MLAC’s response to Governor’s FY23 Budget

BOSTON, January 26, 2022 – Today, Governor Charlie Baker released his FY23 budget with a recommendation to fund civil legal aid at $35 million, the same amount of funding it received in the FY22 budget.

“While we are grateful to Gov. Baker for his commitment to funding civil legal aid during the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, which has had such a disproportionate impact on the lives of low-income people in Massachusetts, we will work with Senators and Representatives in the Legislature to improve upon the level-funding recommendation included in the Governor’s Budget today,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. “Since the pandemic began, civil legal aid has seen dramatic increases in the need for assistance in cases related to housing, unemployment compensation, family law, income maintenance, bankruptcy, and immigration. Even before the crisis, insufficient funding forced legal aid organizations to turn away the majority of eligible people who sought help. Recent funding increases have enabled civil legal aid organizations to reduce the percent of eligible people turned away to 57 percent, down from 64 percent five years ago.

“To meet these urgent civil legal needs, MLAC is seeking an additional $6 million in funding so more people can have equal access to justice. We will strongly urge the legislature to increase civil legal aid funding to $41 million for FY23.

“Civil legal aid is essential to protecting the safety, financial stability, and wellbeing of our most vulnerable neighbors as we enter a third year of the pandemic.”

Hundreds of lawyers will gather virtually to request increased civil legal aid funding

January 27 lobby day seeks $41M for civil legal aid in FY23

BOSTON, January 20 – Assistant Speaker to the U.S. House of Representatives Katherine Clark, Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly Budd, bar association leaders, and legal aid clients will join hundreds of attorneys, law students, and advocates on Thursday, Jan. 27, at 11 a.m. for Talk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid. They will urge state legislators to support $41 million in the FY23 state budget for the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation to fund organizations that provide legal advice and representation at no cost to low-income Massachusetts residents.

Talk to the Hill is the 23nd annual lobby day advocating for civil legal aid funding in Massachusetts. Held at the Massachusetts State House as Walk to the Hill for decades, the event has moved online due to the pandemic.

Assistant Speaker Clark said, “Civil legal aid has always been an essential service – but never has it been more critical to support the needs of our low-income community members than during the COVID-19 pandemic. I’m grateful to the Equal Justice Coalition for their leadership and eager to join ‘Talk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid’ to discuss Congress’ work to ensure that every person in the Commonwealth has access to the legal support services they need.”

Attorney General Healey said, “Legal aid is a lifeline for our most vulnerable neighbors, and it has become even more critical during the pandemic. Many people continue to face serious challenges related to housing, employment, health care, personal safety and other financial and legal issues.  We are grateful to the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation and the Equal Justice Coalition for their continued advocacy for legal aid and for the residents that benefit from it every day.”

“This event is always important,” said Chief Justice Budd, “because it gives us an opportunity to address the challenges faced by people who are too often forgotten in our society – those who cannot afford a lawyer to assist them with their most basic civil legal needs. But it is especially important this year, because of the ongoing problems caused by the pandemic.”

“The need for civil legal aid has intensified during the pandemic, particularly in housing, unemployment, benefits, family law, and immigration,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of MLAC. “Low-income people and particularly low-income people of color are among the groups that have been most severely affected by the pandemic, and civil legal aid is essential to preserving their health, safety, and security.”

After the speaking program, lawyers and advocates will meet in virtual breakout rooms with state legislators about the critical need to increase civil legal aid funding by $6 million, for a total of $41 million in the FY23 state budget.

LIST OF SPEAKERS
– Katherine Clark, Assistant Speaker, U.S. House of Representatives, 5th District of MA
– Attorney General Maura Healey
– Chief Justice Kimberly Budd, Supreme Judicial Court
– Thomas M. Bond, President of the Massachusetts Bar Association
– Deborah J. Manus, President of the Boston Bar Association
– Lynne Parker, Executive Director, Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation
– Jacquelynne J. Bowman, Executive Director, Greater Boston Legal Services
– Legal aid clients who received help during the pandemic will share how legal aid assisted them and their families
– Host: Louis Tompros, Chair, Equal Justice Coalition

Media are welcome to attend the speaking program and the virtual event is open to the public. Please register by January 25 at https://ejctalktothehill.org/

About the EJC
The Equal Justice Coalition is a collaboration of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, Boston Bar Association, and Massachusetts Bar Association working to increase state funding for civil legal aid.

www.equaljusticecoalition.org
@equaljusticema
#IWalkforJustice

Three law firms and UMass Law win awards for legal aid advocacy

EJC recognizes exceptional participation at the Talk to the Hill

The Equal Justice Coalition has recognized three law firms and UMass Law School for their outstanding participation in the 2021 Talk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid.

The award winners are:

Morgan Lewis, winner of the Highest Participation Award

WilmerHale, winner of the Exceptional Support Award

Meehan Boyle, winner of the Nancy King Award

WilmerHale, winner of the Team Advocacy Award

UMass Law, winner of the Highest Participation for a Law School Award

Walk to the Hill for Civil Legal Aid is an annual lobby day for increased funding for civil legal aid organizations through the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation line item. Last January, the event was virtual and called “Talk to the Hill.” Nearly 1,000 attorneys and law students participated in the virtual lobby day to ask legislators to increase the state appropriation for civil legal aid. The Commonwealth ultimately included the requested increase of $6 million, appropriating $35 million for civil legal aid in FY22.

This year’s lobby day will be held online January 27, 2022, at 11 a.m. Participants can register online. The speaking program includes U.S. Representative Katherine Clark, Supreme Judicial Court Chief Justice Kimberly Budd, and Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey. Clients will also share how civil legal aid helped them overcome challenging circumstances during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lawyers, advocates, and law students will have the opportunity to speak with their legislators to lobby for $41 million in civil legal aid funding in FY23.

“We are so grateful to members of the private bar for their longstanding support for civil legal aid and equal access to justice for all,” said Lynne Parker, executive director of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation. “COVID-19 continues to have such a devastating and disproportionate effect on low-income people. Civil legal aid helps to ensure their health, safety, and financial stability during these perilous times.”

About the Award Winners:

Morgan Lewis won the Highest Participation Award, with 80 lawyers from the firm attending the 2021 Walk to the Hill.

WilmerHale received the Exceptional Support Award in recognition of having the second largest group of lawyers attend, with a total of 47 participants.

Meehan Boyle received the Nancy King for bringing the largest percentage of law firm employees to the Talk. The award is named for Nancy King, a longtime legal aid attorney in Boston who passed away in 2007.

WilmerHale earned the Team Advocacy Award, which is given to the law firm that visits the most legislative offices during the Talk to the Hill.

UMass Law received the Highest Participation for a Law School Award, with 26 students at the Dartmouth-based school attending the 2021 Walk to the Hill.

 About the EJC
The Equal Justice Coalition is a collaboration of the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, Boston Bar Association, and Massachusetts Bar Association, working to increase state funding for civil legal aid.
www.equaljusticecoalition.org
@equaljusticema
#IWalkforJustice

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.

COVID Eviction Legal Help Project Extended Through December

State provides additional recourses to eligible low-income tenants and landlords

BOSTON, May 5 — The COVID Eviction Legal Help Project (CELHP) has been extended for six months to provide continued support to at-risk, low-income tenants and landlords during the pandemic.

Managed by the Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation, CELHP is part of the Baker-Polito Administration’s Eviction Diversion Initiative, which was created in October 2020 to keep people safely in their homes during the pandemic. Initially structured to extend to the end of Fiscal Year 2021 (June 30), the project will now run until December 31, 2021.

The CELHP project created a statewide legal services delivery system to provide free legal assistance to income-eligible tenants and landlords who are owner-occupants of two- and three-family homes.

“I am very grateful that the CELHP project has been extended,” said Lynne Parker, MLAC executive director. “Even though we are seeing lower infection rates and increasing numbers of vaccinations, low-income people – who have been disproportionately affected throughout the pandemic – are still reeling from loss of income that leaves that at high risk of eviction. With additional time and resources to help the most vulnerable tenants and landlords, more people can achieve housing stability.”

MLAC oversees the delivery of CELHP services through contracts with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, the Volunteer Lawyers Project, and six regional legal aid organizations across the state: Community Legal Aid, De Novo, Greater Boston Legal Services, MetroWest Legal Services, Northeast Legal Aid, and South Coastal Counties Legal Services.

CELHP provides referrals, legal information, assistance, and legal representation in all sittings of the Massachusetts Housing Court, to preserve or achieve housing stability. When possible, it also provides legal assistance in District Courts with high-volume summary process caseloads and to prevent the termination of subsidies prior to court to avert eviction.

To qualify for assistance, people must have an annual household income of less than 200 percent of the Federal Poverty Guidelines. For example, a family of four with an annual income of $52,400 would qualify. The project also provides referrals for “low bono” services for low-income owner-occupants with incomes between 200 and 300 percent of the poverty guidelines.