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Memorandum of Support

Empire Justice Memo of Support: Provide a Fair and Realistic Automobile Resource Rule

A.1060 (Titus)/S.4637 (Krueger)

Empire Justice Center strongly supports this bill, which would replace the current two-tiered automobile resource exclusion with a uniform $9,300 exemption.  When determining eligibility for public assistance, Social Services Law § 131-n currently exempts certain resources when determining eligibility for public assistance (Family Assistance or Safety Net Assistance). The Social Services Law exempts a vehicle with a fair market value of less than $4,650, unless the individual needs the vehicle to work or look for work.  In that case, the statute exempts a vehicle with a fair market value that does not exceed $9,300.  This bill will raise the resource level for automobiles to a uniform $9,300 and thereby permit low income families to own reliable cars under all circumstances.

A call to our Long Island office highlights the dilemma posed by the current rule.  An employed but low income mother of two children applied for public assistance.  Before the recession, she had held a much better paying job and was able to purchase a car with a value of around $9,000.  The worker at the Department of Social Services advised her that she would have to sell the car and live off of the proceeds before she would become eligible for aid.  Ironically, the woman had little equity in the car and would have had to use virtually all of the proceeds to pay off her debt to the lender.  Furthermore, if she sold her car, she would have no access to her job, and would likely have to quit.  Nevertheless, because of the value of the car, her application was rejected. 

A fair hearing decision from Albany County also illustrates the problem. [1]  A mom and her 16 year old daughter were denied public assistance because of the mother’s part ownership, with her ex-husband, of an automobile valued at $7,822.  The mother was not able to work due to a mental health condition, but needed a reliable vehicle to obtain groceries, transport her disabled daughter to school and for various doctors’ appointments.  Under New York’s two-tiered resource rule, Albany County’s decision to deny assistance was affirmed at a fair hearing because the car’s value was over the $4,650 threshold.  If the resource level for automobiles were raised to a uniform $9,300, this family would be able to receive public assistance and retain their sole means of daily transportation – particularly critical given the daughter’s psychological issues.

New York’s current automobile resource level of $4,650/$9,300 is extremely outdated.  Thirty-seven states do not count the value of a vehicle when determining eligibility for public assistance. [2]  Although we hope that New York will eventually follow the lead of these other states and adopt an exemption for one vehicle regardless of value, we support A.1060/S.4637 as a vast improvement over current law. 

If New York State exempted one vehicle per household, it would align our public assistance eligibility rules with our SNAP (food stamp) eligibility rules.  Although the SNAP program set the automobile resource limit at $4,500 in 1977,  the Food and Nutrition Service now permits states to exempt one vehicle per adult per household.  When determining SNAP eligibility, thirty-nine states exclude an automobile as a resource altogether, regardless of value, and eleven states, including New York State, exempt one vehicle per household for food stamp purposes. [3]  If the limit set in 1977 of $4,500 had kept up with inflation, it would now be more than $11,000. [4]  

The proposed enactment of a uniform auto resource exemption would also address the concern that New York’s current law actually discriminates against those with disabilities.  A rule permitting only those who work or who are looking for work to have a vehicle exceeding the $4,650 fair market value creates an eligibility standard that is different for persons with disabilities and violates the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 42 USC §12132.  Persons on public assistance who are disabled and unable to work are “qualified individuals with a disability” under the ADA.  Local Social Services Districts and the Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance are “public entities” as defined under this statute.  The ADA plainly prohibits public entities from excluding the disabled from participating in or benefitting from a public program, activity or service “solely by reasons of disability.”  Additionally, the ADA regulations promulgated by the U.S. Department of Justice place an affirmative obligation on OTDA to prevent this type of disability discrimination. [5]

For these reasons we urge you to support this change to rationalize and make more equitable the automobile resource rule.

End Notes:
 [2] Huber, Erika, Elissa Cohen, Amanda Briggs, and David Kassabian (2015). Welfare Rules Databook: State TANF Policies as of July 2014, OPRE Report 2015-81, Washington, DC: Office of Planning, Research and Evaluation, Administration for Children and Families, US Department of Health and Human Services. Of these states, 20 exempt all vehicles, twelve exempt one vehible per shousehol,d and five exempt one vehibcle per adult or licensed driver
 [3] See 7 CFR 273.8 [f] [3], [4]; Food and Nutrition Service, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) Resources (Rules on resource limits), Oct. 30, 2014, available at
 [4] Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, States’ Vehicle Asset Policies in the Food Stamp Program, Revised July, 1, 2008, available at
 [5] “A public entity shall not impose or apply eligibility criteria that screen out or tend to screen out an individual with a disability or any class of individuals with disabilities from fully and equally enjoying any service, program or activity unless such criteria can be shown to be necessary for the provision of the service, program, or activity being offered.“   28 CFR §35.130(b)(8).

This memo was prepared by:

Susan C. Antos

Empire Justice Center
119 Washington Avenue
Albany, NY  12210 

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

Don Friedman

Empire Justice Center
at the Public Advocacy Center
Touro Law School
225 Eastview Drive-Room 222
Central Islip, NY  11722

(631) 650-2316
(631) 348-3571