Impact Report 2023 – 2024

Our National Impact

In recent years, we’ve secured significant legal victories and other exciting developments on behalf of low-income people across the nation. Whether expanding access to public benefits, ensuring the enforcement of protections under the ADA, or enhancing due process for marginalized people, we continue to make critical progress in our efforts to advance racial, economic, and disability justice. 

The scope of our work is nationwide. Here are highlights of our recent victories and ongoing legal advocacy across the country: 


In December 2023, NCLEJ argued before the Eleventh Circuit to appeal the district court’s denial of class certification in our lawsuit against the City of Montgomery over their operation of a modern-day debtor’s prison under which police targeted low-income drivers of color for traffic violations. Those who could not pay immediately were placed on “probation” with Judicial Correction Services, a for-profit private company that charged extortionate fees, forcing detainees into a punitive cycle of debt and imprisonment. 


NCLEJ sued Alaska over their massive SNAP backlog. In May 2023, we agreed to temporarily pause the litigation in return for the Alaska Department of Health halving its 10,598 person SNAP backlog within six months. The State cleared its backlog and issued  $6.6M in SNAP benefits because of NCLEJ intervention. Litigation has resumed because the State has once again fallen behind on processing SNAP applications. 


NCLEJ Executive Director Dennis Parker has been engaged in a multi-decade legal fight to desegregate schools in Hartford, Connecticut in the landmark lawsuit Sheff v. O’Neill. Parker first joined the Sheff litigation team in 1992. In 1996, the Connecticut Supreme Court declared that school segregation in Hartford was unconstitutional. In response to the ruling, the state legislature created a new network of magnet schools and school choice options. A lottery system implemented because of strong demand for the new school options resulted in a two-tiered system that perpetuated racial and economic inequities for students attending less resourced public schools. In 2022, a settlement was reached to expand school choice seats and committed the state to increasing investment in magnet schools, bringing active litigation to an end. NCLEJ is monitoring compliance of the settlement over a 10-year period.   


NCLEJ announced a groundbreaking partnership with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers to expand adoption of the award-winning Worker-Driven Social Responsibility model to protect human rights in global supply chains. 


In 2015, NCLEJ won a settlement in our lawsuit against the State of Georgia over their SNAP delays that resulted in the issuance of $22 million in retroactive benefits to some 48,000 households. In Summer 2023, the State’s recertification processing times significantly downgraded to 40% of applicants being processed timely. We met with the State to review measures to address the backlog, and in November 2023 set up a helpline and recruited and trained five major law firms to provide pro bono support. Since then, we’ve spoken to more than 3,000 Georgians, of whom 860 qualified for the settlement’s informal relief process, and 537 received SNAP benefits thanks to our intervention. We continue to work with the State to get back on track. 


In 2020, NCLEJ filed a class action lawsuit against University of Kentucky Healthcare and the Kentucky Department of Revenue over their unconstitutional medical debt collection practices. The Department of Revenue garnished wages, withheld tax refunds, and swept bank accounts to collect medical debts that many patients should not have owed, all without a court order, and denied patients the ability to dispute the debt in violation of their due process rights. Between 2009 to 2020, the State collected $76 million from patients through this arrangement. In 2022, the Department of Revenue ended their debt collection arrangement with University of Kentucky Healthcare in response to NCLEJ’s legal advocacy, effectively conceding that they could not prevail in the lawsuit, and saving low-income Kentuckians millions in forced collections. 


NCLEJ continues to pursue a class action suit — representing approximately 47,500 Louisiana Medicaid-eligible children and youth under 21 — to require the State to provide community-based mental and behavioral health services to young people so that they can remain in their community. Currently, these critical services are provided only in hospitals and jails, leading to unnecessary institutionalization of disabled children who need these supports. 


NCLEJ achieved a major settlement in Waskul v. Washtenaw County Community Mental Health that will, subject to approval, secure more than $110 million in additional State expenditures for Michiganders with intellectual and development disabilities who rely on Medicaid Community Living Support. This follows a landmark ruling secured by NCLEJ in 2020 in which the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that isolation at home constitutes violations of the “integration mandate” under the ADA. 


In May 2024, NCLEJ achieved a major victory in our federal lawsuit against the Missouri Department of Social Services over their massive SNAP backlog. A district court judge ruled that the State’s practices – including long call center wait times, wrongful denials of benefits, and lack of disability accommodations – violate the laws governing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). The decision orders the State to come into legal compliance and outlines steps the agency must take under the Court’s supervision.  

New Jersey 

In 2023, NCLEJ Executive Director joined the New Jersey Institute for Social Justice’s New Jersey Reparations Council to acknowledge, confront, and repair the state’s involvement in slavery and its lasting impact on the contemporary life of Black New Jerseyans. Dennis Parker serves as Co-Director of the Segregation in New Jersey committee. Over a two-year period, the Council will conduct studies to make strategic and bold policy recommendations for reparative justice policies. 


In Oklahoma City, we are investigating a range of discriminatory traffic enforcement practices, including over-ticketing and police checkpoints. After learning that community members were afraid to come forward to challenge these practices due to severe police repression leveled against George Floyd protestors, we filed a lawsuit to advance the First Amendment rights of racial justice protesters in Oklahoma City.  


In 2020, NCLEJ filed a lawsuit challenging Tennessee’s policies and practices that have unlawfully deprived children and adults of Medicaid coverage, known in Tennessee as TennCare. A defective bureaucratic process for the redetermination of eligibility of TennCare enrollees has resulted in thousands of low-income individuals being terminated from coverage without due process, and in a manner that discriminates against persons with disabilities. Litigation remains ongoing. 

Additionally, our separate class action litigation in Tennessee forced the state to lift 237,000 revocations, affecting 118,000 drivers, to stop revoking licenses for unpaid court debt, and to create affordable payment plans for outstanding traffic debt, providing relief to another 300,000 drivers. 


NCLEJ represented Migrant Justice in a federal lawsuit against ICE, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles, alleging ICE targets Migrant Justice leaders in retaliation for speaking about their rights in violation of the First Amendment, and addressing the DMV’s practice of information-sharing and collaboration with ICE, particularly targeting Latino applicants. In January 2020, we reached a settlement with the DMV to restrict communication and information-sharing between the DMV and federal immigration agencies. In October 2020, we reached a settlement with ICE and DHS ending the deportation cases against plaintiffs, granting deferred action, and paying damages, and agreeing to instruct officers about their First Amendment responsibilities. 

NCLEJ also represents Migrant Justice in their Milk with Dignity campaign, a groundbreaking human rights program organized by dairy farmworkers. In October 2017, Migrant Justice and Ben & Jerry’s signed an historic agreement making Ben & Jerrys the first major dairy corporation to join the Milk with Dignity Program, requires its supplier farms to comply with better working conditions in dairy supply chains. 

Our Impact At Home

Since our founding at Columbia University at the height of the Civil Rights Era, NCLEJ has delivered justice for low-income New Yorkers. Over 40% of our casework focuses on empowering low-income communities within the state we call home, and we have deep, collaborative relationships with legal aid and nonprofit advocacy groups within New York City and across the State.   

Here are highlights of our recent victories and ongoing advocacy in New York:   

In December 2023, NCLEJ filed a contempt motion against the City of New York and the New York City Human Resources Administration (HRA) for failing to provide expedited SNAP and cash assistance benefits to low-income families. In 1998, NCLEJ litigated Reynolds v. Giuliani and secured a 2005 court order mandating the City and HRA to provide expedited SNAP benefits within seven days to applicants without food or money to purchase food, and to grant immediate needs cash benefits the day the application was submitted. From April to September 2023, 13,721 households went without SNAP or cash assistance for more than a week in violation of the 2005 court order. Additionally, data from October 2022 shows that only 20% of eligible New Yorkers received the emergency benefits they were legally entitled to. Litigation remains ongoing to resolve the City’s expedited SNAP delays.  

NCLEJ is defending its victory in Andersen v. Roberts before New York’s Appellate Division this spring. The issue on appeal is whether disabled New Yorkers have the same right to receive credit for work performed as a requirement of receiving public assistance as non-disabled people do. Though a 2015 ruling held that Public Assistance recipients who are required to participate in the Work Experience Program are protected by the Fair Labor Standards Act and must receive credit for their work, New York State continues to deny credit to people with disabilities. 

In October 2023, NCLEJ secured a settlement to benefit thousands of low-income New Yorkers who have been or would have been denied cash assistance because of vehicle ownership.   

NCLEJ continues to enforce the pathbreaking 2014 settlement in Baez v. NYCHA, which obligates the New York City Housing Authority to ensure timely and effective remediation of toxic mold and moisture in public housing. The Baez consent decree, also the first of its kind in the nation, sets out detailed protocols mandating abatement of these deplorable living conditions, under the oversight of a court-appointed Special Master and mold and data analyst experts, as a reasonable accommodation to public housing tenants’ respiratory disabilities under the ADA.     

NCLEJ has been engaged in a multi-year effort to secure justice for NYC homecare workers, all low-income immigrant women of color who experienced wage theft by being forced to work 24-hour shifts for only 13 hours of pay. In August 2023, we sued the New York State Department of Labor (NYSDOL) to force them to reopen their wage theft investigation after hundreds of unpaid wage claims were suddenly closed. This follows the filing of a Federal Title VI complaint in October 2022.  

In April 2023, we filed a Federal Title VII complaint against Apple Metro, the NYC-area Applebee’s franchisee, over their racially discriminatory pay structure. Apple Metro pays the full minimum wage of $15 an hour plus tips to predominantly non-Black and white Applebee’s workers in Midtown, while paying only the subminimum wage of $10 an hour to predominantly Black and Brown South Bronx Applebee’s workers. Following our legal charge, Apple-Metro subsequently fired our client from his position at Applebee’s in the South Bronx. In response, we amended our legal complaint to include a retaliatory firing charge.    

In May 2023, we filed a Federal Title VI complaint against the NYSDOL for discriminating against workers who have limited English proficiency (LEP) by failing to provide meaningful multilingual access to unemployment insurance. We documented NYDSOL’s systemic failure to meet the needs of LEP New Yorkers in our October 2022 report “Designed to Exclude.”  

As a member of the 13th Forward Coalition’s steering committee, we’re fighting to pass the No Slavery in New York Act and the Fairness & Opportunity for Incarcerated Workers Act during the 2024 New York State Legislative Session. These bills will abolish slavery and involuntary servitude of any kind in the New York State Constitution and improve labor conditions within correctional facilities by requiring that workers be paid the minimum wage. The latter bill will also secure the rights to organize and health and safety protections and ensure that work opportunities inside lead to post-release employment.  

In November 2023, NCLEJ achieved a class action settlement with the New York City Transit Authority to significantly enhance fairness and due process for thousands of vulnerable New Yorkers who are disproportionately targeted for transit infractions.    

We filed a Title VI administrative complaint with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and other federal agencies, challenging the racially discriminatory construction and operation of a fracked gas pipeline running through Black and Latinx neighborhoods in Brooklyn. National Grid built the pipeline without notice to the impacted communities, without a public hearing, and without considering the environmental and public health consequences for the low-income people of color who live along the pipeline route, whose rates will be raised to pay for it. An informal negotiation process to resolve the complaint is underway.  

In 2022, NCLEJ secured a settlement requiring the Suffolk County Department of Social Services to provide reasonable accommodations to persons with disabilities to allow them to access critically needed SNAP, Medicaid, and emergency shelter. NCLEJ continues to monitor compliance with the settlement.   

We are building on our current class action litigation, initially filed in 2018, that challenges discriminatory ticketing for profit in Buffalo. For at least a decade, the City of Buffalo has systematically targeted Black and Latinx neighborhoods for unjustified, aggressive traffic enforcement to capture revenue for the city budget. Though the City has ceased some of the most extreme practices in response to our advocacy, the policy and practice of ticketing for profit in communities of color remain widespread, and the Buffalo police continue to operate with no meaningful oversight. We also support community-led policy reform in Buffalo as a member of the Fair Fines and Fees Coalition (FFFC). NCLEJ currently serves on FFFC’s steering committee and has played a significant role in past victories, such as eliminating Buffalo’s troubling speed camera program.  

Our Community Partners

NCLEJ proudly partners with community organizations on the ground to advance our mission. We understand that the fight for economic, racial, and disability justice is not dictated by strategies created at a distance, but in collaboration with the local communities most affected by the problems we seek to address. Collaborating with local and community-led organizations improves our ability to provide practical and direct legal assistance, as well as expands our geographic reach. In return, we boost the capacity of our partners to achieve their goals   

In recent years, we’ve partnered with many local organizations across the nation, including: