Massachusetts Housing Advocates Fear Wave Of Evictions As Moratorium Times Out

The federal government’s eviction moratorium expires this weekend, removing the last remaining protection for tenants who’ve fallen behind on rent during the pandemic…Andrea Park, a housing attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, said the Biden administration is encouraging quick distribution of federal aid…Gary Klein, who leads the COVID Eviction Legal Help Project at Greater Boston Legal Services, estimated that about 100,000 families in the state are behind on their rent and the federal moratorium was protecting many of them who have not yet received government aid. He says the expiration of the moratorium will mean more evictions. “The moratorium has been acting as a dam, preventing at least some part of potential cases from being filed,” Klein said. “When the moratorium goes away, we’re going to see a flood of new cases.” Read more at WGBH.

Involuntary treatment for mental illness back before committee

Advocates for people with mental illness and those with disabilities lined up Monday afternoon to urge a legislative committee to once again reject legislation that would authorize court-ordered outpatient treatment programs for people with severe mental illness…“Involuntary outpatient commitment, as also referred to earlier as assisted outpatient commitment, undermines the values of personal autonomy, liberty, dignity and choice that define what it means to live in the community,” Marlene Sallo, executive director of the Disability Law Center, told the committee Monday. “Involuntary outpatient commitment also creates yet another parallel to the correctional system where individuals with mental illness are forced into a cycle of being admitted, held, released, and then, with involuntary outpatient commitment, placed under probation in the community.”

Read more in Sentinel & Enterprise.

Tenants Urge State Intervention As Evictions Ban Expires

The state legislature voted Tuesday to extend and reinstate provisions requiring landlords to give tenants a notice to quit for nonpayment of rent and protecting renters from eviction while their rental relief applications are being processed. These protections don’t address verbal eviction warnings or help tenants who might never make it to housing court, according to attorney Joey Michalakes with Greater Boston Legal Services. Michalakes says many tenants aren’t made aware of available resources and legal protections. “A lot of tenants don’t know their rights. A lot of folks, even before the pandemic, get a notice to quit, get scared and move out,” he said. “The most common thing that I see in my practice are undocumented folks who don’t want to interact with the legal system and in any way, really.”

Read more at GBH News.

Racial Equity Panel Uses First Hearing to Build To-Do List

A diverse stream of lawmakers, activists and community leaders produced a lengthy list of racial equity proposals on Monday, kicking off one of the Legislature’s most daunting undertakings to date: confronting centuries of structural racism ingrained in nearly every facet of public life…Warning that “mass incarceration is perhaps the most pointed example of structural racism in our society,” Prisoners’ Legal Services Executive Director Elizabeth Matos urged lawmakers to install an ombudsman to oversee public health standards in correctional facilities and require the state Department of Correction to review inmate populations for potential release as a precaution against spread of the highly infectious virus. “We do not want to see another drastic spike in cases and deaths like we did last fall,” Matos said. “Oversight is critical to avoid a continued failure to be appropriately vigilant in these congregate settings.”

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

DLC Finds Abuse & Neglect in Death of Woman Discharged from Middleborough Hospital and Left on Boston Streets

Watchdog group cites failure of the DMH  to order adequate corrective action

The Disability Law Center (DLC) issues a major Death Investigation Report today (June 8) announcing the results of its investigation into the tragic death of CaSonya King, a Northbridge area woman and former information and data professional.  CaSonya King died at the age of 44, within 30 hours of being left on Boston streets by High Point Hospital (HPH), which discharged her from a Middleborough, Massachusetts inpatient mental health unit against her will. Today, June 8, 2021, is the third anniversary of her admission to High Point Hospital. 

The report, “Out of Time: The Tragic Death of CaSonya King and the Practice of Patient Dumping” is available on the DLC website.   It contains a detailed analysis of hospital medical records, DMH investigative records, and legal records, along with photographs, tables and additional graphic material, and information gathered from interviews and fact investigation. The report also describes CaSonya’s death against the backdrop of so-called “patient dumping” incidents across the country. Following its investigation, undertaken as the designated Protection and Advocacy (“P&A”) system for the Commonwealth, DLC finds that the actions of High Point Hospital, in discharging CaSonya King without a meaningful and effective discharge plan, constituted neglect and a dangerous practice that contributed to CaSonya King’s tragic death.   

“This tragic outcome is exactly what we might expect when someone in a highly disoriented state is discharged from a hospital to urban streets against their will, far from where they live, without adequate supports or services,” says DLC Executive Director Marlene Sallo.  “It was a callous act, reflecting a lack of both compassion and respect for the law.”

In its investigative report, totaling 47 pages and approximately 20 additional pages of endnotes, DLC attempts to confront the unanswered questions which have burdened the King family with confusion, sorrow and loss over the past three years:  

  • Why was CaSonya King discharged in a deeply disoriented state? 
  • Why was she discharged to the street and against her will without adequate supports?   
  • Why couldn’t the hospital wait until a placement with adequate supports could be arranged, especially since CaSonya King did not wish to be discharged to a shelter or to the street? 
  • Why was she brought from Middleborough to Boston, 39 miles away, a community where she had no meaningful supports? 
  • Where exactly was CaSonya King left and why did she never make it inside the homeless shelter? 

The report also criticizes the failure of the Department of Mental Health (DMH) which licensed High Point Hospital, to require complete answers to these questions from the hospital.   In discussing the oversight by DMH, the report states that the state agency “made no meaningful effort to answer, or more aptly, to require the hospital to investigate and to answer for itself, and for DMH, these critical questions.”   It concludes:

This lack of rigorous oversight devalues the lost life of CaSonya King and undermines the Department’s core mission: to provide access to quality treatment and supports to meet the needs of individuals with mental health challenges, enabling them to live, work and participate in their communities.

The report does note that the DMH investigators did their work in a competent and timely manner. However, Sallo explains,  It’s not enough to gather facts.  When hospitals act in the name of government, they have an obligation to answer all relevant questions about patient deaths. DMH administrators never required High Point to tell CaSonya’s family why she was discharged in this condition, why she could not be held longer, exactly where on the street she was left, and why she never made it into the shelter.  And they required no meaningful corrective action of the hospital in the face of all of these unanswered questions.  The general public, and CaSonya King’s family deserve better.”

DLC also identifies remedial measures and corrective action for both High Point Hospital and the Department of Mental Health.  For HPH, DLC states that HPH should not be granted a license for outpatient mental health services in the future, unless it demonstrates an ability to comply with fourteen (14) identified best practices.  For DMH, DLC asks the agency to require the same measures of its licensees; that it reconsider changes to its regulations originally proposed by DLC in 2019; that it modify a critical incident reporting form for its licensees;  that it adopt more a rigorous interpretation of its licensing authority; and that it engage in data collection with other service providers and stakeholders, to better assess the frequency of voluntary and involuntary discharges from its licensed facilities to homeless shelters and to the street. 

DLC, as the designated Protection and Advocacy System for Massachusetts, is authorized under federal law to investigate incidents of abuse and neglect of individuals with disabilities.  [See 42 U.S.C. sec. 10801 et. seq., (PAIMI Act) and other federal statutes.] The investigation was conducted and the report was written by DLC staff.  All personal information about CaSonya King contained in the report was authorized to be released to the public by the personal representative of her estate. 

Read the Report

News coverage:

Commonwealth Magazine: Mental health patient died in 2018 after discharge to Boston streets

Seventy years of fighting for justice in Western Massachusetts

An op-ed by Jonathan Mannina, Executive Director of Community Legal Aid.

…As Community Legal Aid celebrates its 70th anniversary, I am deeply grateful to the individuals who so many years ago had the foresight to take action to help us live up to the American ideal of justice for all. Their actions helped hundreds of thousands of our neighbors and their families over seven decades. Read more in Greenfield Recorder.

New website helps Massachusetts residents access more federal funding

The Shah Family Foundation, in partnership with Children’s HealthWatch, Greater Boston Legal Services, Massachusetts Association for Community Action, and the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, today launched a new centralized website called FindYourFunds.org to help Massachusetts residents access available federal funding. There are a number of new and expanded federal programs designed to provide direct cash payments to Americans, including the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), Child Tax Credit (CTC), and Economic Impact Payments (also known as stimulus checks). FindYourFunds.org is a simple, one-stop-shop with information on who is eligible for these programs and how to apply, as well as links to free resources that provide guidance and application assistance.

The FindYourFunds community partners will be joined on Thursday, June 10 at 12pm by Senator Ed Markey for a free webinar on how to help community members get the most out of the tax benefits available. Registration is now open here.

“More than one million children in Massachusetts can benefit from the American Rescue Plan’s expansion of the Child Tax Credit,” said Senator Ed Markey. “This is an historic investment in the children of our country and will take monumental steps to cut childhood poverty in half in the United States. We must now ensure that parents across the Commonwealth are able to access and secure these lifesaving cash benefits. The launch of FindYourFunds.org is a critical tool to guarantee parents get the benefits they are entitled to during these challenging times.”

Any eligible Massachusetts resident who has already filed their 2020 taxes will automatically receive these payments without any further action necessary. Residents who did not file taxes but may be eligible for any or all of these programs still have an opportunity to file. In recent years, as many as 21 percent of workers in Massachusetts eligible for the Earned Income Tax Credit did not file taxes and therefore did not receive the payment. Similarly, about 220,000 Massachusetts residents were not automatically issued stimulus payments in 2020, despite many being eligible.

“Thousands of families across Massachusetts are eligible for significant cash assistance from the federal government, but unfortunately a good amount of that money is being left on the table,” said Jill Shah, President of the Shah Family Foundation. “Whether it’s because they don’t know about these programs, don’t know how to apply, or simply don’t know where to go for trustworthy information, FindYourFunds.org addresses these common barriers and helps ensure every Massachusetts resident gets the money available to them.”

“The pandemic caused an economic crisis that has laid bare the stark, systemic inequities and challenges facing low-income families across the Commonwealth, especially Black and Latinx communities,” said Georgia Katsoulomitis of the MLRI “Our lowest income households are the most likely to be left out of this critical federal relief. FindYourFunds.org connects families to the multilingual information they need, and is a resource state agencies can share broadly with families across the Commonwealth. FindYourFunds.org will increase access and decrease barriers.”

“The American Rescue Plan made historic expansions in the Child Tax Credit and Earned Income Tax Credit and provided another round of Economic Impact Payments – all of which support the health and well-being of families. We know that putting money back in the pockets of families, particularly those with low incomes, is a critical investment in our country’s children,” said Stephanie Ettinger de Cuba, Executive Director of Children’s HealthWatch headquartered at Boston Medical Center. “We are honored to partner with the Shah Family Foundation on FindYourFunds.org to ensure that all families can afford their basic needs. Together we call upon our nation’s leaders to make these evidence-based policy improvements permanent.”

 

Thousands in Mass. Waited Months for Unemployment Checks During Pandemic

Since the coronavirus pandemic began, NBC10 Boston has heard from dozens of viewers struggling with Massachusetts’ unemployment system…Community Legal Aid filed a lawsuit against the DUA last year, claiming the agency was breaking the law by not paying people their benefits in a timely manner.

“You can understand that when the pandemic started, DUA, like all companies, like all private industry, like all government agencies, was facing a change in circumstances, and to some degree, you expect that there is going to be a disruption in the level of services,” said Rory MacAneney, an employment attorney at CLA. “But now, a year later, there really is no excuse for those continued delays and continued disruptions in service. There are much larger states than Massachusetts that are meeting the 87% of determinations within 21 days.” Read more at NBC10.

At the core of CLA’s mission is belief in equal justice for all

An op-ed by Rachel Shannon Brown, senior supervising attorney of the Elder Unit and Disability Benefits Project at Community Legal Aid, Worcester.

…CLA works to assure fairness for all in the justice system, protecting homes, livelihoods, health and families. This Older Americans Month and National Elder Law Month, we ask that you look out for your friends, family, and neighbors, and make sure that our community members age 60 and older can get access to the services they need.

Read more in the Telegram & Gazette.

Interrupted Schooling Meant A Pause In Discipline. For Some Students, That Was A Relief

…The pause in school, forced by pandemic health restrictions, also meant a pause in discipline — and a sometimes painful cycle of discomfort, mistrust and recurrent misbehavior…The state hasn’t yet published its latest report on school discipline. But Liza Hirsch, a senior attorney at Massachusetts Advocates for Children, thinks she knows to what expect: “a huge drop in the number of suspensions and expulsions … of course, because the students were literally not in school.” Hirsch, who represents students contending with disciplinary issues, has long wanted to curb the use of harsh measures in response to nonviolent offenses in the state’s public schools.

Read more at WBUR.