Tag Archive for: National Consumer Law Center

Energy prices are skyrocketing. Here’s how you can get financial help this winter (WBUR)

A Nov. 3 WBUR article quoted Charlie Harak (pictured above), a senior attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, who lent his guidance on applying for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). An excerpt from the article is below.

Most fuel assistance in Massachusetts comes from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, better known as LIHEAP (pronounced lie-heep). The name of the program is a bit of a misnomer, though, since you don’t actually have to be “low income” to get help.

LIHEAP money comes from the federal government but is distributed through designated community action groups and local nonprofits.

  • To qualify you need to make no more than 60% the state’s median income level, which in dollar terms, is $81,561 for a family of four and $42,411 for an individual.

The amount of assistance you get depends on your income and fuel source, said Charlie Harak, a Massachusetts-based attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. “But in no category is it trivial money. So it’s worth everybody looking at.”

Read more from WBUR.

Lawmakers urged to make prison calls free in wake of SJC ruling

State lawmakers are being urged to make phone calls for prisoners free following a Supreme Judicial Court decision that allows county sheriffs to continue charging inmates and their families for the communications.

Bonnie Tenneriello, a staff attorney for Prisoners’ Legal Services of Massachusetts — one of several groups, including the National Consumer Law Center, which argued the case before the SJC — and said the ball is now squarely in the Legislature’s court.

“The prison phone industry is sucking money out of families’ pockets,” Tenneriello said. “These are some of the most low-income and vulnerable families in the state, and disproportionately from communities of color.”

Studies have shown that people who are connected to their families and community during incarceration are far less likely to go back to prison, Tenneriello said.

“We want people to succeed when they get out, and we shouldn’t be putting up barriers between them and their loved ones — it’s just wrong,” she said.

Read more in The Eagle Tribune (May 23).

SafeRent Solutions accused of illegally discriminating against Black and Hispanic rental applicants

Greater Boston Legal Services, the National Consumer Law Center, and law firm Cohen Milstein filed a federal lawsuit on May 25 against SafeRent Solutions, LLC alleging that the national tenant screening provider has been violating the Fair Housing Act and related state laws for years. SafeRent, formerly known as CoreLogic Rental Property Solutions, provides tenant screening services that disproportionately give low scores to Black and Hispanic rental applicants who use federally funded housing vouchers to pay the vast majority of their rent, causing them to be denied housing.  The lawsuit alleges that SafeRent’s algorithm has a disparate impact based on race and source of income, in violation of federal and state laws.

“As stated in the complaint, while SafeRent considers applicants’ credit history, including credit-related information, including non-tenancy debts, and eviction history in calculating SafeRent Scores,” said Todd Kaplan, senior attorney at GBLS, “SafeRent’s algorithm does not consider the financial benefits of housing vouchers in assigning SafeRent Scores. On average over 73% of the monthly rental payment is paid through these vouchers.”

“Racial disparities in credit history and credit scores not only reflect historical racial disparities in wealth, but also perpetuate wealth inequalities through reduced financial opportunities and fewer financial safety nets, which hinder a consumer’s ability to accumulate present or intergenerational wealth through homeownership or other financial investments,” said Ariel Nelson, staff attorney at NCLC.

Read more at NCLC or on Inman, a real estate news source.

New rule allows debt collectors to contact you on social media

April Kuehnhoff, a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center, was quoted in a December 2 NBC Boston article about the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s new Debt Collection Rule, which gives debt collectors more ways to contact borrowers about unpaid debts.

The Debt Collection Rule allows third-party debt collectors to message people on social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in an attempt to collect a debt.

Consumer advocacy groups argue the guidelines may not be enough to protect vulnerable families from harassing debt collection practices.

For one, the call limits are “per account,” meaning collectors could call a person with eight delinquent accounts up to 56 times per week. Debt collectors also don’t need a consumer’s permission to reach out via social media, and the rule doesn’t limit the number of messages they can send unless they opt out.

“The CFPB indicated that it can still revisit the rules in the future, and we urge them to do so,” said April Kuehnhoff, a staff attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. “In the meantime, we call on states to enact additional protections to prevent vulnerable families still recovering from the pandemic from harassing and abusive debt collection practices.”  

Read more at NBC Boston.