IN THE PUBLIC INTEREST
Bill to Stop Deed Scams
New York lawmakers dealt a potentially serious blow to predatory lenders, unanimously passing a bill that would protect vulnerable homeowners, many of them senior citizens, from “foreclosure rescue” scams.
“Older New Yorkers are particularly targeted by ‘deed theft’ scams, which can rob of them of their very homes – they need this new law to help protect them from this horrible fraud,” said Lois Aronstein, state director of AARP New York.
The new law, called the Home Equity Theft Protection Act, would give homeowners written disclosure of title transfer terms and give them a grace period to back out of shady contracts. Stiffer penalties would also be applied to those attempting to defraud homeowners.
“My house was stolen through deed theft and my family almost ended up in a shelter because of this,” said Michelle Fayez Olabie, a mother of six who is fighting to get her home back in Queens. “I hope Governor Pataki signs this into law right away. No one else should have to go through this.”
University Neighborhood Housing Program, a local nonprofit, is a member of New Yorkers for Responsible Lending, a state coalition pushing for the reforms.
Medicaid Fraud Office Created
Last week, state legislators announced the opening of a new office that would work closely with the state attorney general’s office to combat fraud and abuse of New York’s $45 billion-a-year Medical Assistance Program for the poor.
When the office is finalized, the Medicaid Inspector General will have more than 600 full-time staff members. Currently, the state’s Medicaid fraud workers are divided into six separate agencies. Theoretically, this will streamline efforts at the state health department.
The bill also calls for improved fraud-monitoring technology and tougher penalties on those found guilty of Medicaid abuse.
“New York spends more on its Medicaid program than any other state in the nation, and there are those who prey on the program’s inability to combat fraud and abuse,” State Senator Efrain Gonzalez said. “This is a major step in stopping those criminals who exploit the most vulnerable New Yorkers, wringing billions of dollars in overpayments out of a health care system.”
The local lawmaker added, “This is a good first step in the right direction, but we can do better.”
Legislature Wants Hurricane Plan
With the memory of last year’s devastating Gulf Coast hurricanes still lingering, New York officials want local residents to be aware that the city is not immune to a similar natural disaster.
At a recent Community Board 7 meeting, a representative for Borough President Adolfo Carrion urged everyone to prepare for the possibility of a severe hurricane. And now New York lawmakers are holding a public hearing downtown on July 7 to evaluate the city’s emergency response plan in the case of a weather-related emergency.
In September 2005, Assemblyman Richard Brodsky’s (D-Westchester) Committee on Corporations released a report saying the city’s current weather-related emergency plans were inadequate in several ways, citing problems with mass transit and “unintelligible policies” with regards to residents with disabilities.
New York is the third most vulnerable major city to a hurricane, behind only New Orleans and Miami and the city averages a hurricane every 9.5 years. “Scientists tell us that it’s not a matter of if another Category 3 hurricane hits New York, it’s a matter of when,” New York lawmakers wrote in a press release.
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