City's Federal Courts Brace for Full Force of Shutdown
If the shutdown drags on after Friday, the nation's federal courts will run out of money. But they must stay open. So the U.S. District Court in Manhattan is dusting off an emergency plan it prepared in the event of a pandemic.
Edward Friedland, district executive for the U.S. District Court of the Southern District, said hundreds of judiciary branch employees would get their last paycheck on Feb. 8. These include law clerks, probation officers, IT staffers and even the AV staff who make courtroom presentations. "Everybody," he said.
There's one exception: judges. The Constitution .
Friedland predicts some court employees will stay home if they can't pay for childcare or need to find other work. U.S. Attorneys and staffers from the U.S. Marshals and Bureau of Prisons who also work in the courts have been going without pay since December if they're considered essential. The same is true for the other U.S. court in Brooklyn, the Eastern District.
The partial shutdown has already resulted in a slowdown in the courts, said Friedland. Most civil cases that require U.S. government attorneys (such as someone suing for their Social Security payments) don't have to proceed as scheduled, in order to conserve resources. And because of limited staffing, first court appearances for a defendant in custody have been stopping at 2:45 p.m. and are not held on Saturdays and Sundays. There have also been complaints that staffing shortages exacerbated by the shutdown have made it .
Government workers can expect to get the money they're owed whenever the shutdown is over. But there's another category of court workers: contractors. Friedland said these include court interpreters, building engineers, maintenance workers and security guards. "There will be an understanding that they will be paid eventually," he said. But not until there's a new appropriation, making that the equivalent of an IOU.
Friedland expects the budget for contractors to run out by March. And that's a huge problem. "We can't occupy a building without fire safety directors and building engineers," he said, referring to the contractors who might not feel an obligation to work.
In that worst case scenario, he said, the courts can keep running even if the Southern District's buildings at Foley Square and the one in White Plains are all closed.
"We have an old plan that we'll dust off that was put in place many years ago with the bird flu," he said. That pandemic, thankfully, never happened. But if the courts can't open, they can still conduct important business as they would in a pandemic.
"Judges would stay home, court staff would stay home, attorneys would stay home," Friedland said. "But when somebody's arrested they need to be seen for a bail hearing in a certain amount of time."
The backup plan: hearings by video. Friedland said this system is tested annually, but will get a thorough workout this week. Prosecutors and marshals accompanying defendants to hearings would all participate with a camera link, as well as the judges, lawyers and prosecutors.
If the buildings do remain open, there might also be an impact on jurors, because they'll have to wait for payment until after an appropriation is passed. Friedland said this could deter some people from wanting to serve if they need the cash immediately after a trial. Jurors make $50 a day, or $65 a day if they're serving on a grand jury that lasts more than 45 days.
The district executive for the Eastern District, in Brooklyn, would not comment on security plans.
Public defenders aren't exactly government workers but they depend on the Judiciary for their funding. That would stop after Jan. 25, though David Patton, Executive Director of Federal Defenders of New York, said some grants may last a bit longer.
"We're only surviving by stretching every penny," he said, adding that payments to outside vendors and case experts have been delayed.
Private attorneys who represent indigent clients have already gone without pay since December, because they're funded through the Criminal Justice Act. Likewise, Patton said the investigators and experts they hire have also taken a hit.
And any impact on the defense bar could have repercussions.
"Any motion or application that comes before a judge that they're not able to provide an adequate defense is something a judge would have to consider," said Friedland.
Trump Benefits Proposal Could Deter Immigrants Facing HIV
A proposal under consideration by the Trump administration is already making New York City immigrants living with HIV reluctant to continue or seek treatment, according to service providers.
In a 447-page .” An individual is currently considered to be a public charge if they are likely to rely on cash-based benefits assistance like Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).
But under the proposal, immigration caseworkers can deny applications from those who have used non-cash benefits such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), also known as food stamps, housing vouchers and Medicaid.
Mayor Bill de Blasio’s office estimates low and middle-income immigrants would be unable to change their immigration status in the future as a result of the public charge rule’s stricter weighing of factors such as education, income, age or health, despite their current non-use of public benefits.
Immigrants seeking a green card and relying on Medicaid for HIV treatment may have to choose to forgo care. Jonathan Ross, M.D., attending physician at Montefiore Medical Group, worries that the effects of the proposal might result in less coverage. “For someone who is living with HIV or is at risk of HIV,” said Ross, “they might decide that getting health insurance would be detrimental to their immigration future and decide not to get insurance and not to get tested for HIV.”
According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, Medicaid is the largest source of coverage for those with HIV and helped curb the HIV epidemic nationwide. If the expected changes become official, noncitizens living with HIV could be forced to miss out on drug therapies, physician services, and access to PrEP and HIV testing.
The city's of foreign-born individuals newly diagnosed with HIV dropped from 993 in 2013 to 688 in 2016. But in 2017, the number of new diagnoses slightly increased to 710.
There are no estimates on how many noncitizens with HIV would be directly impacted by the new rule, or how the proposed changes will affect the decline of HIV infections in New York City. But service providers like Jose Abrigo, senior staff attorney at Queens Legal Services, are seeing the impact first hand.
“My first gut reaction was this is going to create a public health crisis,” said Abrigo. “It would preclude so many people from preventative care, which is one of the key elements to public health and keeping people healthy – and especially for people with HIV.”
Abrigo mainly works with asylum seekers living with HIV, who are exempted from the public charge rule, but rumors have led some of his clients to consider dropping their Medicaid benefits. Those clients tell Abrigo that some of their friends have terminated all sources of treatment. This is what he calls the “chilling effect.”
He says he constantly needs to reassure asylees that they are protected from the proposed changes. “I can’t even imagine how many other people who are asylees or refugees are just getting off of public benefits,” said Abrigo, “because they hear about these rumors going around.”
Karla Alvarez, executive director of Mixteca Organization, a community-based organization, says those rumors trickled down to their location in Sunset Park, Brooklyn. Since the of the proposal in March, Alvarez said community members have withdrawn from services and are refusing to apply for benefits, fearing a misuse of their information. “They’re afraid to get close to a hospital,” she said. “They don’t know how to navigate this system.”
The uncertainty is reflected at NYU Langone in Sunset Park, where the rumors about changes to the public charge rule come on top of months of anxiety about more aggressive immigration enforcement. Larry McReynolds, executive director of family health centers for the hospital, saw an uptick in clients skipping out on treatment as a result of last year’s spike in ICE raids.
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The changes to the public charge rule could be felt beyond federal programs like Medicaid. McReynolds notes that the state’s subsidized AIDS Drug Assistance Program (ADAP) program keeps a record of individuals receiving aid. The public charge proposal does not explicitly cover ADAP but, in theory, McReynolds suggests any record of public subsidy gives noncitizens greater incentive to cease treatment.
“People will not get tested for HIV,” said McReynolds, “and then we’re back to the scenario where we were 10, 15 years ago where people don’t know their status and then they continue to spread HIV infection.”
For organizations working to reduce and treat HIV in the immigrant population, the public charge rule complicates an already difficult landscape in reaching out to vulnerable communities engaging in risky sexual behavior.
Mixteca saw fewer than five cases tested positive for HIV last year, but Alvarez is aware of risky behavior in Sunset Park among men who have sex with men who may not identify as gay. Attempts to conduct outreach to this population have proven to be tricky. “To reach them is very complex and not something that would be easy to do,” said Alvarez. “Reaching that particular target population, because of the cultural sensitivities involved, is a very different way of operating.”
Indeed, studies have shown HIV-related stigma among Latino immigrant men who have sex with men. also cites poverty, increased incarceration, language barriers and mental health vulnerabilities as circumstances for a high risk of infection among Hispanic and Latino men who have sex with men.
Other vulnerable populations could also face a challenge if the proposed changes go into effect. Liaam Winslet, operations officer of the TRANSgrediendo Intercultural Collective, has seen her transgender immigrant clients step away from services. “We’ve seen a lot of colleagues who don’t go to medical appointments or are not seeking treatment,” said Winslet, “because of the fear that is generated by the political climate.”
The collective is based in Jackson Heights, Queens, where they serve immigrants from Central and South America. In 2017, the borough’s of new HIV diagnoses were from those born in Mexico, Central and South America.
In its not accessing care due to financial struggles, discrimination and stigma.
Winslet explains the transgender community already faces difficulties in seeking employment and shelter, especially among noncitizens, which has pushed some of her clients to sex work. Due to engaging in risky sexual behavior, sex workers have a of getting and transmitting HIV. That is why every Monday night, the TRANSgrediendo Intercultural Collective goes to clubs and bars in Jackson Heights to promote health and legal services to transgender sex workers in the area.
“The problem is if you’re an immigrant, Latino, Latina, Latinx,” said Winslet, “it’s hard to access health care that will allow, especially in the trans community, to find an adequate antiretroviral medication.”
Facilitating access to health care is one of the ways Governor Andrew Cuomo plans to reduce the number of new HIV infections to 750 by the end of 2020. But Ross is concerned people will stop taking their medication out of fear of being labeled a public charge. “That can be detrimental,” he said, “not only to their personal health but to the community at large.”
On Dec. 10, the public comment period for the proposal in the Federal Register was closed and received more than 219,000 comments. A final rule has yet to be determined by DHS, but if approved, it would take effect 60 days after its publication.
In the meantime, folks like Abrigo are relying on education to rid clients of fear. “Stay healthy, stay on medication,” he repeats to his clients, “and do the best that you can.”
This Week in Politics: A Reality Check on the States of the States
New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo both gave their State of the State addresses this week. And the two Democrats served up plenty of optimism for the year ahead.
But there was also no avoiding the political realities of 2019.
We look beyond the speeches with New York Times editorial board member, to talk about which proposals will become law, and which will remain legislative fantasy.
While Cuomo used his speech to portray unity against a federal government assaulting New York values, Murphy spent part of his speech launching a surprise sideways attack on the second most powerful Democrat in the state: Senate President Steve Sweeney. Democrats in New York may be ready to unleash a torrent of progressive legislation, but Democrats in New Jersey appear to be preoccupied with sharpening knives.
In Its Third Week, the State Legislature to Tackle Abortion Rights
New York lawmakers are poised to expand abortion rights in the state this week — a long-held goal of Democrats made possible by their recent takeover of the State Senate.
Despite New York legalizing abortion three years before the Roe v. Wade decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, the state has deferred to the 1973 landmark ruling, which is more lenient than the its own law. The proposed Reproductive Health Act on the table next week would make New York's statute conform to federal standards, in case the Supreme Court ever overturned Roe.
Among other things, the legislation would take abortion out of the state's criminal code and permit third-term abortions if a woman's health was in jeopardy or if the fetus wasn't viable. Andrea Miller, from the National Institute for Reproductive Health, says the current law is unfairly restrictive.
“As a result, women and families are having to travel very late in pregnancy to other states in order to get this care,” Miller said. “And some are not able to get it at all.”
The GOP controlled the State Senate for most of the last half-century, so Republicans were always able to block the bill. But since winning senate control in November, Democrats have declared passing the dozen-year-old legislative package to be a top priority.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo has also called on the legislature to enshrine Roe v. Wade in the state constitution — a step that would ultimately need voter approval through a ballot referendum.
In a joint statement, Cardinal Timothy Dolan and the bishops of New York protested the Reproductive Health Act. "With an abortion rate that is already double the national average," they wrote, "New York law is moving in the wrong direction."