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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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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.


Want to help?  Go to


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

What’s New in Medicaid: Breaking it Down for You

Are you feeling overwhelmed trying to comprehend all the changes that are happening to New York’s Medicaid program?  We can help!

Trilby de Jung, our Senior Health Law Attorney, and her Health Team colleagues here at Empire Justice have been hard at work analyzing and monitoring the upcoming changes to Medicaid and public health insurance coverage in New York State as a result of the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and how these changes will affect low income consumers.  We are also busy keeping abreast of MRT (Medicaid Redesign Team) implementation.

We wanted to alert you to two new resources we’ve developed for health care advocates, policymakers, community based organizations and government partners working with Medicaid-eligible households:

  1. A comprehensive report on immigrants and the Health Insurance Exchange.  New York’s Exchange Portal:  A Gateway to Coverage for Immigrants is a report written by Trilby de Jung and Barbara Weiner.  The report includes an Immigrant Eligibility Crosswalk, which is a new tool to help navigate the complex intersections of immigration status and eligibility for Exchange related subsidies, Medicaid programs and emergency health care coverage options.
  2. A new cycle of free “lunch and learn” health access webinars.  The first webinar, held June 24th, was Immigrant Access to Health Care; the topic for our July 8th webinar was Medicaid Eligibility in 2014.  Both webinars were filled to capacity!  If you missed them, the sessions were recorded and will soon be posted on our website. 
  • Upcoming lunch and learn topics will include Changes to Medicaid Home Care Options and Medicaid Eligibility in 2014 for the Elderly and Disabled.  Stay tuned for announcements about dates and registration information!

Another great place to get timely and helpful information about Medicaid is by visiting, our collaborative website with the New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG) and the Legal Aid Society.  Be sure to check Empire Justice’s website, Facebook and Twitter pages for updates.

Tags: immigrants | health care | Medicaid | Affordable Care Act | health insurance exchange

Empire Justice Center Plays an active role in training advocates across New York on foreclosure prevention

On May 30, 2013, the U.S. Department of the Treasury and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development announced an extension of the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP), which was set to expire on December 31, 2013.The program has now been extended through December 31, 2015. In doing so, the hope is that the millions of homeowners who are still struggling and hoping to avoid foreclosure will be able to take advantage of the benefits afforded by HAMP.


In March 2009, the Treasury Department and Obama Administration announced the launch of its Making Home Affordable (MHA) Program.  HAMP, part of the MHA Program, was, designed to enable homeowners to modify their mortgages in order to prevent foreclosure.  HAMP also created standards for the mortgage servicing industry, which before that time varied widely amongst mortgage servicers.  Homeowners whose loans are owned or guaranteed by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac are eligible.  Additionally, many servicers of loans not owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac also participate in HAMP. 


Although MHA, and specifically HAMP, have helped many homeowners in the loan modification process, the process itself can be an intimidating and daunting one.  As part of Empire Justice Center’s mission in educating both the public and fellow advocates in matters of assisting the disenfranchised, we have taken an active role in educating both attorneys and housing counselors on the MHA Programs, including HAMP.  Empire Justice Center conducted two day trainings in foreclosure prevention for both attorneys and housing counselors in April in Syracuse and earlier this month on Long Island.  A good portion of these trainings involved navigating the HAMP process.  In addition, Empire Justice Center continues to provide two webinars a month related to relevant foreclosure issues, including several that relate directly to MHA and HAMP.  Among the Empire Justice Center attorneys presenting at these trainings and webinars are Kevin Purcell, Maria DeGennaro, and Rebecca Case Caico.


The MHA Program and HAMP continue to help homeowners stay out of foreclosure, and Empire Justice Center will continue to educate people across New York State on how to best utilize these programs.


To learn more about the programs, homeowners can visit   To learn more Empire Justice Center’s trainings and webinars, and who is eligible, attorneys and housing counselors can email

Tags: Frannie Mae | Freddie Mac | Foreclosure | Loan Modification | Training

C.A.S.H. Volunteers Claim $25 Million for Working Families in Monroe County

Issue Area: Consumer

Last week, I had the privilege of celebrating another successful tax season with C.A.S.H. [1] 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

End Notes

 [1] 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