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Legal Services of CNY working to help people in coronavirus fallout

Legal Services of Central New York

Due to the spread of the coronavirus, New York state's court system is "on pause," not taking any new case filings except for emergency matters. A nonprofit that offers legal services to low-income residents in central New York is also reorganizing its efforts to serve its clients' most pressing needs.

Now working remotely, the staff of 40 attorneys at Legal Services of Central New York is helping people get access to resources such as food stamps, healthcare, and housing.

"Those are all the kinds of things that we do normally, but we want to make sure that’s what our focus is for the coming weeks," said Dennis Kaufman, executive director of Legal Services.

Of the calls Legal Services has received in recent weeks, housing is the number one topic. Gov. Andrew Cuomo on March 20 issued a 90-day moratorium on residential and commercial evictions, but Kaufman said that hasn't stopped some landlords from trying.

"We’ve encountered some minor discrepancies," He said. "Some judges haven’t quite gotten the message yet, but in one case we were able to intercede through a number of sources to ensure that that case stopped."

Kaufman said people can call Legal Services should a landlord evicts them through non-judicial means like changing the locks and for other legal guidance as well. One piece of advice he has for everyone is to be vigilant about scams.

"People have to be careful about what they read," Kaufman said. "I'm already getting emails, 'We can help your organization with the coronavirus problems.' I look at these and I say 'delete' because people are trying to make money off of this unfortunately."

New York Attorney General Letitia James has taken several steps in recent weeks to crack down on businesses that are trying to sell products which purport to protect or cure people from COVID-19 and scammers who are trying to get soldiers stationed at Fort Drum to share their bank account information.