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Empire Justice Center's Initial Reaction to Deficit Reduction Plan for 2009-10 State Budget

October 31, 2009


Empire Justice Center is very concerned about many of the proposed reductions included in the Governor’s Deficit Reduction Plan (DRP) and their impact on low income New Yorkers.  Our primary concern is that reductions in services for those who have been most impacted  by the recession will ultimately result in pushing more people over the edge into desperation and emergent circumstances that are even more costly for the state – from homeless shelters to emergency rooms and even prisons.

Local Assistance Reductions:

a. Small reductions in funding to providers (some as small as $1,000 in the case of legal services for victims of domestic violence [DCJS]) will cost more money than they will save and will result in disproportionate loss of services as nonprofit providers go through the time consuming contract modification process. This process will also require state agencies to utilize staff time to process these modifications at a time when staffing levels are already at a reduced level.

b. Civil legal services providers are expected to be hit with a 44% reduction in their primary state level funding source, the Interest On Lawyers Accounts Fund (IOLA) in the coming grant cycle.  These reductions are a result of the abysmally low interest rates being paid on IOLA accounts over the past year.  For members of the Legal Services Funding Alliance (the legal services providers outside New York City) IOLA makes up from 12% to as much as 60% of their total budget. Even before these reductions hit, civil legal services providers are meeting just a fraction of the demand – it’s estimated that less than 20 percent of New Yorkers’ civil legal needs are currently being met. In the DRP civil legal services funding would face reductions in several places, including:

i. DOS- Civil legal services – ($595,000) this is critical ongoing core funding for civil legal services that allows providers to assist individuals with the most pressing legal needs.  Because it is not limited to providing services to a particular population this funding allows providers to “fill in the gaps” in funding for programs that are not adequately funded at a level that allows them to come close to meeting demand.
ii. DCJS – Domestic violence legal services – ($1,000, $1,000) – this funding allows legal services providers to help victims of domestic violence obtain orders of protection, negotiate child custody and deal with the legal aspects of separating from an abuser.  Research shows that the only service that truly has a long-term impact on the lives of victims of domestic violence is the provision of legal services. [1] 
iii. OTDA – Legal Advocates for the Disabled – otherwise known as the Disability Advocacy Program – ($73,000) – generates savings for the state by assisting low income New Yorkers with obtaining federal disability benefits – many of these individuals are on PA – the state gets paid back for the benefits provided while they wait for a determination from the Social Security Administration. In 2008 the program generated over $8 million dollars in this “interim assistance” for the state.
iv. OTDA - Homelessness Intervention Program and Homeless Prevention Programs – ($196,000 and $236,000) – helps avoid eviction and subsequent increased homeless shelter costs for the state.
v. SOFA – Managed Care Consumer Assistance Program – ($ 83,000) – this program helps connect elderly New Yorkers with the Medicare Part D prescription drug program and provides assistance with appeals when they are denied benefits.
vi. DOH – Legal Services HIV/AIDS – ($3,000) – provides New Yorkers living with HIV and AIDS access to an attorney to assist them various legal problems.

c. Other funding reductions of concern include:

i. OCFS – Kinship Care and Kinship Guardianship – keeping kids with their families and out of foster care is best for kids and more cost effective for the state.
ii. OCFS – Community College Child Care Centers - since most counties do not allow Child Care Block Grant money to be used for child care for parents enrolled in post secondary education, this is often the only option that some parents who are low income student have when they attend school.
iii. DOH – Hunger Prevention and Nutrition Assistance Program – provides funding to Emergency food programs – a critical component of the safety net that continues to see increasing demand for food.
iv. DOH – Nutrition Outreach Education Program (NOEP) – helps connect eligible families and individuals with federally funded Food Stamps.
v. DOH – Childhood lead poisoning prevention programs – this series of programs helps target the regions in which there are still high levels of childhood lead poisoning – with an ultimate goal of stopping children from being poisoned.  The effects of lead poisoning have been shown to result in increased special education and healthcare costs, increased juvenile detention and prison costs and loss in income tax revenue down the road.
vi. OTDA – Social Security Income – we assume that this is a reduction in the state supplement for SSI recipients.  At a time when those who rely on a fixed income have sustained losses in retirement and other accounts, a reduction in their SSI income would be absolutely devastating. 

For more information please contact: Kristin Brown Lilley at

End Notes:
[1] Farmer and Tiefenthaler, “Explaining the Recent Decline in Domestic Violence”, Contemporary Economic Policy, Volume 21, Number 2, April 2003.

For more information, please contact:

Kristin Brown

Empire Justice Center
119 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY  12210 

(518) 462-6831
(518) 935-2852