C.A.S.H. Volunteers Claim $25 Million for Working Families in Monroe County
Last week, I had the privilege of celebrating another successful tax season with C.A.S.H.  volunteers. This was our 11th year of providing free tax prep services to working families in Monroe County.
From January through April, nearly 500 volunteers helped complete more than 13,000 federal and NYS tax returns, claiming more than $25 million in tax refunds and credits. In addition to having tax returns prepared, people who came to C.A.S.H. learned about community resources that can improve their families’ economic security and financial future - programs for saving, home buying, credit repair, affordable health care, banking and more!
People who come to C.A.S.H. for help at tax time save on average $250 – the fee that typical paid preparers charge. That means more than $3 million stayed in the pockets of hard working families – money they can use to put food on the table, pay rent, and take care of their kids.
About half of the families who come to C.A.S.H. are eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC). This is a special tax benefit offered by the Federal government and New York State for working people who earn low or moderate incomes that helps lift them out of poverty. Hard working families use this money to meet basic needs like rent, medical bills, transportation to get to work, and clothes for their kids. Only families who work can claim these credits.
Every year, our volunteers tell me how much satisfaction they get from working at C.A.S.H. Many have said it’s the best thing they’ve ever done, but not every volunteer prepares taxes. Some work at the front desk, welcoming people as they arrive and helping them with paperwork. Others share information about the many resources our community has for helping people make the most of their money. C.A.S.H. provides all the training volunteers need to have a rewarding experience helping others in our community.
To learn more about C.A.S.H., go to www.empirejustice.org/cash.
 C.A.S.H. (Creating Assets, Savings and Hope) is a community coalition led by Empire Justice Center and United Way of Greater Rochester. Our mission is creating opportunities for low income workers in Monroe County to “get, keep, and grow” their money.
Tags: EITC | earned income tax credit | free tax prep | C.A.S.H. | United Way of Greater Rocester
Simplifying the Complexities Surrounding Immigrant Access to Health Care
Last week we released a two part report about immigrant access to health care in New York. The first part describes the evolution of the patchwork of laws passed by Congress that impact immigrant access to health care, including the federal Affordable Care Act, and how this complicates determining immigrant access to existing and emerging health care coverage options in New York State.
At the end of this section we discuss New York’s proposed online Health Insurance Exchange application, and how New York could fine tune it. Our biggest recommendation is to fully incorporate the Department of Health’s ground breaking process for pre-certifying undocumented immigrants for Emergency Medicaid through the online Exchange application. Why? We believe pre-certification will encourage immigrant families to apply for health care coverage through the Exchange, and it will help the hospitals that serve as safety nets for the uninsured maximize their revenues.
The second part of our report is a detailed “Immigrant Eligibility Crosswalk” and a glossary of status related terms. This crosswalk, which lists New York’s health insurance programs along the top and noncitizen statuses along the left hand side, allows users to easily locate the particular health insurance programs for which a noncitizen in a specific status will be eligible. This new tool will help policymakers, health care staff and advocates navigate the complex intersections of immigration status and health care coverage eligibility that we described in part one of the report.
Empire Justice will be scheduling a webinar to familiarize people with the report and to get the word out about the crosswalk and the Health Department’s approach to pre-certifying immigrants for Emergency Medicaid.
In the meantime, please take a look at our report and the crosswalk and let us know what you think.
Tags: immigrants | health care | Medicaid | Affordable Care Act | health insurance | access to health care | health insurance exchange
It Looks Like Payday Lending Bill Is Off the Table in New York; Consumers Can Breathe a Sigh of Relief…For Now
Last week I drafted a piece on the mounting evidence that payday lending is bad for consumers. I am happy to say that I had to throw that piece in the recycle bin.
On Monday, Superintendent Ben Lawsky sent a letter to NYS Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver saying that the NYS Department of Financial Services opposes the “short-term financial services loan act” (A.1113-A/S.3999-A), legislation that would permit licensed check cashers in New York to make small dollar loans.
Lawsky’s letter states, “The bill creates an exception to New York's criminal usury law for licensed check cashers. By setting a 25 percent cap on interest rates, the bill obscures the true impact of these loans. In fact, when taking into account all of the fees permitted by the bill, the actual annualized interest rates consumers would pay balloon into the triple digits. The payday loans envisioned by the bill are the types of loans that the current 25% criminal usury cap was designed to keep out of New York.”
The Albany Times Union and the New York Daily News suggest that this strong stance taken by the Cuomo administration has essentially killed the legislation.
This comes on top of actions taken last week by federal regulators in proposing stronger guidance around deposit advance products. The standards proposed by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) would, among other things, require the banks they regulate to take into account the borrower’s ability to repay the loan and to limit the number of loans made to a borrower to six per year.
Also last week, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) released a study showing that payday or deposit advance loans trap consumers into a cycle of debt, leading to ruined credit for the borrower and billions of dollars in wealth being stripped from low and moderate income communities and neighborhoods of color.
According to the CFPB, “Lenders often do not take a borrower’s ability to repay into consideration when making a loan. Instead, they may rely on ensuring they are one of the first in line to be repaid from a borrower’s income. For the consumer, this means there may not be sufficient funds after paying off the loan for expenses such as for their rent or groceries – leading them to return to the bank or payday lender for more money.”
This likely defeat of New York’s Short Term Financial Services Loan Act is a huge victory for consumers in New York. Nevertheless, as noted in a NY Daily News editorial, we need to continue to be vigilant in keeping usurious payday lending and deposit advance products out of New York.
To see the most recent news and articles on payday lending, click here.
Tags: payday lending | check cashers | usury | CFPB | deposit advance loans | DFS | small dollar loans | OCC | FDIC
This American Life and NPR Unfair and Inaccurate in Portrayal of Social Security Disability Recipients and Programs
National Public Radio (NPR) recently joined the chorus of media mis-portrayals of our country’s Social Security disability programs. In a one hour segment broadcast on This American Life and rebroadcast in shorter segments on All Things Considered, reporter Chana Joffe-Walt paints a misleading and inaccurate picture of these critical programs.
Ms. Joffe-Walt mistakenly claims that the standards for disability have changed dramatically since 1984, opening the floodgates for seemingly specious claims. This simply isn’t true. The standard remains very stringent. In fact, less than 40 percent of adult applicants are approved for benefits.
She also makes much of the so-called “Disability Industrial Complex,” as she calls the community of lawyers who represent disability claimants before the Social Security Administration. While many may find the lawyer advertising cited in the report distasteful, Ms. Joffe-Walt gives short shrift to the fact that claimants need advocates to navigate the very complex regulatory and adjudicatory world of Social Security. In fact, that is one of our key roles here at Empire Justice Center – we help those in need navigate the complex legal and medical maze of applying for federal disability benefits. We know firsthand the gauntlet our clients are made to go through. Our success rate of over 80% - in a time when Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) approval rates are declining - underscores how necessary our services are to our clients.
For a more detailed analysis of the misinformation in the NPR report, read the March 27, 2013 letter of the Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities to which Empire Justice is a signatory.
And if you want to let NPR know how you feel about the story, here are some suggested critiques developed by our national colleagues:
NPR can do better -- Take Action on Twitter, Facebook, & by phone!
Twitter: Please use the hashtag #unfittoair and tweet @NPRnews. Sample tweets:
@NPRnews “Unfit for Work” was #unfittoair. Full of errors & stereotypes abt people w/disabilities. Contact @ccd4pwd & cover the real story!
@NPRnews #SocialSecurity #SSI are lifelines 4 ppl w/severe disabilities. “Unfit for Work” was #unfittoair. Contact @ccd4pwd 4 the real story!
@NPRnews The #disability standard is strict & most apps are denied. 1 in 5 male #SSDI recips die w/in 5 yrs of getting benfts. “Unfit for Work” was #unfittoair.
@NPRnews 1 in 5 male #SSDI recipients die w/in 5yr of getting benfts. “Unfit for Work” was #unfittoair. Contact @ccd4pwd 4 the real story
@NPRnews #SSDI growth due to boomers in hi-disability yrs & women going 2 work in ‘70s/‘80s so more qualify.“Unfit for Work” was #unfittoair
@NPRnews #SSI is a lifeline 4 kids w/severe disabilities. Helps meet costs of care & encourages education. “Unfit for Work” was #unfittoair.
@CenterOnBudget has the facts on #disability after @nprnews got it wrong: http://www.offthechartsblog.org/the-facts-about-disability-insurance/.
Facebook: post a comment on NPR’s wall. Sample posts:
“Unfit for Work” was unfit to air – full of errors & stereotypes about people with disabilities. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and cover the real story! “Unfit to Work” missed half the story. No mention of how hard it is to qualify for disability benefits, or how severely impaired SSDI and SSI beneficiaries are. Please contact email@example.com and cover the real story!
“Unfit to Work” was unfit to air – missing key facts. Demographics explain the growth in SSDI – boomers aging into their high-disability years and women entering the workforce in the ‘70s and ‘80s so they’re now insured for benefits. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org and cover the real story!
By Phone - Call your local NPR station!
To find your local station, visit: http://www.npr.org/templates/stations/stations/
Call the station and ask to leave a message for the Station Manager. Tell them: I am outraged by NPR’s poor coverage of the Social Security disability programs. NPR’s recent story, “Unfit for Work,” was slanted, misleading, and full of errors and stereotypes of people with disabilities. NPR can do better. I urge NPR to retract this story.”
If you speak with anyone at your local NPR station who wants to do a story, please have them contact email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Tags: disability | NPR | National Public Radio | This American Life | Social Security | All Things Considered | Chana Joffe-Walt | Social Security Administration | Consortium for Citizens with Disabilities
D-SNAP update – New York City and Long Island
New York City: The Human Resources Administration (HRA) has gotten approval to operate a Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP), for one week beginning on Wednesday, December 12th. D-SNAP will help thousands of New York City’s Hurricane Sandy survivors buy food. However, due to limitations in the program, not all needy disaster victims will have access to this 100% federally funded food assistance benefit. Advocates are calling on HRA, OTDA and USDA to expand New York City’s D-SNAP.
Long Island: To date, neither Nassau nor Suffolk County DSS has made a formal request to operate D-SNAP. Don Friedman from our Central Islip office is part of an ad hoc coalition of advocates aiming to make D-SNAP a reality on Long Island. The coalition sent letters, signed by 40 organizations, to the Nassau and Suffolk County social services commissioners asking them to request D-SNAP immediately, and developed a fact sheet outlining the benefits of D-SNAP. The coalition estimates that D-SNAP could bring over $13 million in federal funds to local food retailers across Long Island, and help put food on the table for 100,000 low-income households recovering from Hurricane Sandy. For more information, contact Don Friedman at email@example.com.
Tags: HRA | Superstorm Sandy | D-SNAP | food stamps | Hurricane Sandy | OTDA