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Empire Justice Center 2015 State Policy Priorities

Paving the Road to Justice and Opportunity

February 18, 2015

All New Yorkers, particularly the most vulnerable, should have an equal opportunity to pursue justice and the road to prosperity.  For too many of us, this is not an option.  To work toward achieving these goals, New York must make investments and statutory changes in 2015. 

Click here for a pdf of the full agenda.

The 2015-16 budget should make targeted investments in connecting lower income New Yorkers with access to justice and essential benefits programs.

Click here for a pdf of our State Budget Agenda.

1.  New York’s implementation of the Affordable Care Act has been remarkable, with over 1.6 million individuals enrolled through the Marketplace and counting.  There are times when people encounter problems with their health coverage, and no matter what kind of coverage it is, access to knowledgeable advocates means faster, effective, more efficient and less costly resolutions.

New York should:

a.  Continue to assist consumers with post health insurance enrollment issues - fund Community Health Advocates (CHA) at $5 million in the Department of Health budget.

b.  Provide low income senior citizens and people with disabilities critical assistance they need when they encounter problems with Medicare and related programs by providing increased funding for the Managed Care Consumer Assistance Program (MCCAP) to $1.962 million in the Office for the Aging budget.

2.  Immigrants are critical contributors to New York’s social and economic base, comprising over 27% of our workforce, with an estimated $229 billion economic output. [1]  Immigrants also have unique legal needs that, outside of New York City, go largely unmet due to lack of resources. To better meet those needs, services and funding should be expanded in the Department of State’s budget to $15 million for the Office for New Americans.  

3.  Low income disabled New Yorkers benefit when the Disability Advocacy Program (DAP) is able to help them access federal disability benefits.  New York's state and local governments also share the more than $1 billion in federal dollars leveraged over the history of the program.  Invest a total of $8 million statewide, a $1 million increase over last year, to help continue the successes of the DAP program.

4.  Everyone deserves a level playing field, however, access to justice in civil matters continues to be out of reach for the vast majority of low income New Yorkers.  To continue on the road to equal access to justice, support the Office of Court Administration Budget’s proposed investment and restoration of Legislative Funding for civil legal services.

5.  All parents should have access to a safe, nurturing and enriching place for their children to be while they work.  To get there, New York should invest an additional $100 million in child care subsidies to serve at least 13,000 children who are eligible and waiting, with a promise to continue to expand that investment to reach $2.2 billion annually by the year 2020.  This will provide universal access to the estimated 305,000 children of working parents who are currently eligible for and in need of high quality early learning.

To help pave the road to better access to justice and economic opportunity, during the 2015 Legislative Session, New York must make the following statutory changes:

Click here for a pdf of our Legislative Agenda.

1.  Ensure that all New Yorkers are able to assert their basic rights and have a clear path to addressing discrimination.

a.  New York should be a national leader in combatting discrimination in ALL forms.  To achieve this in part, our State Human Rights Law should be strengthened in critical areas, including public education, to ensure that it is comprehensive and effective; and the Gender Equality Non Discrimination Act (GENDA) must finally be passed by both houses and signed into law to protect all New Yorkers against gender-based discrimination.

b.  In some areas of our state, domestic violence and crime victims are afraid to call the police for fear of losing their homes due to the way local nuisance ordinances are being enforced. To ensure these victims are not re-victimized by these local laws, legislation must be enacted that will provide them with statewide protections.   

2.  Continue to develop tools that will enable New York communities to forge a road from the foreclosure crisis to neighborhood stabilization.

a.  New York’s judicial foreclosure process and its protections have facilitated negotiations between homeowners and banks have been incredibly effective in preventing the loss of tens of thousands of homes.  We support further improvements that will add clarity and efficiency to save more homes, as well as move homes that cannot be saved back onto the market more quickly. 

b.  Zombie foreclosures, where banks walk away from pending actions on vacant properties, cause grave damage to neighborhoods and leave our cities holding the bag.  Cities need tools to combat the problem including notification when houses with delinquent mortgages are vacant, and requirements that banks maintain these properties until sold.   Communities also need the creation of a “Community Preservation Fund” out of bank settlement dollars targeted for foreclosure prevention and neighborhood stabilization, to  acquire abandoned properties and fund rehabilitation or demolition [on the local level] or [by cities and local non-profits].

3.  Create a road out of poverty by addressing inadequacies and barriers in Public Assistance Programs.

a.  In New York State, all New Yorkers, and particularly the most vulnerable, should be afforded the opportunity to prosper and to access assistance that will provide sufficient basic resources when they are unable to.  Unfortunately, New York State has the dubious honor of ranking fourth for the highest number of people living below the federal poverty line in the country. In our upstate cities, children fare the worst, with over 50% of children in Rochester, 49% in Syracuse and 46% in Buffalo living in poverty.  To help pave the road to opportunity, New York must address the public assistance program’s shelter, fuel and heating allowances, which are vastly out of line with actual costs, pushing families into “doubling up” in overcrowded housing, living without heat or in otherwise unsafe dwellings, and all too often pushing them into homelessness.  We urge New York to address these inadequacies by adjusting benefits to reflect actual costs and to pursue creative solutions that support family economic growth and help to fight poverty.

b.  Many public assistance recipients are disabled, or have unidentified disabilities that impede their ability to navigate the complicated applications procedures, and that may prevent them from engaging in work or complying with work activity requirements. This places them at higher risk of application denials and loss of benefits for alleged work rules violations.  To ensure that disabilities are identified and addressed, New York should develop a comprehensive screening process for public assistance applicants.

c.  Child care is a critical component of every working parent’s life.  To keep low income parents working, New York should cap the family share of child care subsidies at 10% of the household income. To assure that children low income children have access to quality care, New York should align its payment policies with the private market – paying providers for absences in settings where private pay parents are required to do so.    

New York’s Executive Agencies must work toward the following policy advances:

Click here for a pdf of our Administrative Agenda.

All agencies:

1.  Everyone should be able to communicate with their government effectively.  New York must continue to take action to ensure that all government agencies provide meaningful language access in all essential areas.

Department of Education:

2.  Our schools must protect the rights of all students.  Currently, transgender and gender non-conforming (GNC) students are at significantly higher risk of physical violence and experiencing a hostile school environment.  In a national survey of transgender and GNC adults, participants reported alarming rates of harassment (78%), physical assault (35%) and sexual violence (12%) in school.  New York needs a statewide policy that helps schools and school staff be successful in respecting and protecting these particularly vulnerable students.

Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance:

1.  New York has been incredibly successful in developing strategies to combat hunger by increasing the number of New Yorkers enrolled in the SNAP program through outreach and addressing barriers to access.  New York should continue with these efforts by taking steps to improve enrollment of community college students. 

2.  It’s critical that New York take steps to make sure that immigrants receive fair and consistent treatment across agencies.  To this end, OTDA must amend its PRUCOL (Persons Residing Under Color of Law) definition so that no person lawfully residing in the state is denied temporary assistance based on immigration status.

Department of Health:

1.  The Basic Health Plan (BHP) is a new and important component of New York’s health care system that will provide affordable health coverage for people who are caught in the gap between not being eligible for Medicaid and not being able to afford private insurance through the Marketplace, despite subsidies. As the BHP is implemented, New York must make certain that it includes adequate consumer protections and that special populations retain the previous rights and coverage.

2.  Having a strong, efficient and fair Marketplace is a win-win for New York and for New York consumers.  To keep strengthening and improving the Marketplace, the state must continue to work with advocates to develop the strongest possible consumer protections.  

3.  Consumers should not encounter barriers when they seek to file an appeal of a decision affecting their health.  In the Medicaid program, there is a complicated process that can cause confusion and result in a consumer not being heard.  To minimize confusion and eliminate barriers, New York should make appeals processes uniform across the Medicaid program.

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