Written by Julia Lee

Jul 18


Supervising Attorney Trisha Monroe Recognized as “DV Super Advocate”

Julia Lee, Supervising Attorney

Julia Lee, Supervising Attorney

Trisha Monroe, Supervising Attorney and Director, DVICSE Project

Trisha Monroe, Supervising Attorney and Director, DVICSE Project

Legal Aid congratulates Supervising Attorney Trisha Monroe, who was named a Domestic Violence Super Advocate by the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Trisha is one of nine accomplished attorneys recognized this year as a “DV Super Advocate,” all of whom are receiving tickets to see Lil Mo and Keke Wyatt at the Howard Theater on July 17th.

As I wrote in my nomination packet, “for over ten years, Trisha has been a devoted and tireless advocate for survivors of domestic violence. Every day through representing clients in Civil Protection Order (CPO) cases and other related family law matters, she makes tremendous – at times, life-saving – differences in the lives of low-income survivors. Trisha is an unsung hero in the legal services community, precisely the type of person who should be honored as a “Super DV Advocate.” Trisha is an impressive and indefatigable attorney and her dedication to domestic violence work is remarkable. She has devoted her entire post-clerkship career to assisting domestic violence survivors in court as they seek to obtain protection orders and to assert their custody and visitation rights. Despite the emotionally taxing and fast-paced nature of domestic violence cases, Trisha has seemingly limitless energy and enthusiasm for advocating for our clients in court. She is aggressive in her advocacy and litigation in court and yet completely understated and unassuming about her achievements and the significant impact she has had on her clients’ lives. Trisha’s clients never forget her. They often remark that Trisha’s positive demeanor, sympathy, and patience put them at ease as they conveyed their stories of horrible and deeply personal abuse. Because of the quick turn-around in Civil Protection Order cases, there is a temptation to perceive such cases as simple and repetitive. Trisha’s advocacy contradicts such mistaken views. Every day she works with survivors of domestic violence who are facing enormous challenges of poverty, housing, childcare, and unemployment — in addition to the violence they suffer from their abusers. Trisha understands the unique situations and needs of her clients and works tirelessly to help them achieve their goals of a violence-free life, custody of their children, financial independence from the abuser, etc. The sheer number of cases Trisha takes on is also noteworthy. She is frequently in court four to five days a week, and provides zealous advocacy in each and every case. To keep up, Trisha often stays late to prepare for cases, return client calls, supervise junior attorneys, and plan for upcoming meetings and trainings. No matter how demanding her work may be Trisha consistently demonstrates the genuine concern and compassion for her clients that is so essential when representing victims of domestic violence.”

We congratulate Trisha on this well-deserved recognition.

Mar 20


More Statistics on Alarming Rates of Poverty in the District, and U.S.

Julia Lee, Senior Staff Attorney

The District has the third highest income inequality among America’s largest cities, according to a recent report by the DC Fiscal Policy Institute (DC FPI).  Although the large and widening disparity between the rich and poor in the District is not new, DC FPI’s findings provide a sobering description of what it means to live in poverty in the nation’s capital: 

  • The average income of the top five percent of households in the District is $473,000 and $259,000 for the top 20 percent of District households.  In contrast, the average income of the poorest households in the District (i.e., those in the bottom 20 percent) is $9,100 – just 1/52 and 1/29, respectively, of the above amounts.
  • The unemployment rate for District residents with high school diplomas is 24% in 2011. For those with college degrees, it is just 4%.
  • Funding for two critical housing assistance programs in the District – the Local Rent Supplement Program (LRSP) and the Housing Production Trust Fund (HPTF) – have recently experienced significant cuts leading to an even greater shortage of already-scarce affordable-housing options.

Legal Aid sees clients struggling with basic housing, employment, and other needs related to their poverty on a daily basis.  When the poorest fifth of District households have an average income more than $2,000 below the federal poverty line for a family of one, we know that many of our neighbors face dire circumstances.  

In November 2011, the U.S. Census Bureau released a supplemental poverty measure with the hopes of more accurately capturing the life of poor Americans.  (The issuance of the revised measure was covered in a number of media outlets, including the New York Times, the Shriver Center, and National Public Radio.)  It factors in relevant and important criteria like healthcare and childcare costs, receipt of such non-cash government benefits as Food Stamps, and geographic variations in the cost of living.  These and other poverty-related data are not included in the current official poverty measure, which has not been significantly adjusted since its creation in the 1960s.  According to the official measure, the Census Bureau recorded a new high of 46.2 million Americans living in poverty in 2010.  Under the new poverty measure, more than 48.2 million Americans are impoverished.  

As many commentators have noted following the release of the latest poverty numbers for the country and the District, more needs to be done to provide persons in poverty with long-term job training, affordable housing, health care, a living-wage, and many, many other forms of basic, public assistance.  Fearing exposure to homelessness, hunger, and isolation from support networks, for instance, many Legal Aid clients struggle to protect themselves and their children and to leave abusive relationships.  These and other challenges arising from growing poverty rates make the work that Legal Aid does harder.  It also reaffirms its value.

May 05


TANF Time Limit Would Put Survivors of Domestic Violence at Risk

Julia Lee, Senior Staff Attorney

As a cost-cutting measure, the Mayor’s office has proposed dramatic changes to Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (or “TANF,” the District’s cash assistance program for very low-income families.)  One feature of Mayor Gray’s budget is a time-triggered cutoff for people who have received TANF benefits for longer than sixty months over the course of their lifetime.  Benefit reductions have already been instituted.  We are concerned that Mayor Gray’s time limit proposal would be seriously detrimental to survivors of domestic violence and their families. (The vast majority of the clients Legal Aid helps to secure domestic violence protective orders are TANF recipients.) 

D.C. law waives the TANF work participation requirement for recipients who are noncompliant because of family violence, or because fulfilling the requirement would impair the recipients’ ability to escape domestic violence or put recipients at risk of further violence.  See D.C. Mun. Reg. 29-5823.  This carve-out recognizes that when survivors are struggling to remove themselves from abusive situations, the TANF work program can be too much to handle and can place survivors and their families in real danger.  Most states have similar policies. 

Currently, the Income Maintenance Administration (IMA), which administers TANF, does a poor job of identifying recipients who have been affected by domestic violence.  Only 1 TANF recipient was receiving the waiver in late 2010 even though the Urban Institute has estimated that approximately 1 in 5 D.C. TANF recipients are domestic violence survivorsand more than 1 in 7 have suffered severe domestic violence within the most recent year.  The process for receiving the waiver is confusing and convoluted, so many domestic violence survivors now are receiving sanctions (having their benefits reduced) because their family situations preclude them from being able to meet the extensive work activity requirements.  Changes underway at IMA might help the agency do a better job of identifying survivors to connect them with services and help them avoid sanctions, but those changes will not take effect for several months at the earliest. 

If the proposed time limit is enacted as is, recipients will be cut off even if they are receiving the domestic violence waiver.  For example, a survivor of domestic violence who would be in danger if her abuser found out her location and who, for that reason, never received job training or was delayed in being trained would still be cut off TANF once her time was up.  IMA could say to these survivors, on one day, “You’re fine; you don’t have to worry about going to job training if it will put your or your children’s safety at risk,” but on the next day, “You’ve been on too long; you’re cut off.”   

The potential effect of the TANF time limit on domestic violence survivors is yet another piece of evidence that the Mayor’s office has not considered the full consequences of its rush to cut TANF and other human services programs.  If a TANF time limit is enacted, the policy should be crafted in a way that would not penalize survivors of domestic violence for circumstances that are beyond their control.  More broadly, any time limit should be constructed so that it more closely mirrors time limits in other states: it should be prospective, not retroactive; it should include extensions and extensions for people who are complying with work requirements and people who cannot meet work requirements; and it should be narrowly tailored so that it causes the least amount of harm possible to low-income children and families.  The current proposal meets none of those criteria. 

The fate of TANF, and our clients who rely on it for the most basic subsistence, is now in the hands of the D.C. Council.  Please contact Councilmember Jim Graham, Chair of the Committee on Human Services, and ask him to stop the current TANF time limit proposal.  You can reach Councilmember Graham at (202) 724-8181 or


Recent Making Justice Real posts on TANF:

Mayor Gray’s Proposed Budget Cuts Would Hit Legal Aid Clients Hard

TANF benefits to be cut for some families as of April 1, 2011. 

Bad Direction for TANF in the District of Columbia

Legal Aid opinion piece published in Washington Post

Legal Aid’s Thanksgiving Message