Written by Jack Hagen

Apr 07


Legal Aid Helps Secure Broad Relief for Medicaid Beneficiaries

Legal Aid’s client community scored a major victory Monday when a federal judge took steps to remedy the District government’s systemic failure to timely process Medicaid applications and renewals. Ruling on motions filed in December 2015 by the law firm Terris, Pravlik & Millian, LLP in the long-running case of Salazar v. District of Columbia, Judge Gladys Kessler ordered the District to take sweeping steps to protect Medicaid beneficiaries.

Legal Aid played a key role in the litigation. In her opinion, after recounting nearly a dozen client examples gathered by Legal Aid and other organizations, Judge Kessler emphasized that: “Lest the reader be getting exhausted reading all these numbers and examples, s/he must constantly keep in mind that these are real people—poor and sick people and their children—who are being denied the health care and the dignity of receiving health care to which they are entitled by law” (our emphasis). Read more →

Mar 30


Legal Aid Holds Pro Bono Training on SSI/SSDI Administrative Hearings

Yesterday, attorneys from Legal Aid’s Public Benefits Unit – Jennifer Mezey, Andrew Patterson, and Hannah Weinberger-Divack – led a comprehensive pro bono training on handling Social Security disability benefits cases. The training was focused on representing Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and/or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) claimants with their appeals at Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) hearings. The presenters covered a broad range of topics, including client counseling, building medical evidence, drafting a brief, preparing the client for the ALJ hearing, and working with child claimants and their families. The presenters also enacted a lively simulation of vocational expert testimony to better prepare pro bono attorneys for what to expect at hearings.
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Mar 21


Turn Tax Season into Financial Goal Season

Tax season is a time of year that for many folks will bring big refund checks and an opportunity to get started on any number of financial goals, whether it be planning a big purchase, paying off a debt or starting an emergency fund. One way to maximize the jumpstart on your goals is to make sure that you are maximizing your refund.

One particular credit, the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC), which is a tax credit to help low and moderate income individuals keep more of their earned income, can provide a substantial credit and potentially refund. In addition to the federal credit, the District of Columbia and twenty six states have established their own EITC credits to allow these individuals to get even more of their tax dollars back. These refunds also act an important tool in lifting families out of poverty (as shown in the graph below), and can provide economic relief to many in need. Read more →

Mar 17


New DC Program to Increase Autonomy for People with Disabilities

Advocates are cautiously optimistic as the District of Columbia rolls out participant-directed Medicaid services for low-income seniors and people with disabilities. If you live in DC and you’ve never heard of participant-directed services you can be forgiven. That’s because every state Medicaid program in the country provides participant-directed services, except the District of Columbia.

In straightforward terms, participant-direction allows people with disabilities to use their Medicaid benefits to hire friends, family members, or anyone else they choose, to help with daily activities like making meals or getting dressed. The District’s new participant-directed program will be called Services My Way. The program will be available for people in the District’s Medicaid waiver program for individuals who are Elderly or Physically Disabled (EPD). As we’ve previously blogged about, the EPD Waiver Program provides home health care services to some of the District’s most vulnerable residents—seniors and individuals with disabilities who, without the services provided in the EPD Waiver Program, would be required to live in a nursing home or pay out of pocket for assistance. Read more →

Mar 08


Legal Aid Housing Attorneys Submit Council Testimony on Agencies’ Performance

Two agencies that are very important to District of Columbia tenants—the D.C. Housing Authority and the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs—had oversight hearings before the D.C. Council over the last few weeks. These hearings are an important opportunity for Legal Aid (and other organizations and individuals) to share their thoughts about the agencies’ performance and to give suggestions for improvement.

Adam Wilson testified before the Committee on Business, Consumer, and Regulatory Affairs about the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs on February 29, 2016. This agency has a number of important duties; most importantly for D.C. tenants, it is charged with enforcing the Housing Code, which it does by conducting inspections and levying fines against noncompliant landlords. Legal Aid’s main recommendations were that DCRA: 1) conduct an education campaign to make more tenants aware of the availability of housing code inspections; 2) remove barriers to tenants accessing DCRA’s inspection services, especially at the point when tenants initially call to request an inspection; and 3) increase transparency by quickly issuing inspection reports after each inspection and keeping tenants informed about the enforcement process. Read more →

Feb 25


Absent Council Action, 13,000 Kids to Lose an Important Lifeline

Today, the D.C. Council will hear from District residents, policy advocates, agency employees, and other stakeholders on the performance of one of D.C’s largest government agencies, the Department of Human Services (“DHS”).

Sure to be on the agenda is DHS’s plan to address the rapidly approaching TANF Cliff — a District plan to cut families from the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (“TANF”) program when parents or caretakers reach 60 months of participation in TANF during their adult lifetime. If the plan goes on as scheduled, over 6,000 families including 13,000 children will be impacted by the measure this fall. Read more →

Feb 01


Legal Aid Calls for Greater Employment Protections for DV Survivors

Last week, Legal Aid testified at the D.C. Council in support of the “Employment Protections for Victims of Domestic Violence Amendment Act of 2015” in a joint committee hearing hosted by Councilmember Kenyan McDuffie and Councilmember Vincent Orange.

The proposed bill amends the Accrued Sick and Safe Leave Act to provide DV survivors greater protections against discrimination in the workplace. Specifically, the bill prohibits an employer from terminating or retaliating against an employee who is a victim of domestic violence and takes time off to obtain medical or legal services related to the violence. The bill also requires employers to make reasonable accommodations for DV survivors in order to ensure a safe workplace. At the hearing, there was a broad consensus among Councilmembers, advocates and government officials that the D.C. Office of Human Rights, rather than the Department of Employment Services should be the enforcing agency. Read more →

Jan 15


Legal Aid Supports Litigation To Improve Access To Medicaid Benefits

Legal Aid lawyers provided compelling evidence of the District’s failure to properly administer its Medicaid program in support of a recent motion for a preliminary injunction filed by Terris, Pravlik & Millian, LLP in Salazar v. District of Columbia. The lawsuit, which has a complicated procedural history dating back to 1993, seeks to enforce the rights of Medicaid recipients and applicants in the District.

The preliminary injunction motion seeks to address the District’s failure to timely and accurately process Medicaid applications and renewals, leaving thousands of households without needed Medicaid coverage. According to the District’s own data, more than 4,000 applications have been pending in the District’s electronic eligibility system beyond the 45-day deadline imposed by federal regulations– some for nine months or longer. Additionally, many Medicaid recipients have lost Medicaid coverage due to the District’s failure to timely process their renewal paperwork.
Read more →

Dec 29


Unbanked Clients: The Bigger Picture on Financial Health

Earlier this month, Susie Cambria, who regularly blogs on DC budget and policy issues, wrote about how DC’s unbanked population is twice the regional rate, at 11.8% versus 4.3% regionally. This figure is staggering. More than 1 in 10 residents of the District of Columbia, are not utilizing (or unable to utilize) banks, compared to the national average of 7.7%.

What does this mean and why is it important? Many articles and blogs point not only why banking can be so elusive to some, but also to the high cost of being unbanked. They are absolutely right. It is very expensive to be unbanked. Even assuming relatively low fees, an unbanked worker making $20,000 a year spends roughly $430 of her salary in fees – $400 in check-cashing fees (assuming 2% per check) and $30 in money order fees (assuming two money orders a month at $1.25 each). That amounts to more than half of one of her biweekly paychecks. And that is important, because it makes it that much harder to build up a savings if you have to spend money to use your own money.

But I want to zoom out a little farther on why unbanked clients face so many more obstacles than banked clients.
Read more →

Dec 15


Legal Aid Asks D.C. Council to Protect Condo Owners Facing Foreclosure

Last week, Legal Aid testified in support of the Condominium Owner Bill of Rights Amendment Act of 2015—a bill that would implement important protections for condominium owners, including a requirement that condo associations participate in mediation before initiating foreclosure.

Under the current law, there are very few protections for condominium owners facing foreclosure. An association can foreclose by issuing a foreclosure notice setting a sale date as soon as 31 days out. The fast-tracked nature of the process means that there is usually not enough time for the owner to come up with the amount required to stop the sale, particularly when the owner has recently experienced a financial hardship. Read more →