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Public Testimony – 2021 Westchester County Budget Public Input Session, 10/25/21

My name is George Asante and I am the Attorney-in-Charge of the Mount Vernon Office at Legal Services of the Hudson Valley or LSHV.  LSHV is the only provider in the Hudson Valley of free, comprehensive, legal services in civil matters for individuals and families who cannot afford an attorney when their basic human needs are at stake. LSHV has four offices in Westchester County located in Yonkers, Mount Vernon, White Plains, and Peekskill.

In 2020, in Westchester, LSHV handled 5,820 cases, which impacted a total of 12,096 household members.  We are grateful to Westchester County for its long-standing history of supporting legal services and we are so thankful for this support from the County Executive and Board of Legislators.  We also appreciate that Westchester taxpayers see the important work and role of non-profits in the County in wanting to create an environment that supports our co-workers, neighbors, and those of us who need it so that we can all thrive together in a diverse, inclusive, and equitable county.

The range of civil legal issues LSHV assists residents with is broad – as is the funding Westchester County provides to support this work.  It ranges from eviction prevention, to representing victims of domestic violence, to helping senior citizens with end-of-life planning, to preserving subsidized housing, to assisting in applying for disability benefits and other government benefits.  When our communities are in crisis, Legal Services is there.  After the devastation Hurricane Ida brought to many Westchester communities, LSHV joined forces with FEMA to provide Disaster Relief Legal Services to flood survivors who needed assistance with FEMA applications, getting landlords to make repairs, and fighting with insurance companies to cover flood damage.  When COVID hit Westchester, Legal Services was there to ensure that landlords did not illegally evict tenants during the moratorium, that residents had safe and habitable homes to shelter-in-place, and victims of domestic violence who were trapped with their abusers could access orders of protection.  We have been working for over 50 years in supporting Westchester residents in crisis – which would not be possible without the essential funding from the County.

Westchester’s poorest areas have been disproportionately impacted by this epidemic.  For example, despite court closures, numerous moratoria and legislation directed at curtailing evictions and filings throughout New York State in 2020 and 2021, filings persisted. In 2020, there were 4,295 eviction petitions filed in Westchester County.  The majority of those 4,295 filings were in the City of Mt. Vernon and Yonkers.  And in 2021 – through October 18th, there were 2,416 new eviction petitions filed in the County’s City Courts. Surely, when New York’s current eviction protections expire in January – there will be a flood of filings.

Because of the enormity of need for civil legal services, we support the Westchester Women’s Agenda request that the County provide a meaningful increase in non-profit funding.  We are grateful to the County’s partnership and long-standing support of civil legal services.  Thank you.