MLAC seeks ARPA funding for Civil Legal Aid

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation seeks Senate inclusion of $18.2m in American Rescue Plan Act funding for four legal initiatives to remedy problems that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated for low-income people across the Commonwealth.

Please ask your senator to co-sponsor Sen. DiDomenico’s MLAC Amendment #257!

  1. The Housing and Eviction Representation proposal would continue to use federal COVID relief funds to retain the lawyers and paralegals currently providing eviction legal representation to eligible tenants and owner-occupied 2-3 family homeowners. This program will end on December 31, 2021 without this crucial ARPA funding.The U.S. Secretary of the Treasury, the U.S. Attorney General, and the U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development urged state and local government leaders to take action to avoid evictions, including using ARPA money to support eviction diversion strategies. They wrote “Tenants are more likely to avoid eviction and remain stably housed when they have access to legal representation.” (8/27/2021)

    MLAC requests $12.4 million to fund the project for one year.

COVID Eviction Legal Help Program – Demographic Data Oct. 2020 to June 2021

  1. The Medical Legal Partnership proposal would allow legal and medical professionals to work together in health care settings to identify and address health-harming legal needs and promote health equity and improve overall health status and outcomes for low-income residents who have been disproportionally affected by COVID.

    MLAC requests $2.3 million to fund the project for one year.

  2. The High-Quality Education for All Students proposal would eliminate barriers to fair and equitable education for all students, especially students of color, English language learners, students from low-income families, and students with disabilities, who are being disproportionately affected by COVID.MLAC requests $1.9 million to fund the project for one year. 
  3. The Legal Services Family Preservation proposal would work to reduce the number of children who enter the foster care system due to underlying poverty problems exacerbated by COVID such as inadequate housing, food insecurity, and family violence.MLAC requests $1.6 million to fund the project for one year.

Federal agencies support use of ARPA funding for civil legal services, including eviction representation, child welfare, and family stabilization efforts.

Please ask your senator to co-sponsor Sen. DiDomenico’s MLAC Amendment #257!

You can find a copy of our ARPA funding fact sheet here.

Letter: Civil legal aid goes to heart of what rescue plan is intended for

Writing in The Boston Globe, MLAC Executive Director Lynne Parker and Board Chair Mala Rafik make the case for using ARPA to fund civil legal aid initiatives to aid COVID recovery:

The editorial board wisely recognizes the opportunity that the American Rescue Plan Act creates for Massachusetts to aid low-income people who have suffered the most during the COVID-19 pandemic, especially communities of color that are experiencing disproportionate harm to their housing stability, health, income, and security (“Beacon Hill’s big task: spending $5b,” Oct. 30).

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation seeks this federal funding for civil legal aid initiatives to deliver legal remedies to low-income people across the Commonwealth who continue to suffer from COVID-related problems. Each of the proposals addresses an urgent need by enhancing the robust, innovative network of legal aid organizations that already exists across Massachusetts.

We strongly urge the Senate to build on what the House has started and allocate American Rescue Plan funding for legal representation to low-income people facing eviction. We also hope the Senate will fully fund the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation’s proposals to expand civil legal aid in health care settings through medical and legal partnerships, to reduce educational inequities faced by low-income students in public schools, and to stabilize struggling families at risk of separation because of poverty.

Civil legal aid goes to the heart of what this federal funding is intended for and would have meaningful impacts, reducing the racial wealth divide, decreasing significant health disparities by race and income, keeping families intact, and preventing homelessness.

The Senate should put these funds to work where help is needed most to address the widespread and stubborn harms caused by COVID.

Lynne M. Parker, Executive director

Mala Rafik, Board chair

Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation

Read online in The Boston Globe

 

To reduce serious inequities, ARPA funding should support civil legal assistance

House Amendment supports proposals to boost legal help with healthcare, education, family issues, and housing

BOSTON, October 28 – Funds from the federal American Rescue Plan Act present a unique opportunity for Massachusetts to invest in the low-income communities that have suffered the most during the COVID-10 pandemic, especially communities of color that are seeing disproportionate harm to their health, income, and security.

The Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation seeks ARPA funding to support four proposals that would deliver urgently needed remedies to low-income people across Massachusetts whose lives have been worsened by the pandemic. Each initiative would address structural problems and systemic inequality.

Representatives Ruth Balser and Michael Day have filed amendment 594 to H4219. The ARPA spending bill, to fund these urgent initiatives. It is currently before the Massachusetts House of Representatives, which is considering amendments to its ARPA funding package today.

“These programs go to the heart of what ARPA funding is intended for – repairing longstanding inequities made even worse by the pandemic,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “Through civil legal aid interventions and representation sustainable progress can be made in reducing racial disparities in health and wealth and creating stability in families, education, and housing.”

Advocating for the package of programs included in House Amendment 594, Parker said, “ARPA funds create a unique opportunity to solve intractable problems that the pandemic has only made worse. These legal aid programs would have meaningful and lasting impacts, reducing the gaping racial wealth divide, decreasing health disparities by race and income, and preserving families and safe housing. I urge the House of Representatives to include this funding.”

 

 

 

SJC Appoints Lynne Parker to A2J Commission

The Supreme Judicial Court today announced the appointments of seven new members to the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission, including Lynne Parker, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation.

Other members of the civil legal aid community were also welcomed to the commission, including: Rachel Biscardi, supervising attorney with the Family Law Unit at Northeast Legal Aid; Leticia Medina-Richman, the director of the Central West Justice Center; and Elizabeth A. Soulé. executive director of MetroWest Legal Services.

First established by the Supreme Judicial Court in 2005, the Access to Justice Commission seeks to improve access to justice for people who are unable to afford an attorney for essential civil legal needs, such as cases involving housing, consumer debt, and family law.

“We are delighted to welcome these new members to the Commission,” said Supreme Judicial Court Justice Serge Georges, Jr., who co-chairs the Commission. “With representation from legal aid offices throughout the Commonwealth, the attorney general’s office, a law school, and the private sector, these new Commissioners will bring a range of critical perspectives to the Commission’s ongoing efforts to ensure equal access to justice.”

The new Access to Justice Commission members are:

  • Rachel Biscardi, Esq. is the supervising attorney with the Family Law Unit at Northeast Legal Aid. Previously, Attorney Biscardi was in private practice after serving as the Deputy Director of the Women’s Bar Association & Foundation for twelve years. She has taught at Northeastern Law School and New England School of Law. Among her bar association activities, Attorney Biscardi has served on the Massachusetts Bar Association’s Access to Justice Committee. She is a member of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission’s Family Law Committee.
  • Ariel Clemmer, Esq. is the Director for the Center for Social Justice at Western New England School of Law. Before this role, Attorney Clemmer was the Pro Bono Director with the Hampden County Bar Association. She has also served as a public defender and worked for the firm Weil, Gotshal & Manges, LLP. Attorney Clemmer is the incoming Chair of the Supreme Judicial Court Standing Committee on Pro Bono Legal Services and will serve as an ex officio member of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission. She is also the Co-Chair of the Commission’s Consumer Debt Committee.
  • Leticia Medina-Richman, Esq. is the Director of the Central West Justice Center. Attorney Medina-Richman has overseen this Worcester and Western MA area legal aid organization, a subsidiary of Community Legal Aid (CLA), since 2014. She previously served as a staff attorney at CLA and its predecessor, focusing primarily on landlord-tenant, foreclosure and housing discrimination work.
  • Lynne M. Parker, Esq. is the Executive Director for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC) which is the largest funding source for civil legal organizations in Massachusetts. Previously, she served as executive director, deputy director and staff attorney at New Hampshire Legal Assistance. Attorney Parker served as a member of the NH Access to Justice Commission and was a member of the Judicial Selection Committee. Attorney Parker has also represented migrant farmworkers and served as a housing attorney for many years in several legal aid organizations. She is a member of the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission’s Revenue Enhancement Committee and the Boston Bar Association’s Delivery of Legal Services Committee.
  • Victoria Santoro Mair, Esq., is a shareholder at Meehan, Boyle, Black & Bogdanow, P.C. where she primarily focuses on civil litigation. Attorney Santoro Mair has been an active member of the Massachusetts Bar Association, serving as its Treasurer and on the Executive Management Board, House of Delegates, Board of Directors, Young Lawyers’ Division, Membership Committee and the Oliver Wendell Holmes Scholarship Committee. She is also involved with the Boston Bar Association and the Women’s Bar Association.
  • Mychii Snape, Esq. is a Managing Attorney in the Consumer Protection Division of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office. Before joining the Attorney General’s Office, Attorney Snape was an associate in the litigation department at Ropes & Gray LLP. She has also served as a board member of the Massachusetts Black Lawyers Association and continues to serve as co-chair of the pro bono subcommittee of the Boston Bar Association’s Veterans and Servicemembers Forum, among other bar and community activities.
  • Elizabeth A. Soulé, Esq. is the Executive Director of MetroWest Legal Services, an office that provides legal services to persons in 36 towns in south and central Middlesex and south Norfolk counties. Previously, Attorney Soulé was a supervising attorney, focusing on elder law and domestic violence cases, for South Middlesex Legal Services. She also serves as chair of the Access to Justice Section Council of the Massachusetts Bar Association and formerly served on the council of the Boston Bar Association.

Among other activities, the Access to Justice Commission coordinates with civil legal aid organizations to support their activities and develop new initiatives to address unmet needs. The Commission also works to increase the number of attorneys able to provide pro bono or limited assistance civil legal services and coordinates with the court system on initiatives that assist individuals to better understand and navigate civil legal proceedings. The Commission’s members include representatives from the court system, legal aid organizations, social service organizations, bar associations, law schools, businesses, and other stakeholders in the access to justice community.

More information about the Commission and its activities is available in its recently released Annual Report for 2020-2021, which is available on the on the Commission’s website, under the Resources/Library tab.

MLAC applauds $35M for civil legal aid in FY22 Budget

Praises Gov. Baker’s support of $6M increase to aid pandemic recovery

BOSTON, July 16, 2021 – Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law the FY22 budget, including $35 million to fund civil legal aid through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, line item 0321-1600. That is a $6 million increase over FY21. MLAC expresses its deep gratitude to the governor and the legislature for the funding increase.

“We are exceptionally grateful to the governor and the legislature for their leadership in recognizing that civil legal aid is an essential service, vital to the Commonwealth’s pandemic recovery,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “The effects of COVID-19 will be long-lasting on the most vulnerable residents of Massachusetts. Even though many visible signs of the pandemic are receding, low-income people are still experiencing profound threats to their incomes, housing, benefits, and safety. Legal aid staff continue to show great dedication and innovation in responding to the heightened need for civil legal services.”

Parker thanked members of the House and the Senate for their support of this increased funding, noting that legislators have seen firsthand during the pandemic how civil legal aid organizations across the state have helped their constituents in crisis.

She praised the Equal Justice Coalition, which has championed the work of civil legal aid, including the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, the Women’s Bar Association, managing partners of many of the state’s largest law firms, and advocates with social services organizations across the Commonwealth.

MLAC Applauds $35M for civil legal aid in Senate Ways & Means Budget

$6M increase recognizes severe Impact of pandemic on low-income people

BOSTON, May 11, 2021 – Today, the Senate Ways and Means Committee presented its Fiscal Year 2022 budget, including $35 million to fund civil legal aid through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, line item 0321-1600. That is a $6 million increase over FY21.

“We are exceptionally grateful to Senate President Karen Spilka and Senate Ways and Means Chair Michael Rodrigues for this critical funding increase and for their leadership in recognizing that civil legal aid is an essential service,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “Even though COVID-19 infection rates are declining as vaccinations increase, the effects of the pandemic continue to be disproportionately impacting low-income people, who have suffered severe loss of income and profound threats to their housing, benefits, and safety. Legal aid staff have innovated to provide essential legal services to the most vulnerable people in Massachusetts since the first days of the pandemic, and the need for services shows no signs of abating.”

Parker thanked Majority Leader Cynthia Creem and Senate Judiciary Chair Jamie Eldridge and other members of the Senate for their support of this increased funding, noting that they have seen firsthand during the pandemic how legal aid organizations across the state have helped their constituents in crisis.

She praised the Equal Justice Coalition, which has championed essential work of civil legal aid, including the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Boston Bar Association, the Women’s Bar Association, managing partners of many of the state’s largest law firms, and advocates with social services organizations across the Commonwealth.

Families Brace For Evictions As End Of Federal Moratorium Nears

At the end of June, the federal moratorium on evictions will expire, putting thousands of families in Massachusetts at risk for eviction. Andrea Park is a housing and homelessness staff attorney with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute. She says the federal moratorium doesn’t protect all tenants and the ones receiving that protection are only saved from the final step of the process, the eviction itself. “So someone could be legally entitled to these protections but their case would move all the way through and the execution papers might even be handed to the landlord that says you’re able to physically remove this person, but they just have to hold onto that until the end of June,” said Park. Read more at WGBH.org

House Budget Generates Mix of Reactions

Budget season is underway on Beacon Hill — House lawmakers and aides are churning out amendments and preparing for debate later this month, reporters are scouring the House’s fiscal year 2022 proposal (H 4000) for the newsy nuggets not highlighted by budget writers, and advocacy groups are making their thoughts known and hoping to shape the final product….

….Lynne Parker, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation: “We are extremely grateful to House Speaker Ronald Mariano and House Ways and Means Chair Aaron Michlewitz for their leadership in providing critical increased funding for civil legal aid, an essential service that safeguards vulnerable people at risk of losing their housing, income, benefits, and other necessary protections.”

The House budget proposes $35 million to fund civil legal aid through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, an increase of $6 million over the current budget.

“COVID-19 has not just threatened the lives and livelihood of the most vulnerable people in our communities. In many cases it has also limited their ability to reach out for civil legal aid protections and use the technology necessary to participate in remote court proceedings. Legal aid organizations have been engaged and innovative in responding to this urgent need.”…

Read more from State House News Service (subscription required).

Supreme Judicial Court Appoints New Co-Chairs For Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission

BOSTON, MA — The Supreme Judicial Court today announced the appointment of three new co-chairs to lead the Massachusetts Access to Justice Commission: the Honorable Serge Georges, Jr., Associate Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court; Marijane Benner Browne, Esq.; and Laura W. Gal, Esq. They will take office on June 30, 2021, succeeding current co-chair Susan M. Finegan, Esq., and the late Honorable Ralph D. Gants, former Chief Justice of the Supreme Judicial Court, who served as co-chair of the Commission until his death last September.

Established by the Supreme Judicial Court in 2005, the Access to Justice Commission seeks to improve access to legal assistance and other resources for people who are unable to afford an attorney for essential civil legal needs, such as cases involving housing, consumer debt, and family law.

“I would like to thank Justice Georges, Attorney Browne, and Attorney Gal for their willingness to take on these important leadership roles for the Commission,” said Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly S. Budd. “I am confident that they will continue the Commission’s vibrant tradition of creative, collaborative problem-solving. And I would also like to thank Attorney Finegan for her extraordinary service to the Commission as a member since 2011 and as co-chair since 2015, and especially for her fortitude in guiding the Commission’s crucial work through all the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic and the passing of Chief Justice Gants during the past year.”

“During these difficult times supporting access to justice for everyone in the Commonwealth has never been more essential,” added current co-chair Susan Finegan. “The Commission is so fortunate that Justice Georges, Attorney Browne, and Attorney Gal will be carrying on our critical efforts to address the many access to justice issues that we are facing. The Commission will benefit from their collective wisdom and experience and will continue to thrive under their leadership.”

The Honorable Serge Georges, Jr., was appointed to the Supreme Judicial Court by Governor Charlie Baker in December 2020 after serving seven years as an Associate Justice of the Boston Municipal Court. Before his appointment to the bench, he had a diverse private practice focused on commercial litigation and criminal defense practice in state and federal courts. He also teaches at Suffolk University Law School and the University of Massachusetts School of Law. Justice Georges is a graduate of Boston College and Suffolk University Law School.

Marijane Benner Browne, Esq., is Director of Lateral Partner Recruiting at Ropes & Gray LLP. Attorney Browne has been a member of the Commission since 2012, serving as co-chair of its Revenue Enhancement Committee. She has also served as a member and chair of the Board of Directors of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation; as a trustee of Bowdoin College; and as Vice Chair of the Boston Law Firm Group, a consortium of Boston-area legal employers dedicated to the recruitment, retention and advancement of attorneys of color. She is a graduate of Bowdoin College and Harvard Law School.

Laura W. Gal, Esq., is the Managing Attorney of the Family Law Unit at Greater Boston Legal Services and has previously held positions as Supervisory Attorney for Family Law at Northeast Legal Aid and as a staff attorney at Community Legal Aid. She served the Commission as its part-time consultant from September 2017 through June 2019. Since her appointment as a Commissioner in September 2019, she has also served as co-chair of the Commission’s Family Law Committee, and as a member of the Executive Committee. She is a graduate of Dartmouth College and the George Washington University National Law Center.

Justice Georges and Attorney Browne will both be serving three-year terms, while Attorney Gal will be serving a special one-year term to assist with the Commission’s leadership transition.

Among other activities, the Access to Justice Commission coordinates with civil legal aid organizations to support their activities and develop new initiatives to address unmet needs. The Commission also works to increase the number of attorneys able to provide pro bono or limited assistance civil legal services and coordinates with the court system on initiatives that assist individuals in understanding and navigating civil legal proceedings. The Commission’s members include representatives from the court system, legal aid organizations, social service organizations, bar associations, law schools, businesses, and other stakeholders in the access to justice community.

Civil Legal Aid Needs Rise Due to Pandemic Impacts

Altered Landscape Fuels Push for $6 Mil State Aid Bump

The state’s largest funder of civil legal aid services is asking lawmakers to increase state funding by 20 percent in the fiscal 2022 budget to help fund services for low-income residents facing legal issues in areas like housing, employment, education, and government benefits.

Lawmakers and representatives from several of the state’s civil legal aid corporations gathered on Zoom Tuesday to press for the $6 million increase in the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation line item (0321-1600). Second Division Chair Rep. Ruth Balser said the Legislature “is deeply committed” to civil legal aid.

“There is no justice if people without means cannot protect themselves in our courts … and MLAC and the services they provide always help people who face unemployment issues, housing eviction issues, health care access issues, immigration issues, [and] domestic violence issues,” the Newton Democrat said during a virtual briefing. “I do have to say that while we always deeply appreciate the work of our friends in the legal services, nothing has been like the challenge they’ve faced during this pandemic.”

Read more in State House News Service (subscription required).