As we wait to see what life on the other side of the fiscal cliff will look like for our nation and the world, it strikes me that low-income New Yorkers already know all about fiscal cliffs – they live on the edge of one every day. If you are poor, or near-poor, there is no safety net to catch you, no savings account or network of friends and family with the means to keep you from falling over the edge.

Nothing has brought this into sharper focus than Hurricane Sandy. We are already seeing how this disaster, like so many others both natural and man-made, is most devastating for the poorest among us. As of today, NYLAG has helped 2,500 storm victims deal with their immediate civil legal issues. And we proudly begin 2013 by launching a vastly expanded Storm Response initiative to address the long-term legal challenges that would otherwise be the tipping point for these vulnerable New Yorkers.

NYLAG’s Storm Response Unit – a dedicated team of 27 attorneys, paralegals and financial counselors, supported by a cadre of pro bono lawyers – will focus on two pressing issues: shelter and economic stability. People are still living in the dark without heat, some with mold spreading to their living spaces, creating landlord-tenant disputes over habitability and repairs. Lenders are now demanding to inspect the properties of homeowners, who were already facing foreclosure prior to the storm, before moving forward with loan modifications and settlements – a stalling tactic that is in direct violation of orders from the Attorney General. Numerous clients are struggling with convoluted benefit applications and insurance claim processes, while a growing number need help appealing wrongful denials. Others who have lost a home or a job need financial counseling to learn how to deal with debt, get credit and benefits, and recover lost documents.

There is no doubt that Sandy has created a treacherous new cliff for low-income New Yorkers to traverse. But it really only amplified a vulnerability that was always there. A lost job, a debilitating illness, or any number of personal disasters can easily become their own Sandy. No matter what happens in Washington, for these people the fiscal cliff is ever-present.

Blog Post by Yisroel Schulman
President & Attorney-in-Charge