Tag Archive for: Massachusetts Law Reform Institute

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.

“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.

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.

Letter: State measure goes too far in its provisions for de facto parents

Laura W. Gal, managing attorney for family law, Greater Boston Legal Services; Heather Gamache, president, Women’s Bar Association of Massachusetts; Anna S. Richardson, co-executive director, Veterans Legal Services and Jamie A. Sabino, staff attorney, Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, responded on Monday in a letter to The Boston Globe regarding the paper’s editorial, “For LGBTQ parents, unfinished business in the fight for equality.” They write:

“As organizations representing a diverse range of individuals and families, we support enactment of all elements of the proposed Massachusetts Parentage Act that enable families to begin a child’s life with the security of fully recognized legal parents, whether through genetics, marriage, adoption, surrogacy, or reproductive technology. Equity under the law is essential.

The bill’s de facto parent section, however, goes well beyond this necessary goal. It would allow stepparents, grandparents, and other caretakers to use litigation to become third (or fourth, and so on) parents to a child, over the objections of one or both of the child’s fit parents. The Globe’s endorsement of the legislation, seemingly without consideration of the consequences of this section, is disappointing.

The overbroad de facto parent provisions would allow a wide range of court battles that could drag on and destabilize children’s lives for years. Divorced parents would find themselves in court with ex-partners of their ex-spouses. Domestic violence survivors would face harassing litigation from their former abusers. Members of the armed services would be forced to defend cases filed while deployed. These are just a few examples of the implications.

Current Massachusetts law allows de facto parents to request visitation. This serves children well. Expanding de facto parentage would not.”

Read more in The Boston Globe.

Massachusetts tenants and landlords struggle with eviction process after moratoriums end

Andrea Park, Housing and Homelessness Staff Attorney at Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, was quoted in an Oct. 31 SouthCoast Today article.

A state law from January stipulates that landlords are required to notify their tenants of programs that can help them meet rent or avoid eviction. When a landlord begins the eviction process, they must file for eviction, after proving they have provided legal notice to quit.

But that notice — which notifies the end of tenancy — is written in legal jargon that is difficult to understand. Tenants will not fully understand the process and move out without an understanding of their rights and government programs that can help avoid eviction, according to Andrea Park, an attorney at Massachusetts Law Reform Institute.

When a tenant gets taken to court, even if the case is resolved, the tenant will have an eviction record, which could bar them from securing a housing lease in the future, according to Park.

Read more in SouthCoast Today.

Advocates wary of tighter immigration rules

State leaders and immigration advocates are criticizing new federal rules that will require immigrants to show they won’t be a burden on taxpayers, saying the regulations will hurt families seeking health care, housing and other public programs.
The rules, which will be released on Wednesday and go into effect Oct. 15, change how the federal government determines if an immigrant is likely to need public assistance such as food stamps, housing and Medicaid, ostensibly making it more difficult for low-income immigrants to secure permanent residency status or temporary visas…Georgia Katsoulomitis, executive director of the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, said the rule change “will punish low-income, low-wage working immigrants seeking permanent residence in the U.S for accessing assistance for basic human needs.” “This subverts the nation’s long-standing immigration laws and family unification policy, because new immigrants will not be able to meet this radical new income test,” she said.
Read more in the Gloucester Daily Times

City of Boston, MLAC, MLRI Announce Immigrant Defense Fund