Wheelchair repairs can take a month, or longer, leaving people stranded

Rick Glassman, director of advocacy at the Disability Law Center, was quoted in a March 9 WBUR article about the difficulties wheelchair users face when trying to get their chairs repaired.

Glassman said one major issue was the shrinking number of companies that sell wheelchairs. “There’s too much market consolidation, and there’s no consumer power,” he said.

Over the past few decades, the number of dealers has dwindled to just a handful in New England, he said, and two national providers — Numotion and National Seating and Mobility — dominate the market. Wheelchair users are stuck with few choices, Glassman said, and “very poor customer service.”

Read more at WBUR (March 9 and March 10).

Letter: Fight to lift kids that Hubie Jones started 50 years ago goes on

Kevin Murray, executive director of Massachusetts Advocates for Children, penned a letter in The Boston Globe highlighting how Boston education activist and social worker Hubie Jones helped shape MAC:

Fight to lift kids that Hubie Jones started 50 years ago goes on

Thanks for your Feb. 22 Metro article, “Hubie Jones spent his career improving schools for students,” highlighting Jones’s central role in shining light on the exclusion of children from the Boston Public Schools more than 50 years ago. Jones has been at the center of social change efforts in Boston for more than a half century and, as he says, he’s still at it.

What’s more, Jones has always understood the importance of organization to long-term change. The task force mentioned in the article became the Massachusetts Advocacy Center, and it was instrumental in the passage of both the bilingual education law and Chapter 766, the special education law. A few years later, that center became Massachusetts Advocates for Children, which today continues to use Jones’s model, combining systemic advocacy with working to change the lives of children, one-by-one. Every family that the organization supports owes a huge debt of gratitude to Hubie Jones.

Kevin Murray
Executive director
Massachusetts Advocates for Children

Read more in The Boston Globe.

Rising inflation puts squeeze on low-income families

Deborah Harris, a staff attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, was quoted in a March 6 Eagle Tribune article that reported on the financial pressures low-income families face due to inflation even while state and federal cash assistance benefits have increased.

Last year, Gov. Charlie Baker and state legislative leaders agreed to increase the monthly benefits for the state’s primary cash assistance program, known as Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children, by about 9.1% — which boosted the maximum payment for a household of three to $612 per month. It was the first increase in more than a decade.

But advocates point out that the inflation rate — which climbed to about 7.5% in January — whittles down the net value of the increase to only about 1.6%.

“It’s simply not enough to make up for the lost value,” said Harris. “We hear from families who have to skimp on clothes and other essential items because the value of the assistance they get has eroded.”

Read more in The Eagle Tribune.

CLA op-ed advises caution with conservatorships

Community Legal Aid senior supervising attorney Rachel Shannon Brown and pro bono director Meredith Palmer penned a recent op-ed in the Worcester Telegram explaining the implications of conservatorships, guardianships, durable powers of attorney, and health care proxies.

“If anything can be learned from Britney Spears’ legal woes, it’s that we should be choosing, in advance, who we want to help us if a court thinks we can’t make decisions for ourselves,” Brown and Palmer write.

Recent media stories have shared that Spears’ father and at least one other person had been permitted by California courts to make decisions about her day-to-day personal care, finances, medical treatment and work activities, leaving her with little to no control over her own life. Massachusetts has similar processes under its probate and family court system to appoint someone to make decisions for another person.

Read more at the Telegram & Gazette.

“SNAP Gap” progress spurs calls for Benefits Common App

On Feb. 15, the Baker administration announced that MassHealth applicants would be able to use their submitted information to start a SNAP application beginning in July, as reported in a WWLP article (from State House News Service). The Massachusetts Law Reform Institute and the National Association of Social Workers – MA Chapter have for years been leading a coalition of over 150 organizations advocating for a benefits application process that would allow Massachusetts residents to apply for MassHealth and food assistance at the same time.

MLRI estimated last year that 600,000 MassHealth recipients likely qualify for SNAP benefits but are not receiving the federally funded, state-administered food aid.

While MLRI Senior Policy Advocate Patricia Baker praised the administration’s latest step, she said more work should be done to remove “bureaucratic obstacles” that have been in place “for too long.” “It’s time to finish the job, break down the remaining barriers with a simple, accessible common application for all means-tested benefits available to our lowest income households,” Patricia Baker said.

MLRI and NASW backed legislation filed by Rep. Jay Livingstone of Boston and Sen. Sal DiDomenico of Everett (H 1290 / S 761) that instructs the administration to begin developing a common application for a range of benefits. The Health Care Financing Committee favorably reported the bill in November, and it remains pending before the House Ways and Means Committee. 

Read more in WWLP articles from Feb. 18 and Feb. 15.

Disability Law Center finds pervasive mold plagues state hospital for mentally ill detainees

On Feb. 9, the Disability Law Center issued a report summarizing its findings from its monitoring efforts at Bridgewater State Hospital from July through December 2021. The DLC found serious health and safety issues including pervasive mold and improper use of restraint, and is calling for the state to close the facility.

Bridgewater State Hospital is the state’s secure institution for people with severe mental illness who are incarcerated, civilly committed, or being held pre-trial. “It’s just a broken facility in terms of the physical plant but also in terms of the services it provides and does not provide,” said Tatum Pritchard, litigation director and acting executive director of the DLC. 

The DLC is an agency tasked under federal law with monitoring state care for people with disabilities, and it also has authority over Bridgewater State Hospital as part of a legal settlement.

Read the DLC report, “Efficacy of Service Delivery Reforms at Bridgewater State Hospital (BSH) and continuity of Care for BSH Persons Served” and press release here. Read more coverage in CommonWealth Magazine, the Boston Globe, and the Boston Herald.

Mass. seeks to claw back at least $2.7 billion in jobless benefits it says were incorrectly paid

Attorney Rory MacAneney of Community Legal Aid and attorney Hannah Tanabe of Greater Boston Legal Services were quoted in a Jan. 17 article in The Boston Globe about their efforts to protect individuals who received overpayments in unemployment insurance during the pandemic due to errors by the Department of Unemployment Assistance.

At least $2.7 billion in benefits went to claimants who, the DUA later determined, received too much money or weren’t eligible for unemployment in the first place. That’s according to a tally of state filings with the US Labor Department by attorney Rory MacAneney of CLA, which provides free legal help in Western Massachusetts.

Many people facing overpayments have already spent the money on necessities like food, rent, and transportation, or made purchases assuming they could afford it, said Hannah Tanabe, a staff attorney in the employment unit of GBLS. And since a majority of the overpaid benefits were funded by the feds, recoveries effectively drain money from the Massachusetts economy.

“We shouldn’t be driving workers who are getting back on their feet into more precarious financial situations when the overpayment resulted through no fault of their own,” she said.

Read more in The Boston Globe. Read additional coverage at NECN, The Boston Globe (Feb. 25, Feb. 21, and Jan. 23), and CommonWealth Magazine.

Disability advocates want remote access to outlive the pandemic

Rick Glassman, Director of Advocacy at the Disability Law Center, spoke with WBUR on Feb. 15 about how Massachusetts disability advocates are pushing to keep remote access to government hearings and meetings in place even after the pandemic ends.

“Folks with mobility issues, chronic fatigue, pain, compromised immune systems: they’ve been asking for this for years,” said Glassman. “They were told, ‘it’s just not possible.’ ”

“In the past, [people with disabilities] would have had to secure transportation to be able to go to the State House or to meet with legislative officials,” Glassman said, “so we’re broadening the range of people that are able to participate.”

Glassman added that there is legislation pending on Beacon Hill that would codify requirements for virtual access in government meetings and hearings. He believes that would not only help those with disabilities but also those with inadequate transportation, parents without child care, and people living in rural areas.

Listen to the full story at WBUR.

Legal aid helps people access COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave Program

Greater Boston Legal Services recently helped a woman receive paid sick leave through the state’s COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave Program. The case was featured in a Feb. 8 article in WWLP (from State House News Service).

Vania Birchmore, a server at a rehabilitation center in Danvers, was diagnosed with COVID-19 in November 2020 and sought time off from work to recover. Her employer had previously offered paid time off for employees who contracted the virus, but when she asked her boss for paid sick leave, she was denied.

Birchmore contacted GBLS. An advocate reached out to Birchmore’s company, which agreed to provide reimbursable paid sick leave through the state’s COVID-19 Emergency Paid Sick Leave Program.

Advocates say that many people have faced a similar dilemma, and the emergency offering is helping low-income workers forced to choose between work and their general health.

Read more at WWLP.com.

Supreme Judicial Court to consider virtual hearings in child custody cases

Jamie Sabino, an attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, was quoted in a Jan. 30 CommonWealth Magazine article about virtual hearings in child custody cases.

With the COVID-19 pandemic upending judicial proceedings, courts have ruled that under certain circumstances, a criminal trial can be held via Zoom. Now the same question is arising in Juvenile Court: Can a termination of parental rights hearing be held virtually? 

Parents involved in care and protection cases tend to be poor, are disproportionately Black and brown and under-resourced in many ways,” said Jamie Sabino, an attorney at MLRI, a poverty law agency. “For many of them, the virtual world is not part of the world they operate in.” 

Sabino said when she worked on care and protection cases, parents often had trouble grasping the situation even when they were sitting in court. Some parents had developmental delays and almost all had experienced trauma. Sabino said the MLRI supports flexibility. Some parents might want a virtual trial to avoid the challenges of transportation or childcare. But if parents are uncomfortable with technology, she said, they must have a right to appear in person. “If being virtual in any way puts a strain on a parent trying to make their case to the court, that’s deeply unfair,” Sabino said. “They should have every opportunity to make the case in the manner they wish to do it.” 

Read more in CommonWealth Magazine.