Melissa Loomis joins HPRP

melissaloomis

Staff attorney Melissa Loomis

HPRP welcomes Melissa Loomis, who recently joined our staff  as a staff attorney for the One Baltimore for Jobs (1B4J) project. She will be focused on helping clients at Baltimore City job training centers obtain expungement of their criminal records. “By removing things like charges that were never prosecuted, dismissed charges or convictions for charges that are no longer a crime, we can reduce potential barriers to employment for our clients,” Melissa said. She is a 2012 graduate of the American University Washington College of Law and previously worked in upstate New York on prisoners’ rights issues.

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Vote YES on Baltimore City’s Question J!

question-j-rallyMore than 18,000 signatures were collected to get Question J, which asks voters to amend the Baltimore City Charter to create an Affordable Housing Trust Fund, on the Election Day ballot. Let’s make the Trust Fund, a key tool to bring local resources to bear to create fair and affordable housing, a reality!

The Trust Fund would receive ongoing public and private funding to support the production of affordable housing for low-income families in the city. For more information, click here.

Baltimore is among a dozen U.S. cities, including San Francisco and Los Angeles, with affordable housing measures on their November ballots. As this article in In These Times reports, 6 in 10 Americans say affordable housing is a key issue for them–and more than 60% say their local officials don’t do enough to make housing more affordable.

According to the Center for Community Change, “More than 770 housing trust funds in cities, counties and states generate more than $1.2 billion a year to support critical housing needs, underscoring the integral role these funds play in the world of affordable housing.”

Help make affordable housing a priority in Baltimore. Vote YES for Question J on election day, November 8!

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With the help of his pro bono attorney, a veteran gets a tenfold increase in benefits

With HPRP’s help, a veteran who suffered a knee injury while serving in the U.S. Army in the 1980s saw his monthly disability payments increase more than ten times, along with a six-figure retroactive award!

Swapna Yeluri, Director of Pro Bono Programs

Swapna Yeluri, Director of Pro Bono Programs

“In June 2008, he had partial knee replacement surgery,” said Director of Pro Bono Services Swapna Yeluri. “He had spent more than two years in physical therapy, followed by a second surgery in 2010. He has been unable to work and was adjudicated to be totally disabled by the Social Security Administration.” This veteran received medical and mental health treatment for years.

Nearly three years after his original claim was submitted to the VA, this veteran came to HPRP for help with his challenge of a 2012 rating decision. His “Notice of Disagreement” had gone undecided, while his financial circumstances, not to mention his physical and emotional health, deteriorated.

Extensive submissions to the VA by HPRP and volunteer attorney Paul Spence were followed by a new Rating Decision that increased the disability rating from 10 percent to 60 percent, with an entitlement to 100 percent individual unemployability, effective as of the 2010 filing of his original claim. “This vet now has the financial means to secure his home, reorder his finances and move forward with a stable and dignified life,” Paul said.

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MD Judiciary: Legal services providers can now link unrepresented litigants to live chat

newchatbuttonimageonServices are available Monday – Friday from 8:30 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. Lawyers will answer questions about civil District and Circuit Court matters including landlord and tenant, family law (divorce, custody, child support, guardianship, name change), small and large claims, criminal record expungement, consumer finance (debt collection, car repossession), domestic violence, foreclosure, mandamus and more. For more information about the work of the Maryland Courts Self-Help Center, click here.

Live chat offers many benefits to self-represented litigants, including short wait times for information and advice (typically 10 seconds or less) and a written record of next steps and referrals. Litigants can access live chat from mobile phones, tablets and desk top computers.

Organizations that are interested in adding the chat button to their websites may contact  lonni.summers@mdcourts.gov or call 410-260-1256.

Posted in benefits, Disability, employment, eviction, expungement, food stamps, housing, Section 8 | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Welfare reform turns 20 in Maryland

By Michelle Madaio

HPRP staff attorney Michelle Salomon Madaio

HPRP staff attorney Michelle Salomon Madaio

In October 1996, Maryland adopted new laws for providing cash assistance to families in need (following Congress enacting the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act in August 1996). Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (in Maryland called Temporary Cash Assistance) replaced the Aid to Families with Dependent Children and was intended to “end welfare as we know it.” Living up to its promise, TANF detrimentally changed how we provide cash benefits to low-income families with children.

Reflecting upon the past twenty years, the question is: What have the reforms accomplished?

The reforms made it extremely difficult to apply for and receive TANF. Data from the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities shows that the number of families receiving TANF has significantly dropped, despite an increase in the number of families eligible for the benefit. In Maryland, less than 30% of families with children who were living in poverty received TANF in 2013-2014.

One of the reforms was the sanctioning system, perhaps the biggest obstacle HPRP’s clients face in accessing TANF. Federal law requires states to impose work requirements on families in order to receive TANF (with some exceptions). Most families are required to participate in work activity programs up to 40 hours a week. The work programs are generally unpaid and not effective in providing the education, skills, and training necessary to secure unsubsidized employment. Federal law gives states the option to impose full family sanctions if a family does not comply with the work requirements. Maryland opted for full family work sanctions.

In Maryland work sanctions are cumulative: The first time you miss work, you must work one day before your benefits resume. If you miss a second day, the sanction is 10 days loss of benefits. For the third day, it is 30 days. Your benefits are terminated and you must work – even if you have no income – for 30 days. Only then will your benefits reopen for the next month.

Even if a family is able to get approved for TANF, benefit levels are extremely low. Maryland has not increased the benefit amount over the past two years, despite other cost of living increases. The benefit for a two-person household is $503 a month (which would break down to $3.14 per hour for a 40-hour work week). For a three-person family, it’s $636 a month, also significantly below the minimum wage. Compare that to the fair market rent for a two-bedroom apartment in Baltimore: $1,380 a month, according to the National Low Income Housing Coalition.

Even without all the barriers to access and strings attached, TANF falls short of meeting families’ most basic needs to survive.  We’ve opted for a system that manages poverty instead of ending it.

TANF is long overdue reform, this time for the better.

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Fasanelli to be honored by MLSC

DSC01744_AFHeadCropExecutive Director Antonia Fasanelli will receive the 2016 Benjamin L. Cardin Distinguished Service Award at the Maryland Legal Services Corp.’s annual awards reception on Dec. 5.

“[A]ny one who interacts with Ms. Fasanelli is extremely impressed with her passion, talent, intelligence and drive to better the lives of homeless people in our State,” said the nominating letter from the Maryland State Bar Association Section on the Delivery of Legal Services Council. “In the colloquial, she is a ‘rock star’ in the Maryland legal services world, and we are lucky to have her as part of our community.”

Blaine A. Hoffmann, director of legal services of Heartly House in Frederick, is the other Cardin Award recipient.

The Cardin award recognizes an outstanding public interest attorney whose career has been dedicated to providing, promoting, or managing civil legal services to low-income Marylanders.  For more information on the awards event, click here.

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HPRP welcomes Jasmyn Harrington

Staff attorney Jasmyn Harrington

Staff attorney Jasmyn Harrington

HPRP welcomes Jasmyn Harrington, who this week joined our staff as a housing attorney. Jasmyn comes from Housing Counseling Services in Washington, D.C., where she assisted in forming and organizing tenants’ associations, as well as helping low-income tenants understand their rights. She is 2014 graduate of the University of Iowa School of Law.

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