MLRI’s Georgia Katsoulomitis discusses legal aid’s COVID-19 mobilization on WGBH

Massachusetts Law Reform Institute’s Georgia Katsoulomitis shares with WGBH how legal aid organizations in Massachusetts have mobilized to protect low-income residents from “economic devastation” during the pandemic. Listen Here (Interview starts at 30:55).

What Boston renters need to know during the coronavirus pandemic

As the novel coronavirus continues to upend life in the Boston area, a worry looms among renters in the region: What happens on and after April 1?

For many tenants, April 1 is the next date that rent is due; but, if people are out of work or have lost other sources of income as a result of the pandemic, they may not be able to pay rent. Other Boston-area residents who were planning on moving now confront uncertainty over whether it’s safe or feasible to move to a new apartment at all.

Below are answers to some key questions as the outbreak unfolds, including ones surrounding what comes after April 1….

Can my landlord evict me if I contract COVID-19?
No. “Attempting to evict someone because they were infected with or thought to be infected with COVID-19, or another medical condition, would be a violation of existing fair housing laws,” said Andrea M. Park, housing and homelessness attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute… Read more in Curbed.

Disability community will fight any attempt to discriminate over scarce medical resources

Letter to the Editor, Boston Globe

The March 17 editorial “Hospitals on the front lines as pandemic takes hold” highlights the importance of preparedness in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. The editorial includes many sensible suggestions, such as canceling or postponing elective surgeries and repurposing hospital beds to expand ICU capacity. However, there is another crucial issue that requires immediate attention: ensuring nondiscrimination in the increasingly likely event that needs exceed scarce medical resources.

Recent proposals to ration access to ventilators and other scarce resources using criteria that disadvantage those with underlying conditions are a source of serious concern to people with disabilities and our allies. Should hospitals prioritize those with the least resource-intensive needs or exclude from access to life-sustaining care those with lower survival probabilities, they would be engaging in discrimination.

The disability community will aggressively push back against any attempt to ration care against the disabled, through advocacy and, where necessary, legal action. Hospitals and other providers should be aware: Even during a pandemic, any attempt to discriminate against the disabled will expose them to protest, liability, and the rightful condemnation of the public at large.

Colin Killick
Executive director
Disability Policy Consortium
Malden

Marlene Sallo
Executive director
Disability Law Center
Boston

Advocates push for boost in welfare payments

…In Massachusetts today, around 30,000 low-income households are receiving cash assistance through Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children, or TAFDC. Nearly 20,000 additional households, primarily adults who are elderly or have disabilities, receive money from a program called Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled, and Children. A family of three on TAFDC receives $593 a month, with the potential for another $40 housing subsidy. A single person on emergency aid for the elderly gets $303. Neither program adjusts grants with inflation. TAFDC was last increased in 2000, and EAEDC in 1988…With the current grants, said Deborah Harris, a staff attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute who is spearheading the campaign, “Families really struggle to pay for basic necessities.”…“No matter how carefully you budget, $593 is just not enough to support a family of three in Massachusetts,” said Naomi Meyer, a senior attorney of Greater Boston Legal Services. “We want to make sure that our safety net is playing the role it’s supposed to of actually supporting our families and our kids.” Read more in Commonwealth Magazine.

3 Ways Automation Can Enhance Access To Justice

The delivery of legal services to low income consumers is being transformed by automation technology such as TurboTax-like forms for people facing eviction, and that transformation only shows signs of picking up steam as researchers continue to mine its potential for legal aid.

Three lawyers at the forefront of the change spoke last week at the American Bar Association’s TechShow in Chicago about how they’re using automation and AI to help solve the access to justice crisis in the United States.

Quinten Steenhuis, a senior housing attorney at Greater Boston Legal Services, highlighted a piece of technology he developed that is similar to TurboTax that is aimed at helping people facing eviction get the legal help they need.

The online form, called Massachusetts Defense for Eviction, is an intake form of sorts that queries users on what eviction-related legal issues they’re facing and gathers relevant information about the facts of their case. The questions are tailored to the user based on their responses to previous questions.

The ultimate result, Steenhuis said, is that the user gets an idea of what their legal needs are and when they connect with a legal aid provider like him there is a baseline of useful information that allows the interaction to take up less time, which lets him spend more one-on-one time with each client and fit more clients into his schedule on a given day.

“People are very hungry for this service,” Steenhuis said. “They are used to this way of interacting to solve a problem. They like that there’s something they can do on their phone.”… Read more from Law 360.

Partnerships urged at Worcester forum on battling poverty

WORCESTER — The Worcester Community Action Council held its annual Poverty Forum, “Driving Solutions in Partnership,” Thursday at the Hanover Theatre, with a call to action from Marybeth Campbell, executive director.

“Many of us in this room are nonprofits across health, human services, housing, transportation, child care. And we probably share a lot of the same clients,” Campbell said. “How do we identify who those shared clients are and figure how do we triage and help support those clients together beyond our one-off programs and services but really look at that continuum,” said Campbell, who served as moderator for the event.

Gina Plata-Nino, staff attorney, at the Central West Justice Center of Community Legal Aid, Luis Pedraja, president of Quinsigamond Community College; Laurie Ross, associate dean of the faculty and director of Clark University’s Center for Excellence in Teaching & Learning; and Ken Bates, president and CEO Open Sky Community Services, participated in a panel discussion on poverty.

Society teaches people in poverty that “being poor is the worst thing they could be in America, because you must have done something wrong,” Plata-Nino said. “And I see that from my clients constantly … Wait a minute. You are working two jobs. It’s not your fault.”… Read more in the Worcester Telegram.

Prisoners’ Legal Services files suit in alleged wrongful death case

A young mother limps toward a desk in the booking area of a Massachusetts police department one evening in late September 2018, holding her chest and repeatedly saying she is in pain. Madelyn Linsenmeir, 30, had been arrested for allegedly violating probation on a drug-related offense in another state.

The scene marks the start of a series of alleged missteps by the Springfield Police Department, the Hampden County Sheriff’s Department and others accused of denying proper medical care to Linsenmeir after she asked for it, according to the suit filed by the ACLU of Massachusetts, Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts and Goulston & Storrs… Read more from CNN.

Cambodian refugee deported 2 years ago returns to US

BOSTON — A Cambodian refugee who says he was wrongly deported nearly two years ago was reunited with his family in Massachusetts on Wednesday, becoming the fourth such refugee — and first on the East Coast — to be allowed back into the country since the Trump administration stepped up deportations of Southeast Asians.

Thy Chea arrived at Boston’s Logan Airport after successfully petitioning to get his green card reinstated and suing the federal government to allow him to return to the country.

The 50-year-old Lowell resident was welcomed by his family and supporters, who cheered, held signs and handed him flower bouquets as they greeted him at the baggage claim.

Chea quickly scooped up his young daughter and one-year-old son, who was born after he was deported and had never met him in person.

“I am so grateful to be with my family. It’s been 18 months,” he said tearfully. “This is my kid and it’s the first time I’m holding him and meeting him.”

Chea’s lawyers argued that his criminal charges weren’t deportable offenses and that he should have been allowed to remain in the country. The Board of Immigration Appeals agreed, reopening his immigration case and restoring his lawful permanent resident status last year.

Greater Boston Legal Services, which is representing Chea, then sued the federal government in December, saying immigration officials were still “unlawfully” refusing to facilitate Chea’s return.

“It’s been a long fight to get Thy back,” said Bethany Li, his lawyer. “We really hope this is the start of a lot more people coming back to our communities.” Read more from Boston 7 News.

Losing home: With fixed incomes and increasing costs of living, seniors are bearing the physical and emotional brunt of rising rents, including eviction

Eviction is scary. And even the word itself sounds scary.

Eviction.

It sounds like a disease, and it does make people sick, sick with anxiety at the very least.

Homelessness is a very real possibility.

Eviction can happen for a myriad of reasons.

Most often the reason is non-payment of rent and it doesn’t have to be a lot of rent.

A recent New York Times story said many evictions come for amounts less than $600.

But sometimes a landlord just wants to repossess the house he or she owns for another purpose.

That’s what happened to an Attleboro woman named Kathy.

The 64-year-old retired security guard for LeachGarner, who didn’t want her full name used, eventually landed on her feet and has a new home in River Court, a public housing apartment building run by the Attleboro Housing Authority…

With the help of a lawyer from South Coastal Counties Legal Services she got through Attleboro Council on Aging, she was able to put off the eviction until the following May.

She found an apartment one day before she was scheduled to go to court, so she avoided the legal trauma and potential physical eviction.

And her chances in court, if it went that far, would not have been good.

According to Masslandlords.net, as many as 99.8 percent of all cases involving judgments are decided in favor of the landlord… Read more in The Sun Chronicle.

Lt. Gov. Polito announces $3M to fight domestic violence

LAWRENCE — For the advocates, attorneys and law enforcement officials gathered at the Northeast Legal Aid office at 50 Island St. Tuesday morning, the murder of a domestic violence victim is an all-too-common occurrence.

And Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, in her comments to the people who work in the trenches of domestic violence, sexual assault and child sex trafficking, said their efforts were greatly appreciated.

“This is heavy stuff, hard stuff,” said Polito, speaking to about 50 people from all over the state who were gathered for an announcement of the disbursement of $3 million in federal grant funds to 37 non-profits and public safety agencies engaged in the fight against domestic abuse and sex crimes.

“The conversations you are having in your community are challenging, and we appreciate your line of work, your focus and your professionalism,” she said.

…One of the agencies likely to be at the table is Northeast Legal Aid, a nonprofit corporation with offices in Lynn, Lowell and Lawrence, according to Executive Director George Weber.

The group received $48,000 in grant money from Polito on Tuesday which, Weber said, would be used to fund a lawyer who can work closely with the Cambodian-American community in Lowell and Lynn. The person has already been hired and she knows Khmar, the language used by what he said were the second and third largest populations of Cambodian refugees in the country.

“She can bridge that cultural gap,” he said, providing family law services for survivors of domestic violence… Read more in The Eagle-Tribune.