Low-income Marylanders with disabilities file lawsuit over Medicaid delays

Last week, the Public Justice Center and the Homeless Persons Representation Project filed a class-action lawsuit against the Maryland Department of Human Resources to challenge longstanding delays in processing applications for and providing Medicaid benefits to eligible adults with disabilities.  For these low-income Maryland residents with serious medical needs, Medicaid is the only way they can afford critical doctor care and prescription drugs.

“No one should have to go through this,” said Mary Lou, the named plaintiff, who had been waiting for nearly a year for desperately needed medical benefits.  “It’s just wrong and I want to do my part to make sure other people don’t have to suffer and get sicker just because they don’t have the money or the insurance.”

Mary Lou lost her insurance benefits after her husband was laid off due to the economy.  Soon, she was unable to pay to see doctors to help her manage her disabilities.  Mary Lou had no other choice but to apply for Medicaid. Although an eligibility determination is supposed to be made within 60 days under state law, Mary Lou had been waiting for a decision for more than 233 days.

“Her case is typical of others I see everyday,” said Carolyn Johnson of the Homeless Persons Representation Project.  “People with serious medical conditions apply for Medicaid and then wait months, often more than a year, for the state to process their applications and provide benefits.  During that time they can’t afford to see doctors or afford testing and treatment, including prescriptions and medical supplies.  So they go without healthcare until serious conditions deteriorate and become acute or life-threatening, which often means they end up in the emergency room costing the state far more money.”

According to the state’s own report, as of December 31, 2012, there were 20,007 pending applications for MA-ABD statewide, meaning the state still had not processed and determined eligibility on these cases.  Of the pending cases, 9,940, almost half, were categorized as untimely due to “agency delay.”  Throughout all of 2012, the number of untimely pending cases never dropped below 8,300, indicating a severe and chronic backlog.

“These numbers represent real people, who are very vulnerable, very sick and need treatment,” said Camilla Roberson of the Public Justice Center. “These delays have been going on for years and are getting worse. The consequences are felt by every poor applicant whose health deteriorates each day he or she goes without needed care and by society at large when it pays for emergency room visits and hospitalization, as well as the lost potential for stabilization or recovery.”

Added Jenny Pelaez, an attorney from the National Center for Law and Economic Justice in New York: “The plaintiff, and others like her, are in dire need.  It’s unconscionable that any state, and especially Maryland — which is often thought to be at the forefront of healthcare reform — is keeping some of its neediest and most vulnerable citizens waiting for something as fundamental as healthcare access because of bureaucratic backlogs.  It’s a violation of law and basic human decency.”

Legal Aid to host Pro Bono Day in Frederick

MDLab_Logo_2Color_CMYKPro Bono Day–a free legal clinic–will be held January 24,  from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Midwestern Maryland office of Legal Aid, 22 S. Market Street in Frederick.

Volunteer attorneys will provide individual  free legal consultations in  the areas of family law, landlord/tenant, wills & advance directives, bankruptcy, workers compensation, foreclosures, business law, employment, real estate, tax law, Social Security disability, consumer, immigration, criminal, expungements, government benefits, and serious traffic and MVA issues.

There is no charge to attend and registration is not required. Bring any relevant documents with you. For more information call 301-694-7414 or email chief attorney Nina Shore at nshore@mdlab.org.

Pro Bono Day is sponsored by the Bar Association of Frederick County in partnership with Maryland Legal Aid. It is funded in part by a grant from the Bar Association of Frederick County Justice for All Fund, a component fund of the Community Foundation of Frederick County.

Attorney General Doug Gansler presents Legal Aid with $3.6 million from national foreclosure settlement

wilhelmgansler011013_smallMaryland Attorney General Doug Gansler presented Legal Aid with a check for $3.6 million at a press conference yesterday in the Baltimore office. The money originated from the $26 billion National Mortgage Settlement. Five other legal aid programs also received checks: Civil Justice ($1.4 million), the Maryland Volunteer Lawyers Service ($930,000), the St. Ambrose Housing Aid Center ($600,000), the Pro Bono Resource Center ($565,000) and the Public Justice Center ($510,000).

“The people being recognized today do God’s work,” Gansler (right in photo, along with Legal Aid executive director Wilhelm Joseph and Maryland Department of Housing & Community Development Carol Gilbert, left) said at the press conference yesterday. “This money will help more than 10,000 families keep their homes, not be victims of predatory lending and get thrown out of their homes. People need housing counselors and lawyers to navigate the deal, so we’re giving more than $7 million to these six organizations.”

“This is a very important occasion and I see lots of smiles,” Joseph said. “Usually, people in this lobby aren’t smiling, because they have very serious legal issues. We appreciate the attorney general for his leadership in a national role in forging the national foreclosure settlement. Because of him, Maryland ended up with a substantial settlement.”

Legal aid benefits all Marylanders

From an op-ed in today’s Baltimore Sun by Maryland Legal Aid board member Erek Barron:

This just in: Maryland civil legal service programs not only benefit the poor but also save the state millions per year. Legal assistance to low-income Marylanders is a significant economic boost to the state and benefits more than just those receiving aid, according to a report just released by the Maryland Judiciary’s Access to Justice Commission.

Legal services mean a lot more than just helping people without means get access to the courts. For example, these services help low-income residents receive the government benefits to which they are entitled; prevent homelessness by avoiding eviction; and help protect against domestic violence.

In 2012, Maryland legal service programs preserved or found housing for almost 1,000 individuals and helped obtain 2,825 civil protective orders for clients. But the economic impact of legal services for the poor went far beyond the families helped, creating $190 million in total economic impact, including $12.6 million in economic stimulus to the state, $3.7 million in state expenditures saved, and $882,096 in tax revenue.

Economic impact studies in a number of other states have reported similar results, potentially changing the way these services will be viewed going forward. For example, a 2011 study of Virginia legal aid programs found a $5.27 return for every dollar invested. Another study, released last month, found that legal aid programs in Ohio netted a $109 million total economic impact to the state. The provision of civil legal services for the indigent can no longer be seen simply as a “feel good” initiative but also as an important economic tool.

To read the entire column, click here (behind a pay wall).

Annapolis Housing Authority to honor Legal Aid

anitabailey_smallThe Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis will honor Maryland Legal Aid chief attorney Anita Bailey (left) and her staff at the Anne Arundel Co. office later this month with its Martha Wood Leadership Award.

“Your advocacy on behalf of clients . . . [is] only superseded by your willingness to work in partnership with the Housing Authority of the City of Annapolis to insure that the constitutional rights of your clients are protected and respected,” wrote HACA chief of staff Joseph S. Johnson.

The award will be given by Mayor Joshua C. Cohen at the regular meeting of the Annapolis City Council at City Hall.

Legal Aid demands greater access to migrant workers

watermelon_smallThe Voice of America interviewed Maryland Legal Aid staffers Nora Rivero and Nathaniel Norton for a story about the problems they face reaching out to migrant farmworkers.

“Norton and Rivero say farm owners systematically intimidate them from doing their outreach to migrant workers,” said VOA reporter Mana Rabiee. “One farmer brandished a baseball bat at Rivero, they say, adding that another grower and his son threatened to shoot Norton.

“’[They] got out of their trucks and came up to the window started yelling very angry,’ Norton said. ‘One of the things the grower was yelling was, “You could be thieves. I’ve got the right to shoot people on my property.”

“Across the United States, outreach workers who deal with migrant farmworkers have similar stories of intimidation by growers. They say it’s designed to keep activists away from the poor farmworkers the activists hope to help.”

To see the segment and read the entire article, click here.

Legal Aid’s Joan Little quoted in Sun article on foster care

An expert in child welfare from Maryland Legal Aid in Baltimore was quoted in a front-page story in today’s Baltimore Sun  about the drop in the number of children in the state’s foster care system.

Joan Little, chief attorney for the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau’s child advocacy unit, applauded the state’s recent successes, including its emphasis on reducing the number of foster children in group homes,” wrote the Sun‘s Yvonne Wenger.

“But in some cases, Little said, the state has been too quick to reunify families that aren’t ready, especially because it’s so important for the state to get the decision right when a child’s safety is at stake,” the article continued.

“‘I think any time the state produces this kind of sweeping policy, there’s a risk,’ Little said.

“The situation could be improved if more resources, such as food vouchers or budget planning, were available to parents after they have been reunified with their children, Little said. ‘You’ve got parents who are truly struggling.'”

To read the article (behind a pay wall), click here.