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Policy Matters - November 2020

Welcome to the November edition of our newsletter, Policy Matters. In this edition we cover looming judiciary budget cuts, more info on redlining and neighborhood health, a budget highlight on the Community Health Program (CHA), a new project serving low income families in Rochester, and a well-earned recognition for an attorney emeritus. You can read on our website here.

Kristin Brown offering testimony by videoconference

Looming Judiciary Budget Cuts, and Alternatives, Discussed in Assembly Hearing

Our President and CEO, Kristin Brown, testified at the Assembly Hearing on the impact of cuts to the courts budget in New York State. Currently, funding from the courts allows nonprofit organizations such as Empire Justice Center to respond to emerging needs in ways other sources of funding do not allow for. For example, as the pandemic began ravaging New York, Empire Justice Center used funding from the Office of Court Administration (OCA) to create an unemployment hotline that helped hundreds of people obtain benefits across the state.

The issues that we’ve seen spiking since COVID began – access to unemployment benefits, to food, to housing, will only grow in importance over the coming year. This is why budget cuts to services for low-income people would be unconscionable, and we continue to fight to ensure New York’s recovery does not rest on the backs of the most marginalized.


Budget Highlight: Community Health Advocates (CHA)

Thanksgiving approaches, and the State Budget season continues to ramp up. As the specter of a Coronavirus-inspired financial crisis looms large, Empire Justice Center is committed to continuing to deliver ever more critical civil legal services to the burgeoning number of low-income New Yorkers who are being affected.

To that end we will be highlighting a number of our programs over the coming months – what they are, who they serve, and why they’re important. In this edition we will be focusing on the Community Health Advocates, or CHA.

What is CHA?

Since 2010, Community Health Advocates (CHA) has been the state’s health care consumer assistance program that has helped over 350,000 consumers and small businesses obtain health care services, understand their health insurance and make it work for them.

Chart of consumer savings per fiscal year:FY 2016: $3,814,545FY 2017: $6,777,633FY 2018: $ 6,900,718FY 2019: $9,414,364FY 2020: $25,916,797

Why is CHA Important?

CHA serves tens of thousands of New Yorkers every year, helping them to get the medical care they need in 91% of cases; reduce or eliminate their medical bills in 81% of the case; and have favorable outcome in overturning insurance denials in 89% of the cases. CHA saved New Yorkers $26 million in in fiscal year 2020, with only $3.9 million of funding – that’s a remarkable return on investment of 567%!

Chart illustrating return on investment of CHA in fiscal year 2020:Program Cost: $3.9 millionCases: 32,932CHA Savings: $26 millionCost per Case: $118Return on Investment: $21 millionReturn on Investment Percentage: 567%

Who Does CHA Serve?

Since 2021, CHA has handled 384,000 cases, and nearly 33,000 in the past fiscal year alone, for New Yorkers all across the state. With services available in every county, 49% of clients are from Upstate New York, 12% from Long Island, and 39% from New York City.

One such client was Stacey, an occupational therapist in Onondaga County who came down with a rare medical condition which caused cysts to form in her spinal cord. Her doctors said she needed a complex brain/spine surgery to treat her pain and retain her mobility, but Stacey’s insurance plan deemed the surgery “not medically necessary.” CHA worked with Stacey’s hospital to prepare an appeal and won the case, reversing the initial denial and saving Stacey $472,000 in medical costs.

“When my plan rejected the appeal I was so scared, feeling out of control. I could not sleep, cried often, and had a difficult time working because of the stress. CHA was very compassionate, knew exactly what was going on, and explained all the confusing details to me.”

Stable funding of $3.9 million is essential for CHA to continue to help consumers navigate health care coverage, denials, and medical debts, which will only become more and more important as the pandemic continues.

Panelists from the Redlining and Neighborhood Health Panel, including Ruhi Maker.

Redlining and Neighborhood Health

Ruhi Maker, Senior Attorney, joined National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) members to discuss the new NCRC report on Redlining, Public Health, and COVID-19 vulnerability in a webinar panel, Redlining and Neighborhood Health, on October 20 (the recording of the session is available at the link above). This one and a half hour webinar discusses NCRC’s new report, major findings, and how redlining plays out at the local level in Rochester and Baltimore.

The webinar is a great follow up to Ruhi and Policy Analyst Barb Van Kerkhove’s article last month, COVID-19 Disparities In Rochester, NY: The Legacy Of Redlining In The City Of Frederick Douglass And Susan B. Anthony, so make sure to check it out!


ROC Your Family’s Future

We’re extremely proud to announce a grant of over $425,000 in federal funding from the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) for our ROC Your Family's Future - EITC and ACEs Outreach & Education Project, which will help at-risk and low-income children and families in the Greater Rochester Area.

The ROC Your Family’s Future Project will help promote greater economic security and household stability for children disproportionately at risk for adverse childhood experiences (ACEs), and help eligible low-income households access the EITC, resulting in greater financial stability for families – especially needed in light of the added financial and household stress brought on by the pandemic. We thank Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand for their leadership in securing this important funding.


Outstanding Service Award

And finally, congratulations to our Albany Attorney Emeritus, Nancy Spiegel, who received an Outstanding Service Award from the New York State Bar Association and the New York State Unified Court System for her over 170 hours of work with our office in public benefits cases such as Anderson v. Roberts and Leggio V. Devine. Thank you, Nancy!


Long Island Immigration Legal Help Line

Our Long Island Immigration Legal Help Line is available every Tuesday from 2:00-4:00 pm, at 631-533-2238 to speak to an immigration attorney from Empire Justice Center who will answer your questions on your legal rights. Or email us at EJCimmigrationhotline@gmail.com to make an appointment. ¡Se habla Español!

Unemployment and Paid Leave Legal Help Line

Our Unemployment and Paid Leave Legal Help Line is available every day from 9:00am-5:00pm, at 800-724-0490 ext. 5827. If you have questions about unemployment or paid leave, you can call the help line and attorneys will provide legal advice and counsel regarding unemployment benefits, paid leave, and job protections.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), a separate program from regular unemployment assistance, is set to run out on December 31, so if you have questions about it make sure to call our Unemployment and Paid Leave Legal Help Line soon!


Thank You For Reading

If you’d like to keep up with our policy work, follow us on Twitter and Facebook, or visit the Policy Central page on our website.

You can find all of our COVID-19 free legal resources on our website, and if you need help, you can find contact information for each of our offices here. We wish you all a safe, socially distant Thanksgiving!


The Empire Justice Policy Team

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