Oct 05


VAWA Reauthorization is Critical to Protecting and Supporting Domestic Violence Survivors

More than 10 million adults in the United States experience domestic violence every year.[1] The Violence Against Women Act (“VAWA”), originally signed into law in 1994, authorized financial support for investigating and prosecuting violent crimes against women, established offices and grants to provide assistance, and created holistic programs to assist survivors and their communities, such as housing protections and rape crisis centers.[2] VAWA’s authorization lapsed in 2018. In March 2021, a reauthorization bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives, but it has stalled in the Senate. Legal Aid supports the passage of the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2021 in order to sustain and improve upon protections for survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, dating violence, and stalking. Read more →

Sep 29


DC Must Extend the Foreclosure Moratorium to Protect Homeowners Waiting on Life-Changing Federal Assistance Funds

The District’s foreclosure moratorium for owner-occupied homes is set to end on November 5, well before DC homeowners will be able to access millions of dollars of life-changing federal homeowner assistance funds. The DC Council must pass emergency legislation extending the foreclosure moratorium to prevent homeowners from needlessly and permanently losing their homes while DC waits on the federal funding. Read more →

Aug 19


A Historic Increase in Food Stamps

This week, the US Department of Agriculture revised the nutrition standards of the Food Stamps or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP) benefits program, which will result in the largest permanent increase to SNAP benefits in the program’s history.

SNAP benefits have been a lifeline for needy families and instrumental in the fight against food insecurity. Indeed, for many Legal Aid clients these benefits are their only source of income for food. However, the benefit amounts have been inadequate to meet the nutritional needs of recipients and, until this week, had not been updated since 1975. Therefore, in 2020 the average cost of a meal for a modest diet was 22% higher than the maximum SNAP amount. Approximately 23% of SNAP households exhausted their SNAP benefits by the middle of the month with, on average, households spending three-quarters of their benefits within 14 days of receiving them. Read more →

Jul 27


D.C. Bar Honors Legal Aid Pro Bono Volunteers David Reiser and Dan Cantor

We were so pleased to see two of Legal Aid’s amazing pro bono volunteers honored last month at the D.C. Bar’s Celebration of Leadership Virtual Meeting and Awards Presentation on June 24.

David Reiser of Zuckerman Spaeder, long-time Legal Aid pro bono volunteer and 2006 Servant of Justice honoree, received the William J. Brennan Jr. Award, presented biennially to a D.C. Bar member. The award recognizes D.C. Bar members who have demonstrated exceptional achievement in the pursuit of equal justice and who have made a significant, positive impact on the quality of administration of justice.

David helped conceptualize and found Legal Aid’s Barbara McDowell Appellate Advocacy Project, which has been recognized by the National Legal Aid and Defender Association, due in large part to David’s contributions, as a “model of excellence.” The Project was named for its founding Director, Barbara McDowell, after her untimely death in 2009. Read more →

Jul 22


Legal Aid Honors Arnold & Porter’s Unemployment Insurance Team

This week Legal Aid was thrilled to present our Making Justice Real Pro Bono Award to Arnold & Porter’s Unemployment Insurance (UI) Project Team for their outstanding pro bono service during the COVID-19 pandemic. Dan Cantor, Chair of the firm’s Pro Bono Committee, and Rebecca Gordon were on hand to accept the award on behalf of the team consisting of dozens of attorneys and staff from across the firm’s practice areas.

In early 2020, shortly after the start of the pandemic, Dan spearheaded a firm-wide initiative to help restaurant workers who had lost jobs or had hours reduced due to the public health emergency.

“Working families who were living week to week, paycheck to paycheck, lost their income overnight,” noted Dan. “Helping workers secure the enhanced UI benefits that were available meant the difference between people being able to feed their families and keep roofs over their heads.” Read more →

Jul 14


D.C. Council Votes Unanimously to Pass Emergency Bill Updating District’s Outdated Debt Collection Law

Yesterday, the D.C. Council voted unanimously to pass new emergency debt collection legislation —  introduced by Chairman Mendelson and DC Attorney General Racine — implementing much-needed updates to the District’s debt collection law to protect DC consumers. 

Among other changes, the Protecting Consumers from Unjust Debt Collection Practices Emergency Amendment Act of 2021 updates and strengthens the District’s existing law by: 

  • Expanding its scope to apply broadly to consumer debts, including finally applying to credit card debt and medical debt (the law was initially drafted fifty years ago and had become largely obsolete, failing to cover most modern-day forms of consumer debt) 
  • Protecting broadly against unfairness and harassment of consumers in the debt collection process, both in and out of court 
  • Requiring collectors to have adequate information and documentation to substantiate the debts they collect 
  • Creating a universal three-year statute of limitations for all covered debts, and protecting consumers from the harms of “zombie” debt collection (revival of old debt obligations) 
  • Building in enforcement mechanisms like a private right of action, and subjecting debt collectors’ lawsuits to dismissal for failure to comply 

Read more →

Jul 13


The District Must Finally and Completely Eliminate Barriers to the Healthcare Alliance Program

As the D.C. Council prepares for its first vote on the District’s Fiscal Year 2022 budget next week, Legal Aid urges Councilmembers to fund long-overdue permanent reforms to the D.C. Healthcare Alliance’s renewal policies.

The Alliance provides health coverage for immigrants living in the District with low incomes. However, for nearly a decade, the program has had application and renewal policies that make it unnecessarily hard for people to access and maintain coverage.  These policies, which went into effect in 2011, have included the requirements that Alliance participants recertify their eligibility for the program every six months and participate in an in-person interview as part of the recertification process. Read more →

Jul 13


Legal Aid and Other Advocates Call for More Time as DC Council Votes Today on Legislation to Wind Down Eviction Protections

Today the DC Council will consider emergency legislation to wind down eviction protections that have been in place throughout the pandemic.  The proposal, drafted by Council Chairman Phil Mendelson, would allow actual evictions to move forward immediately, following a 30-day notice to tenants; allow landlords to serve past due rent notices on tenants immediately and to serve pre-court notices for other eviction grounds starting on September 26; and allow landlords to file new eviction cases for nonpayment of rent on October 12 and other types of eviction cases on January 1.

The backdrop for this legislation is Mayor Muriel Bowser’s announcement that she will not extend the public health emergency declaration, meaning eviction protections tied to that declaration will expire sooner if the Council does not act.  While we appreciate the difficult position that the Mayor’s announcement puts the Council in, we urge Councilmembers to pass amendments to the bill to make sure that tenants are not evicted unnecessarily during the transition out of emergency protections.  Yesterday, Legal Aid and several of our advocacy partners sent a sign-on letter to the Council outlining our request to provide for more time and include other technical amendments.   Read more →

Jul 07


The Family Law Assistance Network reaches 1,000 referrals!

The Family Law Assistance Network (FLAN)–a partnership between Legal Aid, The D.C. Bar Pro Bono Center, and the D.C. Affordable Law Firm– has reached a milestone of 1,000 referrals since its start in March 2020.  

The FLAN was first conceptualized in early 2019, when attorneys from the partner organizations collaborated to create a court-based program to provide same-day advice and representation for litigants with cases in the Domestic Relations Branch (DRB) of D.C. Superior Court. Many other branches, like the Parentage and Child Support Branch and the Domestic Violence Division, already offered similar services, so the attorneys saw a need that was not being met. 

Read more →

Jul 02


Attorney General Restores Asylum Law Protections For Survivors Of Violence

Legal Aid clients seek asylum and refuge in the United States for highly personal and compelling reasons. Some were targeted with severe violence, persecution, and torture based on their gender and/or status as part of the LGBTQ+ community. Others may have been attacked and threatened with death by powerful gangs because of who their family members are. We are thrilled that Attorney General Merrick Garland took an important first step last week towards undoing some of the Trump administration’s relentless attacks on asylum law by overturning biased and xenophobic rulings from former Attorneys General Sessions and Barr in cases called Matter of A-B- and Matter of L-E-A-. These cases made sweeping generalizations attempted to close the door to protection for everyone fleeing gang violence, domestic abuse, or harm based on gender. Read more →