Legal Aid Clients Benefit From Two Major Hard-Fought Legislative Victories Signed Into Law By Governor Paterson

Governor David Paterson signed into law two major pieces of legislation that benefit Legal Aid clients who are abused, sexually exploited children and disabled individuals and senior citizens. The Safe Harbor Act and Exempt Income Protection Bill were signed into law.

The Safe Harbor Act provides that children arrested for prostitution will be presumed to be victims of sexual trafficking and given protection and social services. Katherine (Cait) Mullen, a staff attorney in the Brooklyn office of the Juvenile Rights Practice, is one of the champions of the legislation and a leader in the fight for rigfhts for sexually exploited children. Cait has been working with legislators, related organizations and others to secure these protections. Under the law, children will be placed under State supervision and sent to safe houses to receive medical care and counseling. Long term housing will be provided by non profit organizations that specialize in working with sexually exploited children.

The Exempt Income Protection Bill will relieve low income New Yorkers of the unfair burden of having exempt income restrained and effectively adopts a floor of $2,500 below which an account getting direct deposit Social Security or other government benefits cannot be restrained. This law will protect senior citizens, disabled individuals and veterans from unlawful practices by debt collectors. April Newbauer, Attorney-in-Charge of our Queens Neighborhood Office, and Susan Shin, a staff attorney in the office, were instrumental in the effort to get the bill passed. Many of their clients are low-income senior citizens and disabled individuals who barely get by on Social Security and SSI, disability benefits and pensions. These low-income New Yorkers live on a fixed income which is barely enough to make ends meet are now protected from losing the funds they need to sustain their basic needs for rent, food and medicine. The new law also protects any bank account by preventing garnishment of the first $1700, a provision designed to protect the working poor. New York already exempts the first 90 percent of wages deposited over a 60 day pierod, but this law is designed to make that exemption self actuating at the minimum wage level.