LSC Updates - January 4, 2007
The Legal Services Corporation will distribute $303.8 million in grants in 2007 to 138 programs with 900 offices that provide civil legal aid to low-income Americans in all 50 states, the District of Columbia and U.S. territories.
LSC President Helaine M. Barnett said, "These grants will be used to provide civil legal aid to the most vulnerable among us at their time of greatest need-striving to fulfill our nation's promise of equal access to justice for all, not just those who can afford to pay for it."
Three out of four clients of LSC-funded programs are women-for the most part, mothers with children. Many are elderly or disabled. Some are veterans. Most are at or below 125 percent of the federal poverty threshold, currently an annual income of about $25,000 for a family of four.
Programs funded by LSC help low-income Americans secure basic human needs such as safe and habitable housing, protection from domestic violence, child support, and essential health care.
The size of each grant is based on the number of people living in poverty in a given state or service area, as determined by the U.S. Census Bureau and required by law. A complete list of 2007 grant recipients follows.
Tom Groening, Bangor Daily News (ME) - January 2, 2007
For some poor Mainers, a voice on the other end of the phone saying, "Sorry, that apartment was just rented," is not just bad news. It's a lie.
A two-year testing initiative by low-income advocate Pine Tree Legal Assistance concluded that up to 20 percent of landlords discriminated against prospective tenants.
Those discriminated against in their bid for rental housing included people receiving public assistance, those with children, people with disabilities, and members of a minority race or nationality.
Those getting housing aid and those with children were most often victims, according to Rachelle Parise, Pine Tree Legal's testing coordinator.
Parise oversaw 144 tests from October 2004 to September 2006. Testers were paired, so one person calling about a rental would reveal that he or she received federal housing assistance vouchers, while the second caller would indicate he or she would pay the rent from wages or other sources.
She said discrimination was found in about 20 percent of the total number of tests.
In 29 percent of the cases involving public assistance there was strong evidence of discrimination, Parise said, with the first caller told the rental was not available, and the second being invited to see the housing.
"There's a bias against poor people that's pretty strong," she said.
Bob Egelko, The San Francisco Chronicle (CA) - December 20, 2006
California's top judge said [December 19] that he wants the state to provide lawyers for the poor in civil cases such as child custody disputes and evictions in which people often have to represent themselves.
Chief Justice Ronald George said he will ask Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to test the idea by funding a pilot project in three counties--one small, one medium-size and one large--to provide attorneys for low-income litigants in a limited category of cases, including family law and housing, in which important individual rights are at stake.
The state and federal governments now provide lawyers for the poor in criminal cases, but not in civil lawsuits. Some money for representation in civil cases is provided by the State Bar and a federal legal assistance program, but Congress has limited the federal funding and restricted the types of cases that federally funded lawyers can accept.
In some parts of California, plaintiffs and defendants in 80 to 90 percent of civil cases come to court without lawyers, George said in his annual meeting with reporters who cover the state Supreme Court.
Assemblyman Dave Jones, D-Sacramento, a former Legal Aid attorney who is working on both issues with George, said the pilot programs would be a first step in addressing "a huge justice gap."
California has one lawyer for every 240 people but only one Legal Aid attorney for every 8,737 poor people, said Jones, the Assembly Judiciary Committee chairman and author of the interpreter bill that Schwarzenegger vetoed. He also said 7 million Californians could require interpreters if they appeared in court.
Michael Higgins, Chicago Tribune (IL) - December 27, 2006
Forty-two percent of [Illinois's] legal aid lawyers plan to leave their jobs in the next three years, which would further strain the state's legal services for the poor, legal-aid groups say in a recently released report.
Many of the lawyers feel pressure to find higher-paying jobs, saying legal aid salaries have not kept pace with the rising cost of law school, according to a survey and report issued last month by the Chicago Bar Foundation Association and Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice.
"If you look at law school tuition and debt, it keeps rising each year. But after about 2000, it just goes up dramatically," said Joseph Dailing, executive director of the Illinois Coalition for Equal Justice. "You need to provide a living wage and also help these people with these debts."
The legal-aid groups hope the report sounds an alarm that will be heeded by the federal Legal Services Corp., state government, private donors and others who help pay for legal aid.
The state's 280 full-time legal-aid attorneys already are stretched thin, trying to advise low-income clients in landlord-tenant cases, disputes over the denial of government benefits and other civil matters, the report said.
Legal aid attorneys typically start at $38,500 a year, the report found. But they must repay typical law school debts of about $60,000, and as much as $100,000 for more recent graduates, the report said.
Anne Sutton, The Associated Press - December 23, 2006
The Alaska Supreme Court has cleared the way for a four-year-old lawsuit challenging the state's foster care system to proceed, although attorneys for the plaintiffs say they may seek to settle the case out of court.
The lawsuit, filed by four Alaska native villages, contends that the state has failed to follow federal laws regarding the care of native children who are taken from their own families because of abuse or neglect. It alleges that the state too often fails to find safe and culturally appropriate homes for the children.
Native communities fear they are losing their children to the state system, said Dorothy Larson, administrator of the Dillingham-based Curyung Tribal Council, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
"The reason we did this was to make sure our children were served better and we wanted to maintain their connection with their community and their culture," said Larson. "That's the whole purpose of our case is to bring that to light and to remedy it."
Federal law requires that social workers first try to place a child with a relative or, failing that, to find another native tribal member, preferably in the same community.
Larson said it is difficult for rural residents to meet state requirements to be foster parents, partly because the process involves traveling to Anchorage for training. And she said families need more support from social workers who are already overburdened with large caseloads.
The lawsuit was filed in 2002 but a year later the state sought to block it before it went to trial by arguing, among other things, that the villages did not have the legal standing to bring the lawsuit.
Andrew Harrington, executive director of Alaska Legal Services Corp., which is representing the villages, said they will seek to prove, under federal civil rights laws, that the state failed to implement the Indian Child Welfare Act and other federal laws.
"The (lower) court should be able to go forward with those claims and give the tribes the opportunity to prove their case and then have the state take appropriate action to correct that," Harrington said.
Erik Johnson, The Idaho Statesman - December 23, 2006
In 2003 the Idaho Farm Labor Contractor Registration and Bonding Act went into effect. The purpose of the law is to protect farmworkers from unscrupulous farm labor contractors, who act as the middlemen between farmers and farmworkers. The law requires contractors to obtain a license and a bond to guarantee payment to farmworkers. It also requires contractors to disclose the terms of employment in writing, provide pay stubs, and comply with the laws that protect farmworkers, such as the worker's compensation and field sanitation laws.
The promise of the new law remains largely unfulfilled. Most contractors have brazenly ignored the law. Currently, only 30 contractors (from 20 contractor businesses) are registered. The number of contractors is unknown, but there is ample evidence showing that these 20 registered contractor businesses are just a fraction of the number operating.
The non-profit Idaho Legal Aid Services has started a project to gain better enforcement of the law. This past season our outreach workers have educated farmworkers about the law. We have received complaints about 21 unregistered contractors for the failure to register, failure to provide field sanitation facilities and drinking water, and the failure to provide pay stubs and pay all wages due. While the law requires the contractor to provide the terms of employment in writing, this provision is universally ignored, making it difficult for farmworkers to prove they were shortchanged when they don't get paid all they were promised.
Erik Johnson is the director of the Migrant Farmworker Law Unit of Idaho Legal Aid.
The Lexington Herald Leader (KY) - December 20, 2006
Verizon Wireless has donated $10,000 to Legal Aid of the Bluegrass in Lexington to help domestic violence clients served by the non-profit organization to live independently from their abusers.
The gift, which is the largest corporate donation made to Legal Aid of the Bluegrass to date from outside the legal community, will cover child care, medical expenses, transportation, new clothing and initial housing costs. The donation also will provide interpreter services and English lessons for domestic-violence victims with limited English proficiency.
From its Lexington office, Legal Aid of the Bluegrass serves about 50 domestic violence clients a month in 15 counties. The organization helps with a variety of legal services, including obtaining domestic violence orders and divorce decrees; determining custody and child support; arranging "safe visitation plans" for abusive parents visiting their children; and securing the return of property from an abusive spouse or partner.
To read the article in its entirety, click here. (SCROLL DOWN)
The Murfreesboro Post - December 19, 2006
Think of three women you care about. Maybe they are relatives, friends or co-workers. Now consider this: according to national statistics, one of these three women is currently or will be a victim of domestic violence.
That is why Cricket Communications, a leading provider of unlimited wireless services, has partnered with the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee to provide free phones and service to victims of abuse in order to help them escape their abusive relationships. Cell phones make victims feel safer and provide a way to call for help when they need it.
"Sometimes we take the power and importance of communication for granted," said Bill Boyce, Cricket district director for Middle Tennessee. "By providing victims with free communication, we can provide them with a greater sense of security and, hopefully, a greater chance to get out."
Under the new program, victims are screened by Legal Aid advocates and attorneys that act as counselors. Those who are most deserving in need receive a free Cricket cell phone and service. The main criteria for eligibility is that the victims are taking active steps to leave their abuser through legal action, that all communication is cut off between the victim and the abuser and that the victim must remain in contact with their Legal Aid advocate.
"Unfortunately, domestic violence is a very real problem in Nashville and throughout the country. Providing victims with free phones and service can play a big part in the solution," said Ashley Wiltshire Jean Crowe, executive director for the Legal Aid Society of Middle Tennessee. "We are happy excited to partner with Cricket in this effort."
Julie Poppen, Rocky Mountain News (CO) - December 16, 2006
Denver's Rose Community Foundation is jumping into the maze of new rules governing how a person proves he or she is a legal citizen.
The foundation on Friday said it is giving $120,000 to Colorado Legal Services to help those eligible for Medicaid and other public services establish their identities and citizenship.
Colorado Legal Services, which helps low-income people with legal issues, has joined with the Denver Department of Human Services, the Colorado Coalition for the Homeless and Metro CareRing to form the Citizen ID Collaboration Project.
"Many of our most vulnerable and low-income citizens have been caught in a 'perfect storm' created by new federal and state identification and citizenship requirements," said Linda Olson, project director.
Those who have had a particularly hard time proving their identities include elderly people born in rural areas, some American Indians, the homeless, those who have lost their papers because of natural disasters, and citizens born to immigrant mothers.
Traci Shurley, Fort Worth Star-Telegram (TX) - December 21, 2006
Monique Lopez-Hinkley advises clients at Legal Aid of Northwest Texas about problems they are having with a contract for deed after buying a house several years ago. The agency works with people who can't afford a private lawyer.
Monique Lopez-Hinkley meets a lot of desperate people in her job as an attorney for Legal Aid of Northwest Texas.
Some are trying to get away from abusive spouses. Others are about to be kicked out of their homes. And still more, such as a single mother Hinkley visited with on a recent weekday, just worry what getting pulled into a civil court dispute will do to their tightly stretched finances.
For many of them, Hinkley and her colleagues can offer a lifeline and, sometimes, a shoulder to cry on.
"It's always there," Hinkley said of the stress caused by legal troubles. "There are some that are better than others at letting us do the worrying...We're attorneys and counselors at law, so yeah, sometimes we have to wear that hat."
Besides working to remove women and families from abusive situations, the agency helps people who may be one legal crisis away from financial disaster by taking on employment, housing, healthcare and consumer cases, administrators said. Officials say their work saves the community money on social services in the long run.
The agency served 20,449 clients in 2005. Most were family-law cases. During that time, 3,030 cases were completed in the area covered by the Fort Worth office. But even with a yearly budget of about $13 million, the 122 lawyers working for Legal Aid of Northwest Texas can't help everyone who needs them, said Sam Prince, director of development.
The Legal Services Corp., a federally funded program that awards grants to 138 legal-services programs nationwide, estimates that only half of the Legal Aid applicants who qualify get services. There aren't enough lawyers to help the rest.
Jan Rutledge, Iowa City Press Citizen - December 26, 2006
Most people find life is stressful enough, even when things are going well. Many of us have no emotional or financial reserves to help get by when adversity strikes. For some, especially low-income families, even a short-term loss or reduction of income can lead to a threat of eviction or utility shut off. Iowa Legal Aid provides critical legal assistance to low-income Iowans who have nowhere else to turn.
In the past year in Johnson County, we helped a single parent with severe health issues receive a hardship waiver to avoid garnishment of her meager wages. We helped a women and her child escape a domestic violence situation and move on without fear. We helped a grandmother caring for her grandkids protect her home from the parent involved in criminal activity. We helped a client receive disability and veteran's benefits.
Typical cases involve basic necessities, fundamental rights or safety, including protecting victims of domestic violence, protecting families from unsafe housing and illegal evictions, protecting elderly Iowans from consumer fraud and financial abuse, securing health care, SSI and basic services for low-income Iowans, and helping Iowans understand their legal rights and responsibilities.
Iowa Legal Aid and volunteer attorneys help the legal system work. In 2005, we closed more than 16,000 cases that helped more than 37,500 Iowans in all 99 counties. More than 20 percent of the clients served were senior citizens. More than 70 percent of the cases involved women as the primary client, and 47 percent of the cases affected children.
One client wrote, "I do not know what I would have done without the help of Iowa Legal Aid and the Volunteer Lawyers Project, ... I feel better knowing people such as yourselves are willing to help people like me, who would otherwise have to remain in terrible situations if we could not afford to retain a lawyer to resolve it legally."
Jan Rutledge is managing attorney at the Iowa City regional office of Iowa Legal Aid.