Editor’s Note: As the nation responds to COVID-19, NYLS alumni and students are sharing their time, talents, and resources to benefit their local communities and the School. In this series, we share their stories.
Kayla Santosuosso 3L Evening is an experienced multitasker.
She balances evening law classes with a full-time day job as Deputy Chief of Staff to New York City Council Member Justin Brannan. As if that weren’t enough, Santosuosso also co-owns a pub with her husband in South Brooklyn, where they live.
Now, the different pieces of Santosuosso’s life are coming together in unexpected ways.
She’s balancing concerns about her own small business with helping to manage a flood of constituent calls. And she’s relying on her NYLS training to navigate complex and fast-moving issues.
How She’s Giving Back
“The Council Member and our team decided early that we wanted to be information vessels,” Santosuosso said. “And so we are constantly pushing out answers to the latest questions: Will your small business get evicted? How do you qualify for state unemployment? What do you do if your loan application gets stalled?”
Santosuosso helps the Council Member draft op-eds and other advocacy-focused communications (find recent examples here and here), pushing the city and state to address critical issues in her district. Her legal training helps her quickly distill executive orders and legislation into clear, understandable guidance for South Brooklyn residents and businesses.
Since South Brooklyn has a high number of nursing homes, much of her work has concentrated on helping constituents get information about their loved ones or transfer relatives out of facilities where they are at increased risk of illness.
“When we look back on this time, we’re going to see that nursing homes were, in many ways, ground zero for this pandemic,” Santosuosso said. “Early on, there was so much focus on getting equipment to hospital health care workers. Nobody was prepared or how bad this was going to be.”
The Road Ahead
Santosuosso and her colleagues have also begun planning for the summer.
One emerging issue is air conditioning. If large gatherings are still restricted in the summer, many vulnerable groups in her district, including the elderly and sick, could be confined to their homes.
“Up to 50 percent of New York City households are under air-conditioned or have none,” Santosuosso said. “If the city can’t open cooling centers, people will be trapped at home in the heat.”
She and her colleagues have already begun planning how to secure air conditioners for neighbors and advocating for cash assistance grants to cover energy costs.
There is also the looming issue of small business recovery.
With many small businesses taking on loans and unlikely to reopen for months, Santosuosso is concerned about the likelihood that businesses—including hers—will be able to reopen and recoup months of losses, without significant help.
“We’re looking at what we can advocate for in the long-term so that support for small businesses goes beyond a band aid,” she said.
Those who wish to support NYLS and its students can learn more here.
Read about Santosuosso’s recent recognition as a finalist for 2020 “Law Students of the Year.”