Law Services News - Spring 2020
NASSAU SUFFOLK LAW SERVICES COMMITTEE, INC.
Civil Unit Preserves Housing
John Batanchiev, Staff Attorney in the Hempstead Civil Unit recently assisted a family restore their Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8) benefits and obtained a discontinuance of a nonpayment summary proceeding against the family.
In March 2019, Ms. J received a Section 8 intent to terminate notice from the Town of Hempstead Department of Urban Renewal for failing to recertify. Ms. J requested an informal hearing challenging the termination, but Urban Renewal did not schedule one. Instead, Urban Renewal notified Ms. J that her Section 8 voucher would be terminated claiming she had failed to request an informal hearing in a timely manner. This notice prompted Ms. J to contact Nassau Suffolk Law Services.
To make matters worse, Ms. J received a notice from her landlord that she was behind on her rent. After investigating the issue, Batanchiev determined that the vast majority of the rent arrears, approximately $16,000, was Section 8’s portion of the rent going back months before the original termination notice.
Batanchiev wrote to Urban Renewal challenging the Section 8 termination on the grounds that Ms. J made her request for an informal hearing in a timely manner. Batanchiev high-lighted that Urban Renewal failed to comply with its own administrative plan, which allows Section 8 participants to request an informal hearing within 10 business days of receipt of the notification of termination, not from the issuance of the notification. The letter also made Urban Renewal aware that its failure to continue to pay the rental subsidies until an in-formal hearing decision was unlawful. It further requested that the rental subsidies be rein-stated until an informal hearing decision and demanded that the rental subsidy arrears be paid to Ms. J’s landlord. By failing to make these payments, Urban Renewal was violating Ms. J’s procedural due process as well as HUD regulations.
When Urban Renewal still refused to schedule an informal hearing, Batanchiev wrote to the HUD representative overseeing Urban Renewal. The letter alerted HUD to the procedural due process violations and requested intervention directing Urban Renewal to issue the rental subsidies and arrears to Ms. J’s landlord.
At the same time, Ms. J’s landlord served her with a non-payment summary proceeding petition alleging non-payment of both Ms. J and Urban Renewal’s portion of the rent. Ba-tanchiev contacted the landlord’s attorney to make them aware that he was waiting on a decision from HUD on Ms. J’s termination, that Ur-ban Renewal was responsible to continue the rental subsidies to the landlord, and that Ms. J was only responsible for her portion of the rent and not Urban Renewal’s rental subsidies.
Fortunately, Urban Renewal finally reinstated Ms. J’s Section 8 voucher and resumed paying rental subsidies and arrears to the landlord. The non-payment summary proceeding was ultimately discontinued once Urban Renewal’s portion was paid to the landlord.
The Rap on RAP Sheets
Criminal records may make it difficult or impossible for people to find employment. Criminal records are reported in a person’s “RAP sheet,” short for “Report of Arrest and Prosecution.” So, reviewing a RAP sheet and correcting any errors is an important step in helping a client find work or advance professionally. Breaking Barriers, a collaboration between the NSLS Re-Entry Pro-ject, the Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County, and Touro Law School, helps clients retrieve, review and correct RAP sheets.
An “unsuppressed” version of the RAP sheet includes all violations or criminal charges made against a person after age 16. Employers generally only have access to “suppressed” versions of the RAP sheet. The suppressed version excludes sealed items. However, approximately 30% of New York RAP sheets include at least one mistake. This can include improperly reporting dismissed or sealed charges.
New Yorkers who receive public benefits, including SNAP, SSI or Medicaid, or meet federal poverty guidelines are eligible for free copies of unsuppressed RAP sheets. Those who do not qualify may order their RAP sheets from a state sponsored vendor such as Identogo.
Breaking Barriers also helps Long Islanders with criminal histories overcome obstacles to employment through Certificates of Good Conduct and Certificates of Relief from Disabilities. While New York does not allow expungement of a criminal record (with limited exceptions for marijuana convictions), these certificates allow people with dated criminal histories obtain educational degrees or professional licenses. New York has over 100 educational licenses, including everything from barbers and commercial drivers to x-ray technicians and real estate agents. A Certificate may also be necessary to qualify for a civil servant position.
A Certificate of Relief from Disabilities allows a person with no more than ONE felony conviction or an unlimited number of misdemeanor convictions to obtain a New York educational license, as long as they were not sentenced to “upstate” prison time. The client must file a one-page application for the certificate in each court of conviction. Once filed, the probation department from that jurisdiction will contact the client for an interview. The decision to issue the certificate is ultimately in the discretion of the court of conviction.
Clients with more serious criminal histories and those applying for positions in public office (including NYC police or firefighters) need to apply for a Certificate of Good Conduct. The application and review process for this certificate is considerably more involved. It includes a longer ap-plication, a homestudy, and an evaluation of employment, cohabitation and residential history. Any omissions in the application may result in new criminal charges. There is also a waiting period of three to five years from the most recent conviction.
Contact the NSLS Re-Entry Project or Breaking Barriers for more information or assistance! Breaking Barriers website is
NY AG Roots Out Income Discrimination
The New York Attorney General’s office has launched a new complaint form to identify housing discrimination based on source of legal in-come. The online complaint portal is available at
In April 2019, the New York Human Rights Law was amended to make lawful source of income discrimination illegal across New York State. The law applies to anyone attempting to rent or sell a housing unit, including owners, brokers, realtors, co-op boards and condo associations. The only exceptions to the rules are (1) one- or two-family owner-occupied homes; (2) room rentals in properties such as college dormitories where all residents are of the same sex; and (3) housing intended for seniors. Not only does the law prohibit refusing to rent based on a prospective tenant’s lawful income, but also housing ads that discourage applicants who receive housing vouchers or providing different terms, privileges or facilities to residents based on source of income.
Nevertheless, according to Attorney General Letitia James “landlords, rental agents, and brokers continue to post ads specifying that they will not accept vouchers or housing assistance – an act that is blatantly unlawful and discriminatory.” Landlords often target those whose income comes from sources other than employment, including public assistance, Section 8 vouchers, child sup-port, or social security benefits. The Attorney General’s office designed the new portal to help it hold these bad actors accountable.
LEGAL SUPPORT CENTER FOR ADVOCATES: FAQ’S
Advocate’s Question: My client and I are having a hard time getting documents the Department of Social Services (DSS) is requesting. I’m afraid his case may be closed for failure to submit documents. What can we do?
LSCA’s Answer: Community advocates who call the Legal Support Center are often caught up in the long and arduous process of documenting a public assistance application for a client. Applicants and recipients of public assistance are required to provide extensive paperwork to prove eligibility factors such as address or citizenship. But, each factor may be documented in a number of ways. DSS should provide the client with the DSS Documentation Requirement Guide, which lists alternate documents that are acceptable proof of each eligibility factor. The DSS worker must inform a client who is having trouble getting a particular document of alternate documents that can be used instead. It is important that an applicant tell the worker in writing that he or she is experiencing difficulty in getting a particular document and request suggestions for an alternate document that would be acceptable.
Administrative Directive 93 ADM-20 provides legal authority explaining DSS’s obligations. The ADM informs the local DSS that they must use the mandated Documentation Requirement Guide for substitute documents where verification is difficult for the client. It also reminds workers that benefits may not be terminated nor a case denied for failure to provide a specific item of documentation (e.g. birth certificate) as long as the eligibility factor in question is established. For example, “an application may be denied if the applicant is unwilling to provide sufficient proof of identity, age, citizenship, etc., but not for failure to provide a birth certificate or other specific item of documentation” 93 ADM-20. Applicants can also request additional time to gather documents especially when they are experiencing delay or difficulties. 18 NYCRR 351.8b For an ongoing recipient of public assistance who is recertifying and having problems, the recipient may request an extension if he establishes good cause for the delay. 18 NYCRR351.26. It is strongly suggested that requests for extensions be made in writing and that you keep a copy for the client’s records.
If an advocate or client has done their best to gather the documents, but is still having problems, they should request in writing that the DSS worker assist the client. The state regulation, 18 NYCRR Section 351.5, requires DSS to assist in this process when necessary (“collateral assistance”). This help can be in the form of payment for fees (e.g. bank statements), communicating with an uncooperative third party (landlord, relative, etc.), or contacting another agency on the applicant’s behalf to secure a document (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, Social Security, Bureau of Vital Statistics).
In summary, the worker should inform the individual of the substitute documents that would be acceptable or assist in obtaining the information if informed that it would be difficult or impossible for the applicant on his own to obtain the information in a timely manner. If a client has written proof that he asked for help in the documentation process and his application is denied for failure to verify or document, he is likely to have a strong case at a fair hearing. Documents can even be brought in as late as the fair hearing itself and must be accepted at that time, although it is obviously more advantageous to provide documents on a timely basis.
The most important goal is to keep the application active. Avoid stopping and restarting the already complicated and protracted application process. Alert the worker to documentation difficulties and hopefully such assistance will help to move things along. If not, remember to request a fair hearing and call Nassau Suffolk Law Services for assistance!
Please remember to call the Legal Support Center for Advocates for questions like this or any other of your legal questions at 631 232-2400 ext. 3309 or 3324. The Legal Support Center for Advocates is a service for Long Island’s “helping” community.
Wage Garnishment Protections
As of January 2020, the minimum wage on Long Island is $13 per hour. With this in-crease, the amount of disposable income exempt from garnishment to pay a private debt is now $390 per week. “Disposable income” means income after deductions required by law, such as taxes or Social Security. Other non-mandatory payroll deductions such as health insurance premiums still count towards disposable income.
This means that clients with employment in-comes less than $390 per week are exempt from private debt collection. (30 hours x $13 (minimum wage) = $390 a week (after taxes). CPLR §5231. The frozen bank account exemption increased to $3,120 (240 x $13). CPLR 5222 (i).
For those with higher incomes, the limits on garnishment are as follows: The lesser of (1) 10% of gross income or (2) 25% of disposable income. However, disposable income cannot be reduced to less than $390 per week.
In addition, many types of income, including disability income and child support, remain exempt. Check LawHelpNY.org for more information about limits on debt collection.
Public Charge Rules Take Effect
“Public charge” is an immigration concept that refers to people who are not eligible to become U.S. permanent residents because they are considered likely to become dependent on public benefits.
In 2019, the definition of “public charge” was expanded to include recipients of non-cash assistance such as SNAP and federally-funded Medicaid. The new rules were subject to nationwide--injunction until January 2020. After the U.S. Supreme Court lifted the injunctions, the revised Public Charge rules went into effect for immigration applications and petitions postmarked after February 24, 2020.
The new rules DO NOT apply to:
Anyone applying for naturalization
Anyone with a Green Card (unless they are traveling outside of the U.S. for more than 180 days or if they have a criminal conviction)
Refugees and asylees
Special Immigrant Juveniles (SIJ)
VAWA, U, and T Visa applicants
Protecting Immigrant Families has a number of resources for clients who are concerned about whether the new rules apply to them.
PRO BONO ATTORNEYS OF THE MONTH
The Suffolk Pro Bono Project and Nassau’s Volunteer Lawyers Project work in cooperation with our local bar associations toward the goal of providing free legal assistance to Long Island residents who are dealing with severe economic hardship.
If you would like to volunteer, please contact:
Carolyn McQuade, Esq. at 631 232-2400,
Susan Biller, Esq. at 516 292-8299, or
Roberta Scoll, Esq. 516 292-8100
(Landlord/tenant Attorney of the Day Project).
Read more about our other Pro Bono Champions on our website.
Pro Bono Bankruptcy Help
The Volunteer Lawyers Project and the Pro Bono Project sponsor bimonthly bankruptcy clinics for income-eligible clients to evaluate their prospective bankruptcy claims. Experienced pro bono attorneys will interview applicants. If they determine the case is appropriate, a pro bono attorney will be assigned to represent eligible clients without a fee in their bankruptcy petition.
Please call our offices at (631) 232-2400 (Suffolk) and (516) 292-8100 (Nassau) for more information.
Funds Available to Prevent Homelessness
Haven House/Bridges Homelessness Prevention Program helps people avoid eviction and retain or obtain permanent housing. The program also provide supportive services to people who are experiencing homelessness.
The program offers people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness with financial and rental assistance related to maintaining permanent housing such as moving or storage fees, rental or utility arrears, security deposits, rent and utility payments. For more information please con-tact HHB’s Homelessness Prevention Program at 631 231-3619.
Do your clients need extra help keeping warm?
Project Warmth is a non-governmental emergency fuel fund. It provides one-time grants for fuel or electricity used for heat. Assistance comes through direct payments to oil and utility companies. Project Warmth grants can be used to get an oil delivery or to cover arrears.
Eligibility criteria include:
Residency in Nassau County, Suffolk County or the Rockaway area in Queens.
Heating or fuel-related electric bill in applicant’s name and residential address.
Terminated or severely overdue account, or the applicant must be unable to afford a re-fill when a fuel tank is near empty (1/4 tank or less).
Demonstrate financial hardship and provide an acceptable explanation for arrears.
Assistance available only once each program year. Clients who received assistance in a previous year may be ineligible.
HEAP eligible clients must apply to Emergency HEAP before Project Warmth.
To apply call 211 or 888-774-7633, 7 days a week, between 9:00am to 5:00pm.
Additional energy assistance is available from PSEG Long Island’s Household Assistance Program (HAP). Contact to learn about monthly electricity savings for recipients of SNAP, SSI, Medicaid or HEAP.
National Grid customers with low incomes should call (800) 930-5003 for information about monthly bill credits from their Energy Affordability Program (EAP).
LAW SERVICES UPDATES
LAW SERVICES IN OUR COMMUNITY
NSLS continues its strong ties within the community in an effort to collaborate with various agencies and ensure that low income Long Is-landers receive the services they so desperately need. If you happen to see any of our NSLS staff at a community event, please stop by to introduce yourself and say hello. We’d love to meet you, and as always we thank you for your support!
NSLS Co-sponsors Youth Homelessness Roundtable
On January 16, 2020, state lawmakers met with local advocates to discuss how Long Is-land’s affordable housing and homelessness crisis impact children, youth and their families. The round table was organized by New York State Senator Velmanette Montgomery, the chair of the New York State Senate Committee on Children and Families, and Nassau Suffolk Law Services. Sheila A. Johnson, J.D., NSLS Director of Development and Government Affairs was the lead community organizer for the event.
The participants, including representatives from 27 not-for-profit organizations, shared their perspectives on these crises. They talked about the need for expanded access to affordable housing, and how unstable housing jeopardizes young people’s access to education and mental health services. It also impacts their ability to work. Other groups impacted by these crises are seniors, veterans and people with disabilities.
Mike Wigutow, Esq. and Eva Jimenez, L.W.S.W., represented NSLS on the panel. Special thanks to Jake Ivry and Jeffrey Kim-mel, Esq., Advisory Council members for their support of the event. We also thank community volunteers Marvin Smith and Jackie Bur-bridge for staffing the event, and the staff of Farmingdale State College for their hospitality and assistance executing the event.
LAW SERVICEs' happenings
Staff Attorneys Sharon Campo, Carly Sommers, and Allison Noonan attended the Consumer Rights Litigation Conference in Boston, MA.
Nancy Green, Director of Office Administration and Information Technology and Aurora Hurtado, paralegal attended the LSC Innovations in Technology Conference. The conference brought together the legal and technology communities to learn about technology products and tools to improve access to justice and delivery of services.
2020 SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE
Our May 15, 2020 Benefits Basics has been cancelled due to the Emergency Health Crisis.
Going forward we will be hosting FREE webinars for the Landlord Tenant Amendments, One Year In Training to be held on June 19, 2020 and our Family Law Basics on July 24, 2020. To register for these webinars, please email Cathy Lucidi at firstname.lastname@example.org.
MANY NEW WAYS TO SUPPORT THE WORK WE DO
Please consider purchasing a digital vase of flowers for $100. Each digital 8 x 10 print of the vase of flowers will include your name, your firm/business/agency name and a special note you desire.
This is also a great way to acknowledge your favorite NSLS Unit/Employee.
The digital prints will be hung in the waiting rooms of all 3 NSLS offices from March through May. Help us to continue to “Do What’s Legally Possible to Create a Just World”!
Please make checks made payable to Nassau Suffolk Law Services. Click here to donate!
Amazon Smiles—please consider picking Nassau Suffolk Law Services as your charity when shopping on Amazon Smile. A portion of the proceeds will be donated to Law Services (at no extra cost to you).
Recurring Donations –Why not donate all year long? You pick the amount and the frequency, and you set up the recurring donations online . No amount is too small.
Message From the Executive Director
Funding Update: I am pleased to report that, despite renewed threats to eliminate civil legal services from the federal budget, on December 20, 2019, federal appropriations legislation including $440 million of funding for the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) was enacted. This represents an increase of $25 million over LSC’s appropriation of $415 million last year. It is the largest appropriation in actual dollars in LSC’s history. The majority of the increase—$22.2 million—is allocated for Basic Field Grants to fund the direct delivery of legal assistance to indigent Americans. NSLS is scheduled to receive just over $1.5 million of this LSC funding in 2020. This funding supports a Long Island “poverty population” of over 177,000 based on the national federal poverty guidelines as well as a population of over a million Long Islanders who do not meet the federal definition of poverty, but whose income does not cover basic necessities in our high cost of living community. The remainder of NSLS’s budget continues to come from the NYS Office of Court Administration, the NYS Interest on Lawyer Account Fund, the NYS Department of Health, the NYS Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance and Nassau and Suffolk Counties as well as private grants and contributions from our generous supporters. While LSC funding is secure for 2020, NSLS remains committed to continuing to diversify its funding and working with the Nassau and Suffolk County Access to Justice Committees to ensure that all Long Island families have access to justice.