michelle Titus and Senator Joe Robach in making this happen,” she concluded.
Funding for Civil Legal Services was also expanded in the Office of Court Administration’s budget thanks to the incredible leadership of Chief Judge Jonathan Lippman, who set aside $25 million in the Unified Court System’s budget to support these critical services.  Legislative funding from the Assembly Majority was restored to approximately last year’s level.  Critical domestic violence prevention funding was also restored.  “We so appreciate the State’s strong commitment to funding civil legal services.  There is such vital need for legal assistance for low income families facing eviction, domestic violence, child custody, and other life issues,” said Erickson.  “Without the leadership of Speaker Silver and the Assembly Majority’s consistent support over the past twenty years, civil legal services would be a shadow of what it has been.  We are so pleased that now our strong legislative supporters, including our champion Assemblywoman Helene Weinstein, have a true partner in the Chief Judge,” she said.

“There were also several gains for seniors and those living with disabilities.  We are grateful for the expansion of New York’s facilitated enrollment program for Medicaid, which will now include elderly and disabled individuals, and continuation of the state Managed Care Consumer Assistance Program, which helps Medicare beneficiaries access prescription drugs,” said Cathy Roberts, Senior Paralegal.  “Seniors will also benefit hugely from the $30 million restoration made to funding  to the EPIC program,  thanks to the efforts of the Aging and Health Chairs, Senators David Valesky and Kemp Hannon and Assemblymembers Dick Gottfried and Joan Millman.” 
“We remain hopeful that two major issues that were not addressed in the budget will be resolved before the end of session,” said Trilby deJung, Senior Attorney.  “New York needs to reform our hospital Charity Care policies so that help for the uninsured is easily accessible and hospital compensation is directly related to the amount of uninsured people they serve.  We also need comprehensive Health Care Exchange legislation.  We are pleased to see Governor Cuomo doing what he can on the Exchange through Executive Order and we know Charity Care has been discussed by all parties.  We’ll keep pushing,” she said.

Empire Justice Center is a statewide legal services organization with offices in Albany, Rochester, White Plains and Central Islip.  Empire Justice provides support and training to legal services and other human services providers, undertakes policy research and analysis, and engages in legislative and administrative advocacy.  The organization represents low-income individuals, as well as classes of New Yorkers in a wide range of poverty law areas.