Prosecutors, Defenders, Legal Services and Unions ask for HESC/DALF Expansion in FY25 Budget

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Dear Governor Hochul, Majority Leader Stewart-Cousins, and Speaker Heastie:

We, the undersigned public defenders and indigent legal services organizations and District Attorney’s urge inclusion in the FY 25 budget of the $4 million dollars needed to fund the modest expansion of the Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC) District Attorney and Indigent Legal Services Attorney Loan Forgiveness (DALF)  program. In doing so, we urge you to adopt the legislative framework for the expansion found in S4511C (Ramos) A1568D (Simon).

It is a well known fact that our offices have been suffering from high rates of attrition in recent years. Low salaries and high law school debt burdens mean that too often, it is impossible for attorneys to remain in these vital roles that serve fellow New Yorkers. When attorneys turn to private sector jobs after being trained and gaining the skills to excel in these vital jobs, New Yorkers in need of their services are left behind as offices deal with larger caseloads and fewer experienced attorneys able to handle more complex cases. This also means that cases grind to a halt as new attorneys or prosecutors are assigned, creating backlog and delay in our legal systems. This crisis was again brought to a head by the October 2023 end of the federal pause on student loan repayments; restarting a grueling monthly loan payment regime that only has hope of relief after 10 full years of service to the public when our attorneys become eligible for federal loan cancellation.

We urge you to take action to relieve this enormous financial burden. The modest expansion of the HESC/DALF program in S4511C/A1568D, if passed in the FY25 budget, can have an immediate effect for all eligible attorneys who again began loan repayments this past fall.  By passing this crucial bill, one which crosses the aisle with the vociferous support of institutional defender offices, civil defender offices and District Attorney offices; New York can lead the country in modeling debt relief for attorneys working to serve the public.

Since the founding of the DALF Program law school tuition has grown dramatically. According to the American Bar Association, lawyers graduate with an average debt of $130,000. Yet, the award has remained capped at $3,400 per year with only six years of eligibility equal to a possible $20,400 of total award. Moreover, public interest attorneys and district attorneys lag behind both licensed registered nurses who graduate with an average debt of $55,000 and are eligible for up to $40,000 in HESC award and social workers, who graduate with an average debt of $76,000 and are eligible to receive up to $26,000 in the HESC award.

S.4511C  / A.1568D will right size the award program by both expanding the total eligible award up to $64,000 and the period of eligibility, allowing attorneys to now apply in the second year of work up until the tenth year when they will presumably be eligible for federal loan cancellation.

Student loan cancellation and assistance remains a hugely popular and crucial policy plank both locally and nationally. By endorsing this loan assistance bill you will remove the barriers to building wealth and a secure future here in our state for attorneys working on behalf of New Yorkers.

This issue crosses the aisle of the adversarial system, as evidenced by our organizational support shown here, and within the two party system as evidenced by the support in the legislative body. The Senate passed this bill, championed by Senator Ramos, with overwhelming bipartisan support last year with a vote of 57-1 and last month once again unanimously voted the bill out of committee to the floor of the Senate where it is on third reading.

We urge you to include this modest funding and crucial legislative framework in the FY25 final budget and ensure that some measure of debt relief is on the horizon for attorneys working for our organizations and on behalf of the state –and the people – of New York.

Sincerely,

Columbia County District Attorney

Darcel Clark, Bronx District Attorney

District Attorneys Association of the State of New York

Fulton County District Attorney

Eric Gonzalez, Kings County District Attorney

Melinda Katz, Queens County District Attorney

Livingston County District Attorney’s Office

Schuyler County District Attorney

Washington County District Attorney’s Office

The Association of Legal Aid Attorneys 2325

Brooklyn Defender Services

Brooklyn Legal Services Corporation A

Broome County Public Defenders Office

The Bronx Defenders

CAMBA Legal Services, Inc.

Chief Defender Association of New York

Citizens Concerned for Children, Inc.

Lawyers For Children

Legal Aid Bureau of Buffalo, Inc

The Legal Aid Society

Legal Aid Society of Suffolk County

Legal Services Staff Association 2320

Monroe County Assigned Counsel Program

Neighborhood Defender Services of Harlem.

New York County Defender Services

New York County District Attorney Alvin Bragg

New York Lawyers for the Public Interest

New York Legal Assistance Group (NYLAG)

New York State Defenders Association

Office of the Appellate Defender (OAD)

Office of the Genesee County Public Defender

Ontario County Public Defender

Queens Defenders

Wayne County Public Defender

Westchester Legal Aid


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