Monthly Archives: December 2009

DHR secretary withdraws regulatory change targeting disabled poor

Maryland Dept. of Human Resources Secretary Brenda Donald has withdrawn the planned changes to the Temporary Disability Assistance Program.  Donald, in a letter to Jeff Singer, CEO of Baltimore’s Health Care for the Homeless,  stated that the department had informed the Administrative, Executive and Legislative Review Committee earlier this month that the department was formally withdrawing the COMAR changes originally announced on Sept. 11.

“The withdrawal is welcome news for roughly 3,000 TDAP recipients who were scheduled for immediate cut-off in January, 2010, when the regulations were expected to go into effect,” said J. Peter Sabonis, assistant director of advocacy for income security at Maryland Legal Aid.  “Another 2,000 or more would have been cut off in February, 2010, as the plan’s 24 month limitation on TDAP assistance would have progressively trimmed the program’s current TDAP caseload of 18,000, 85 percent of whom receive assistance because of  ‘long-term’ disabilities.

“The move suggests that DHR, which faced an $8 million FY2010 deficit in the program, has submitted the shortfall to the governor to be included as a ‘deficiency appropriation’ for FY2010 in the FY2011 budget,” Sabonis continued.  “It does not, however, remove TDAP or any other DHR program from potential cuts in an FY2011 budget that most believe will need at least $2 billion worth of trimming–almost 15 percent of the state budget.”

Over $1 billion already has been cut in FY2010 through emergency action by the governor, treasurer and comptroller (the Board of Public Works), he added.

“State spending is now at 2007 levels,” Sabonis noted.  “DHR and DHMH, like most state agencies, were asked to submit cost-saving proposals to the governor, despite the fact that cuts to their full-time staff positions in  last nine years exceeded staff cuts of all other state agencies combined.”

Holiday Giving Program reaches goal

Maryland Legal Aid’s  Holiday Giving Program of 2009 was another success, reported Baltimore Child Advocacy Unit chief attorney Joan Little. Each year, the program raises money for clients–abused and neglected children in foster care represented by Legal Aid–and their families. “More than 20 Legal Aid volunteers assisted in sponsoring children, raising funding for the program, shopping for children, wrapping presents, and delivering presents,” Little said. “The program served 70 families and 131 children. It raised over $4,800 and most of that money went to the provision of gift cards for food for each family in need.”

Santa visits homeless kids

Santa made his annual visit to Baltimore homeless children on December 15 at the Maryland Science Center. More than 90 children were on hand from the House of Ruth, CASA, the YWCA and Jentry McDonald shelters. “It was a great event, the kids were very excited,” said Tyler Mays, co-chair of the Public Service Committee of the Baltimore City Bar Association, which hosted the event. “Santa was a big hit. The kids also got to see A Christmas Carol in 3-D!” With Santa (actually, Maryland Legal Aid executive director Wilhelm Joseph) in the photo are his grandchildren Alexa (left) and Ava.

“Reinventing the practice of poverty law”

Legal Aid’s human rights framework was the topic of an article, Shifting the Focus, in the winter edition of Northeastern Law Magazine, published by the Northeastern University School of Law in Boston. “In Maryland, they’re reinventing the practice of poverty law,” the article leads. “In 2008, the Maryland Legal Aid Bureau began its strategic planning process, during which it started asking constituents a new question: not ‘What legal services do you need?’ but ‘What are your needs?’ A subtle shift, perhaps, but one that revealed a major gap between what MLAB was doing for clients and what clients wanted.”

Legal Aid assistant director for advocacy for income security Peter Sabonis, a Northeastern Law alumnus, is quoted extensively in the article. “We were almost like technicians, while our clients wanted economic rights,”  said Sabonis, above. “The human rights framework gives us a legally cognizable way to bring the big picture into legal disputes that are usually seen more narrowly.”

To download a copy of the issue, click here.

Delays in food stamps

WYPR-FM’s Maryland Morning with Sheilah Kast looked at Maryland’s inability to get food stamps to applicants in the wake of a Baltimore City circuit court’s ruling last week that state must comply with federal law and must design a plan to come in to compliance in 45 days.

“Case workers now have on average about 1,000 cases, double the number of cases last year,” said Maryland Legal Aid staff attorney Sandra Brushart. “There’s a backlog, but also a multitude of problems. I have clients who have turned in paperwork three, four and five times.”

To hear the segment, click here.

“Report: Insufficient funding for legal aid”

The Annapolis Capital reported Monday on the financial crisis facing legal services, “Report: Insufficient funding for legal aid.” “A report released last month by the Maryland Access to Justice Commission found the Interest On Lawyers Trust Accounts program, which historically provided about half of the state’s funding for legal aid, is generating about 70 percent less revenue than it did two years ago,” the article said.

The report also noted that Marylanders don’t have a right to legal help in civil cases and recommended that the state should embrace a right to counsel. “”It is a right in a lot of other developed countries, but not in the U.S.,” communications director Joe Surkiewicz said.

To read the article, click here.

Post: “Need is up, but funding plummets for legal aid”

Today’s Washington Post Metro section led with an article about the funding crisis faced by legal aid programs across the country. “At the heart of the problem are historically low interest rates,” the article explained. “Legal aid societies nationwide rely on income generated through an arcane process linked to the federal rate, and ‘what’s been good news for everyone else was a blow to us,’ said Susan Erlichman, executive director of the Maryland Legal Services Corp.

Meanwhile, demand is through the roof.

“The Maryland Legal Aid Bureau opened 17,600 cases in the past year–up 1,100 over the previous 12 months–and also referred more cases elsewhere,” the article continued. “The bureau, the state’s largest provider of free civil aid, is operating with $1 million less in interest proceeds, an 11 percent cut.

“Several times each week, the Baltimore office has a day-long program to screen walk-in cases, and slots are taken within 90 minutes of the doors’ opening, said Wilhelm Joseph Jr., executive director. ‘I’m seeing something I have not seen before: people showing up in ties and white shirts filling our seats.'”

To read the article, click here.