Monthly Archives: October 2009

More than 30 lawyers volunteer at Pro Bono Day

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Executive Director Wilhelm Joseph

More than 30 lawyers participated at a free legal clinic hosted by Maryland Legal Aid on Saturday. “In this economic situation, the need for legal advice had increased tremendously,” Legal Aid executive director Wilhelm Joseph told WJZ-TV news. “Financial resources that support ongoing efforts at the Legal Aid Bureau have shrunk.” About 100 people attended the clinic, which featured informational seminars and one-on-one meetings with volunteer lawyers. “It’s an exciting day to see all these private lawyers come out here to give their services,” Joseph added. The read the article, click here.

In addition, Gov. Martin O’Malley announced Pro Bono Week in Maryland in coordination with National Pro Bono Week, which promotes free services donated by lawyers nationwide.  O’Malley was joined by Chief Judge Robert Bell, officials from the Maryland Bar Association, the Pro Bono Resource Center of Maryland, and homeowners who have benefited from the free counseling services when he made the declaration.

State plans to limit safety net aid for the disabled and destitute

Maryland Department of Human Resource Secretary Brenda Donald has proposed limits the state’s Temporary Disability Assistance Program (TDAP) effective Oct. 26 that will place at least  15,000 disabled Marylanders at risk of homelessness.

TDAP provides $185 per month to destitute Marylanders who cannot work, and who are awaiting federal disability assistance from the backlogged Social Security Administration.  While federal initiatives have reduced the waiting time for disability claimants at SSA, the average processing times for such claims are two years.  Despite reports from SSA indicating the recession is prompting additional SSA disability claims, DHR will limit state assistance to a period of 24 months.

“The state is rolling the dice and hoping the feds act quick enough to rescue our must vulnerable brothers and sisters from living on the streets, in state hospitals, or in state jails,” said Peter Sabonis, Maryland Legal Aid’s assistant director of advocacy for income security.

DHR faces an $11 million deficit in its FY 2010 budget and indicates in its TDAP proposal, issued Sept. 11, will save $3.5 million.  TDAP recipients have increased by 70 percent over the last 18 months, according to DHR statistics.

In August, Health Care for the Homeless [ http://www.hchmd.org/ ] surveyed 777 current and past TDAP beneficiaries and found that 64 percent use the modicum of assistance for housing.  According to the report, many TDAP recipients “reporting staying in a shelter that charged a nightly fee, in a program that charged some or all of their monthly TDAP benefits, or with family or friends who charged all of some portion of their monthly benefit.”  An additional 48 percent used TDAP funds for food, suggesting that monthly assistance levels under the statewide Nutritional Assistance Program (formerly Food Stamps) are insufficient.

Formal written opposition to the plan was submitted to DHR by Maryland Legal Aid, the Homeless Persons Representation Project (www.hprplaw.org), Health Care for the Homeless, and Maryland’s Alliance for the Poor (a statewide network of advocacy organizations, service providers, and faith communities that advocates on behalf of person in poverty) (http://marylandallianceforthepoor.blogspot.com/).

“DHR published the proposed regulations on September 11, ” Sabonis said.  “Unless they change their minds or a legislative committee intervenes, the TDAP changes will take place 45 days from publication—on October 26.”

In addition to providing DHR with technical comments, Sabonis sent a letter to DHR and the Governor containing comments from 29 TDAP recipients that Legal Aid has served.  The Legal Aid clients indicated a willingness to speak publicly against the proposal.  “Their disabilities and situations differ, but they all live on the edge,” Sabonis said.  “If TDAP is removed, they will fall.”

The state disability assistance program, which has existed under various forms and acronyms over the last 15 years, has been historically a favorite cost cutting target for the state during time of fiscal stress–but not without political risk.  In 2004, then-Mayor Martin O’Malley lambasted then-Governor Robert Ehrlich for his planned elimination of the program.  The protest was not only memorialized in the Baltimore Sun (“Protest Decries Housing Aid Half; Mayor, Demonstrators Criticize State Suspension of Aid for the Disabled,” Jan. 14, 2004), but was used as a story theme in the fifth and final season of HBO’s The Wire, created by Baltimore’s David Simon (where Baltimore’s young mayor Tom Carcetti repeatedly makes political gains by attacking the incumbent governor for cutting the safety net to the homeless).

In 1992, then Governor Schaefer reluctantly proposed cutting the program—then known as General Public Assistance—admitting that the result would be increased homelessness, begging, and institutionalization.  The cut was delayed briefly by a class action lawsuit, but scaled-down aid was recast as the Disability Assistance Loan Program (DALP), recognizing by program name the fact that state disability assistance was recouped from beneficiaries when their federal disability assistance eligibility was established.

In 1995, Governor Glendenning sought to eliminate DALP, and was confronted with a “sit-in” at his office, demonstrations, a host of anti-cut editorials and legislative opposition.   He reversed policy, but not before changing DALP into the Temporary Emergency Housing Assistance (TEMHA), with the intent that assistance would be delivered in voucher form directly to those who housed the disabled.  The voucher program was never realized—cash assistance continued until 2004, when Governor Ehrlich also proposed its elimination.  Another unsuccessful class action lawsuit was filed, but it galvanized TEMHA support in the General Assembly, which directed DHR to re-institute the assistance, which it now calls TDAP.

For more information, call Sabonis at 443/451-2851.

For a YouTube interview of some Legal Aid clients who will be affected by the proposal, click here.

“Children make mistakes”–and they shouldn’t be permanently expelled from school

The Baltimore Sun ran a letter from Maryland Legal Aid’s Cornelia Bright Gordon about Baltimore City school’s permanent expulsion policy.  “Children make mistakes,” wrote Bright Gordon, co-chief attorney of Legal Aid’s Baltimore office. “Which of them shall we throw away without benefit of any public education that might be their life-line for future success? No person attains adulthood without regrettable conduct.

“Our societal plan is to teach a child correct behavior, to help him/her learn from mistakes, and become a valuable, contributing member of our community upon adulthood,” she continued.

“Maryland law provides a free public education to all children ages five to 20. Certainly the law authorizes the individual counties to create discipline policies. But it anticipates a specific time period of removal from the child’s current school, and not an indefinite exclusion from all school whatsoever.”

To read the entire letter, click here.