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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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A Peek at a New Resource for Domestic Violence Victims who are Limited English Proficient

A Peek at a New Resource for Domestic Violence Victims who are Limited English Proficient


Imagine for a moment that you are the victim of domestic violence and are enduring the ongoing physical and emotional violence of your abusive intimate partner.  Now, imagine that during a particularly dangerous attack, you call 911 so that the police will come and help you and your children.  The police arrive, but you are unable to communicate with them because you are a non-citizen and English is not your primary language.  Your abuser, on the other hand, speaks English well and, instead of talking to you, the police only interview your abuser because they don’t call for  an interpreter.   As a result, you have no way of explaining what actually happened from your perspective.  Later, a domestic violence advocate advises you to seek an order of protection in family court.  You are not really sure what an order of protection is or how to get one.  Your experience with the police has alarmed you and you are not sure how to even begin taking the steps you need to take to get help without language assistance. 


This nightmarish scenario is the reality for many domestic violence victims in New York State who are Limited English Proficient (LEP), meaning English is not their primary language and they have a limited ability to speak, read, write, or understand English.  An estimated 2.4 million residents of New York are LEP.


Unfortunately, many LEP victims of domestic violence are unaware that both state and federal law require the courts, the police, and other service providers to offer language assistance at no charge when LEP individuals seek help.  In addition to language barriers, victims may be hesitant to access the civil or criminal justice system because they fear losing custody of their children or immigration consequences, such as deportation and removal from the United States.  Lack of familiarity with the legal system, as well as economic, cultural and religious barriers may also conspire to erect additional barriers for victims in their attempts to stop the abuse they suffer.


We are pleased to report that Empire Justice Center has produced a pamphlet designed to address this problem by clearly outlining the language access rights of limited English proficient victims in Family Court and how to access other services.  The pamphlet will be translated into the top 3 most common languages requested in New York’s courts. In an effort to reflect actual experiences with courts and police, as well as the real life fears and barriers to seeking help for this project,  Empire Justice Center surveyed various domestic violence and legal services providers across the state and used the information to inform the text.


The new resource, “Seeking Protection from Domestic Violence in New York’s Family Court: Information for Immigrant Victims with Limited English Proficiency is now available in English.  It is easily downloadable and will shortly be available in Spanish, Russian, Simplified Chinese— in addition to English.  For organizations that would like to order copies of this pamphlet in bulk, they will also be able to do so through our website.  Stay tuned!  In the next few days we will reveal the translated brochures!!!

Tags: Domestic Violence | Limited English Profiiciency

New report highlights impact of hunger on seniors

Issue Area: Public Benefits

Two weeks ago, the National Foundation to End Senior Hunger (NFESH) released an important new report, State of Senior Hunger in America in 2011, examining the insidious growth in senior hunger over the past decade.   Its findings include some alarming statistics:


          -     In 2011, 8.8 million seniors nationally faced the threat of hunger.

          -     This figure represents an 88% increase in the number of seniors affected since 2001 and a 42% increase since the start of the Great Recession in 2007.

          -     Seniors who are most vulnerable include baby boomers (e.g. the “young old”), grandparents living with grandchildren, women, Hispanics and African Americans, and those who are poor or near poor.


New York’s senior hunger rate (14.78%) was slightly better than the national average of 15.2%.


The report also includes a senior hunger report card evaluating the nation’s progress in reducing senior hunger.   The overall grade is an F “due to the nation’s stunning failure in addressing a serious and growing crisis …”


What makes NFESH’s findings especially troubling are the upcoming cuts to SNAP benefits that will affect all SNAP recipients in November, due to the expiration of the 2009 Recovery Act (ARRA) benefit boost.  (For more information about the benefit cuts, see the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities’ article  SNAP Benefits Will Be Cut for All Participants in November 2013.)    These cuts will only worsen the hunger crisis facing America’s senior population. 


In New York State, the SNAP benefit reduction directly impacts half a million seniors; they will likely find it even more difficult to stretch their limited budgets to cover essentials like food, medicine and utilities.  So will the thousands of working adults, people with disabilities and the recently unemployed who rely on SNAP to put food on their table for themselves and their children.  


Unfortunately, there may be even worse news coming down the pike.   Both the Senate and House are proposing further cuts to SNAP as part of the Farm Bill reauthorization – cuts which would once again hit our seniors and other households who are already struggling financially.   


Let’s hope our NY Congressional members do the right thing, and vote to preserve, rather than cut, SNAP.   Our most vulnerable residents are depending on them.


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Tags: SNAP | Senior Hunger | Food Insecurity | Stop the Hunger Clock | Farm Bill