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Just Thoughts is the blog of the Empire Justice Center, New York’s statewide, multi-issue, multi-strategy public interest law firm focused on changing the “systems” within which poor and low income families live. Here staff and guest authors will share stories, announcements and perspectives on timely issues related to our work.    



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An Early Thanksgiving

Issue Area: Public Benefits

SNAP fingerprinting will end on November 1st

It’s finally here.  This week, the New York State Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance (OTDA) published final regulations prohibiting the use of finger imaging in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP - the new name for the Food Stamp Program).  The prohibition becomes effective on November 1, 2012.

These regulations make good on Governor Cuomo’s promise earlier this year to end food stamp fingerprinting in New York State as part of his pledge to end childhood hunger.

The timing is opportune – November is when many emergency food programs kick off their holiday hunger appeals and it is also, of course, the month of Thanksgiving.

No longer will thousands of applicants be ensnared in the antiquated, inefficient finger imaging system.  No longer will the elderly, families with young children and disabled individuals go without nutritional assistance because of finger imaging. 

Truly something to be thankful for as New York heads into the holiday season.



Tags: Food Stamps | SNAP benefits | finger imaging | OTDA





Nurturing a Passion for Lawyering

Issue Area: Employment

It’s hard to believe it has been a year since I moved to Rochester to start my career as an attorney and the Hanna S. Cohn Equal Justice Fellow.  I can still remember getting the call from Kristi Hughes on the last day of my final exams, offering me the fellowship position.  It was exhilarating then and still is now.  I am so fortunate to have been given the opportunity to start off my legal career developing a project that integrates my passion for economic and racial justice and my practice values: community lawyering, law and organizing, and systems change.

 

Rochester has been so welcoming and warm to me. I have grown to love it here. The sense of community I have developed in a smaller city has been refreshing and nourishing, and has made it that much easier to build relationships with low wage workers, stakeholders, community members, and organizations who share my passion for worker justice and support the Wage Justice Project.

 

The work has been extremely challenging and rewarding, I’ve conducted wage theft outreach and trainings for workers and advocates, developed a wage theft survey, negotiated settlements for workers, filed Fair Labor Standards Act and New York Labor Law actions in federal court on behalf of low wage workers, and built the groundwork for the formation of a grassroots Worker Center here in Rochester.

 

I would like to encourage all third year law students who have a passion for justice, a thirst for adventure, and a vision for an innovative legal services project to apply for this fellowship. It has been an amazing adventure thus far and I can’t wait to see what the second year of my fellowship has in store for me!



Tags: Fellowship | Hanna Cohn | Community Lawyering | Wage Theft | Employment Law | Legal Services





Fall = Fellowship


Fall is my favorite time of the year.  Here in upstate New York, the sun shines brighter, the air smells cleaner and the leaves begin to turn their gorgeous shades of burnt orange, crimson and gold.  As a mom of three school-aged kids, fall also signifies a beginning to a new year and fresh outlook, when my kids can start with a clean slate full of new goals and opportunities.

At Empire Justice Center, fall also marks new beginnings because each fall we are either welcoming a new Hanna S. Cohn Equal Justice Fellow as a member of our staff or we are accepting applications for a new round of applicants.  This year, we are accepting applications for our 2013-15 Fellow who will be our 7th since the Fellowship started in 2003.

I am fortunate to be the Cohn Fellowship coordinator – I handle the application and selection process from beginning to end - a highlight of my job at Empire Justice.  Not only do I get to interact with the most amazing law students and hear of their passion for public interest work, but also with Hanna’s family and friends who have established and continue to support this incredible Fellowship in her memory.

I met and worked with Hanna briefly when I first started at Empire Justice Center more than eleven years ago.  She and I both attended a development conference for legal services staff where I had the opportunity to hear Hanna speak and to watch her work a room full of people who obviously respected her and her work.

I can’t help but think that Hanna would be pleased with the individuals that have been chosen as Fellows bearing her name.  They have all mirrored her passion and enthusiasm for making the world a better place, for removing barriers so that all have equal access to the justice system.  Past Fellows have helped the deaf and hard-of-hearing population with their unique legal issues, removed barriers for people who are Limited English Proficient (LEP), assisted low-income working families with credit and consumer issues and improved and secured access to health care.

Our current Fellow, Reyna Ramolete Hayashi is focusing her two-year project on “wage theft” and is building the groundwork for the creation of a Worker Center in Rochester to empower low-wage workers to fight wage theft and workplace exploitation using grassroots organizing and education. You’ll hear from her soon…

If you know of any law students currently in their third year of law school who would be a potential candidate for the 2013-15 Hanna Cohn Equal Justice Fellowship, please have them visit our website to download the application.