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Policy Matters: June 2012


 

What an incredible year.  We are so happy and proud to be able to share with you the great things Empire Justice advocates helped achieve during the course of this legislative session.  These accomplishments will help and protect low income New Yorkers, individuals impacted by domestic violence, families facing foreclosure, and those who need, but cannot afford, an attorney to figure out how the law affects their fundamental human needs.

Of course we didn’t do it alone.  We worked closely with colleagues individually and in coalition, we worked with policymakers and their staff – those who really make it all happen – and we engaged your support through action alerts, social media, and the many other ways you interact with us.  We thank you heartily for your support of our work.

Before we list our achievements, we want to let you know that Policy Matters will be on hiatus for July and August.  Please keep an eye out for our next issue mid-September!

Legislative successes:

One of our top priorities for this year, the elimination of finger imaging for all Food Stamp applicants, was achieved last month when, as promised in his State of the State address, Governor Cuomo announced that New York State would end the finger imaging requirement completely.  We are so pleased to have played a role in significantly improving access to this critical federal benefit.  Click here to read our Chief Counsel’s op-ed in support of the policy change, published in the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle.  Be sure to keep an eye out on our website and on facebook for our comments on the new regulation.

Another top priority, a bill to improve the confidentiality of domestic violence victims in health insurance related correspondence, was rolled into Governor Cuomo’s comprehensive omnibus domestic violence bill.  The bill easily passed both houses earlier this month.  While we were confident that the original legislation would pass on its own, we were pleased that it was identified by the Governor as a priority and included in his omnibus bill.  This is one more example of New York’s commitment to improving confidentiality, and thus safety, for domestic violence victims. 

We also successfully worked with colleagues to oppose three separate bills that would have harmed New York consumers and Medicaid recipients:

  • Empire Justice Center and New Yorkers for Responsible Lending worked to ensure that New York consumers remain protected from high interest short term loans from check cashers.  The bill did not pass either house.
  • Empire Justice Center and New Yorkers for Responsible Lending also worked hard to keep abusive for-profit debt collectors and budget planners from gaining a foothold in New York.  Two bills were introduced- neither passed the Assembly.
  • Empire Justice Center and Medicaid Matters New York, along with other colleagues and provider associations, worked to ensure that New York’s Medicaid population and providers will not face onerous, costly and questionable biometric identification requirements.  The legislation was held in the Health Committees in both the Senate and Assembly.


Budget successes:

During the state budget cycle we worked closely with our legal services and housing counseling colleagues across the state to build a strong statewide campaign that achieved incredible results.  Starting with absolutely no funding for foreclosure prevention services in the budget, we now know that New York homeowners at risk of foreclosure will be assured access to the services they need to help save their homes over the course of the next three years.  This is due to (1) an agreement between Governor Andrew Cuomo, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and both houses of the Legislature to use $9 million of the money secured by the national mortgage settlement to fund a 6 month continuation of the Foreclosure Prevention Services Program through NY Homes and Community Renewal, and (2) a recent commitment by Attorney General Schneiderman to provide $60 million from the national mortgage settlement to launch the Homeowner Protection Program – again, to support direct services for homeowners.  The program will be funded for three years.

We are very pleased to report that, for the first time in a decade, the Disability Advocacy Program received an increase in funding, provided by the legislature.  While funding is down overall, the increase will allow DAP to continue to generate savings for state and local governments.  We hope this is the beginning of an upward trend for this accomplished program.

We saw an historic achievement in access to justice was achieved this year with a series of successes, most notably an increase in funding for civil legal services from the Office of Court Administration under the leadership of Chief Judge Lippman, for direct services to provide legal assistance to low income New Yorkers struggling with “essentials of life” issues.  The legislature also restored the Assembly’s long standing funding for civil legal services and both houses’ funding for domestic violence legal services.  As a result, many more struggling New Yorkers will have access to the legal assistance they need.

While we were disappointed that authorization language to create an independent State Health Exchange was not included in the final budget, we are very pleased that the Governor provided authority for an Exchange through an Executive Order.  Like everyone else, we anxiously await the Supreme Court’s decision on the Constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act tomorrow – keep an eye out for our take on the decision on our website and on facebook!
 
We also worked with colleagues to support
restoration of over $30 million in cuts to the Elderly Pharmaceutical Insurance Coverage program after last year’s cuts left many seniors unable to afford their prescriptions.  EPIC will resume Part D co-pay assistance before and after the coverage gap.

Finally, we were very pleased to support the Legislature’s restoration of the final step of a multi-year increase in the welfare grant.  This restoration, when fully implemented, will make a substantial difference in the lives of New Yorkers who are living well below the federal poverty line.

For a summary of these and other budget victories, check out legislative updates on our website.

Thanks for reading – we will be back in your inbox in September!

Kristin and the Empire Justice Policy Team