Albany — Michele Bulson of Troy was trapped in an abusive marriage and wanted to get out, but the disabled 37-year-old lives on a fixed income and couldn’t afford a lawyer.

Last year, thanks to help from The Legal Project, an Albany-area nonprofit group providing legal services for the poor, she was able to navigate divorce and domestic violence proceedings and finally move on.

“I can honestly say that without the program I would still be married,” she said. “They went to court with me whenever I needed it. They supported me in everything.”

Gov. Eliot Spitzer has proposed spending $36 million on legal services for the poor in his $120.6 billion budget. That’s up $9 million from the current year’s budget, budget division spokesman Jeffrey Gordon said. The money comes from a variety of sources, including for the first time general fund money raised through taxes, advocates said.

Still, legal advocates say more needs to be done.

“If you’re living in poverty, your life intersects with the law in so many ways,” said Anne Erickson, chief executive of the nonprofit Empire Justice Center. “You may have rights and protections, but no way to assert them if you don’t have an attorney. You’re often up against the government, a well-funded landlord or an employer.”

The center’s clients often run into legal issues involving the denial of Social Security benefits, government assistance or health care, evictions, and child custody, among other things, she said.

New York State Bar Association President Mark Alcott said that while the funding provided by Spitzer marks “historic progress,” the state will still trail many others in such funding.

“There are many states that provide far more than New York does,” he said, noting an estimated 80 percent of the legal needs of the poor go unmet nationwide each year. “New York should be a leader in this area.”

On a per-poor-person basis, the state has provided only about $2.54 in civil legal funding annually from its general fund, compared with $23.44 in New Jersey, $16.50 in Massachusetts and $32.33 per person in Minnesota, according to statistics compiled by the American Bar Association.

Seven states provide no general-fund appropriations for such services.The $36 million proposed by Spitzer includes federal money and money earned from interest on attorney trust accounts, amounts that can vary from year to year. Only $4.6 million comes from the general fund.

Erickson and other legal service groups say boosting the state’s general obligation funding to $50 million annually would provide $18.50 in legal service funding per poor person in New York.

E.J. McMahon of the Empire Center for Public Policy, a group that tracks state spending, pointed to Spitzer’s inclusion of the money in his spending plan as reason why the governor should not allow lawmakers to add hundreds of millions of dollars in spending to the budget this year as they have in the past.

“I think there are a number of ways the budget makes concessions to the Legislature,” McMahon sad. “A lot of old fights that have gone by the wayside here. For all the public combativeness in his relationship with the Legislature, the budget is very Assembly friendly.”

Read article here

You may also like

Policy analyst: Cuomo wrong to write-off nursing home criticism as political conspiracy

“The importance of discussing this and getting the true facts out is to understand what did and didn’t happen so we can learn from it in case this happens again,” Hammond said. Read More

EDITORIAL: Nursing home report requires a second opinion

No doubt, the Health Department and the governor would like this report to be the final word on the subject. But if it’s all the same with them, we’d still like a truly independent review. Read More

NY Health Department Asserts Cuomo Order ‘Could Not Be the Driver’ of Nursing-Home Deaths in the State

The New York State Department of Health has concluded that an executive order requiring nursing homes to readmit coronavirus patients, issued by Governor Andrew Cuomo, was not the driving factor behind coronavirus deaths in the state’s nursing homes. Read More

Independence of New York’s nursing home report faces scrutiny

When New York released a study absolving the state as well as nursing homes and other health care facilities of blame for the more than 6,000 COVID-related nursing home deaths, health care industry leaders quickly confirmed the state’s findings in statements issued by the administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Read More

Health insurers ask for average 11.5% premium increase amid COVID-19 uncertainty

Health insurance companies regulated by the state are waiting to hear back about their requests for 2021 rate changes for premium holders. The companies, like nearly every other industry, face many uncertainties due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and their requests vary widely. Read More

Hammond: We Need To Learn What Happened In Nursing Homes

Why did more than 6,000 nursing home residents die in New York during the height of the coronavirus pandemic? Read More

NY’s ‘cash out’ policy has survived a lot. Can it outlast the pandemic?

With the pandemic damaging the economy, fiscal experts question whether New York will continue to sustain a generous policy that lets police, teachers and other public employees cash in unused vacation, sick and other paid days off when they leave a job — or whether the system has become so ingrained in politics that it’s considered off limits no matter what. Read More

Lawsuit may hold MTA in violation of Freedom of Information Law over payroll disclosure

The Empire Center for Public Policy plans to take the Metropolitan Transportation Authority to court for allegedly violating the Freedom of Information Act for failure hand over payroll records of MTA cops to the government transparency group. Read More


Sign up to receive updates about Empire Center research, news and events in your email.


Empire Center for Public Policy
30 South Pearl St.
Suite 1210
Albany, NY 12207

Phone: 518-434-3100
Fax: 518-434-3130


The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.