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Program to help tenants navigate eviction process

A new tenant-advocacy program soon will operate inside Franklin County Municipal Court, where a high number of filings make for the state’s busiest eviction docket.

About 19,000 evictions are filed here each year, far more than in the Cleveland and Cincinnati areas, advocates say.

The Legal Aid Society of Columbus is hoping that onsite access to legal help and resources will help curb the fallout and keep more low-income families from losing their rental homes.

“We’re really excited. It’s a very meaningful project,” said Thomas Weeks, the agency’s executive director. “We will have a Legal Aid staff person there whenever eviction court is in session, and we will also have pro bono attorneys.”

Legal Aid received grants from the Columbus Foundation, Ohio State Bar Foundation and PNC bank to create the program. It aims to begin in March.

 

Read more at the Columbus Dispatch

Education, Developmental Disabilities, and Basic Needs Supported through Columbus Foundation Grants

COLUMBUS, Ohio (January 11, 2017)—Grants recently approved by The Columbus Foundation will help 25 local nonprofits address a plethora of needs, from providing meals to seniors and fostering independence for those with disabilities, to helping high school seniors apply to college. The grants, totaling $762,990, were approved by the Foundation’s Governing Committee at its December meeting.

One of those grants will aid people during a particularly difficult time. A $60,000 grant, thanks in part to the R. Leo and Juanita Lee Prindle Fund of The Columbus Foundation, was awarded to the Legal Aid Society of Columbus (LASC) to support the Tenant Advocacy Program (TAP) aimed at reducing evictions in Franklin County.

Originally formed in 1953 by a single attorney and an administrative assistant, LASC’s mission is to be “the voice of justice for families living in poverty or near poverty, the disabled, senior citizens, veterans, domestic abuse victims, and abused and neglected children.” This grant will help enable an onsite clinic at eviction court, providing a voice for those individuals and families who are often not represented when facing eviction.

With nearly 19,000 evictions filed in Franklin County each year, this growing issue affects the self-sustainability of some of central Ohio’s most vulnerable. The TAP clinic, staffed by an LASC housing attorney and supplemented by non-lawyer volunteers, will recruit, train, mentor, and support pro-bono attorneys and legal interns who agree to provide short-term, limited legal representation to tenants.

 

Read more here…

Bill lets collection firms tack fees onto Ohio student-loan debt

Even as state Attorney General Mike DeWine expressed concern in August about collection fees that can jack up the debt owed by former college students, a bill backed by his office was moving through the legislature to codify those fees.

Senate Bill 227, passed on Dec. 6, makes a variety of changes to how the attorney general’s office does business. Consumer advocates are questioning the one that says that, when the office hires a private law firm to collect delinquent debts, the fees paid to those firms “shall be fully recoverable from the party indebted” — tacked on to the principal, interest and late fees the debtor already owes, rather than deducted from it.

It puts no limit on how high the fees can be.

Read more at the Columbus Dispatch

 

Veterans issues: Stand Down offers legal aid that can help vets land jobs, homes

In a convention hall packed with dozens of organizations offering homeless veterans free haircuts, medical and eye exams, a hot meal and even warm winter coats, the booth where attorneys dispense legal advice might not seem so enticing.

But clearing an ancient criminal conviction from your record, dealing with an unpaid debt that a creditor took to court or finally addressing a former landlord’s claim that you damaged an apartment can be the simple first steps toward landing a job or finding stable housing, said Dianna Howie, managing attorney of the pro bono section of the Legal Aid Society of Columbus.

“It’s been an eye-opening experience for me to realize by working with those connected to the military that it is not a guarantee that you have legal assistance just by virtue of being a veteran,” Howie said. “Veterans are a vulnerable population, but we understand that addressing that legal issue will impact their ability to have a stable life in so many ways.”

Read more at the Columbus Dispatch

Student debt can balloon with little notice

The former Ohio State student paid down her student loan to just $23.

By last year, when the Ohio attorney general’s office sued to recoup that 21-year-old debt, she owed $968.

Across Ohio every year, lawyers working for the attorney general sue thousands of college students with unpaid loans from one of the state’s public universities.

A Dispatch investigation of 114 cases filed in Franklin County found that some former Ohio State students have been wrongfully sued. Others, because of Ohio’s lax laws on notification of lawsuits, didn’t know they had been sued. For some, their debts date to President Richard Nixon’s first term. With compounding interest and fees assessed on top of other fees, some of these borrowers now owe as much as five times the original principal.

Attorney General Mike DeWine said Friday that, because of the newspaper’s findings, he will convene a citizens’ group within 10 days to examine how universities and his office handle student loans. The group will be asked to recommend any needed changes.

Read more at The Columbus Dispatch

Ohio sued over student-loan collection fees

Bill collectors and law firms working for the Ohio attorney general’s office are tacking unreasonably high charges onto the amounts they try to collect from people with long-overdue student loans, according to lawsuits filed by the Legal Aid Society of Columbus.

One man said he doesn’t even remember taking out loans totaling $900 in the early 1970s, but the state wants to add more than $1,500 in collection costs to the $2,368 he owes in principal, interest and late fees.

The society has filed lawsuits on behalf of four people who were sued by Ohio State University last year. According to Legal Aid lawyer Scott Torguson, a law firm hired by Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office to sue for judgments against the four violated state and federal laws by demanding excessive collection costs.

Read more at the Columbus Dispatch.

Advocating for Equality in Ohio’s Highest Court

Advocating for Equality in Ohio’s Highest Court

After serving in the United States Army as a combat medic, Marcus Pryor was honorably discharged in August of 2012. Upon his discharge, he applied for unemployment compensation through the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) and was granted benefits. However, seven months later the Director of ODJFS issued a redetermination and ordered Pryor to repay the benefits already received. Then, as allowed under Ohio law, Pryor decided to appeal the determination to the Unemployment Compensation Review Commission and when the Commission ruled in the Director’s favor, again sought to appeal the decision with the court of common pleas. Pryor was unfortunately not granted the appeal because he failed to list the Army as an interested party in his appeal, which meant that a small clerical error limited his access to a fair hearing.

Pryor subsequently appealed to the Ohio Supreme Court.  The Legal Aid Society of Columbus (LASC) and other Legal Aid organizations across the state filed an Amicus Brief in support of Pryor.  The Ohio Supreme Court allowed LASC attorney Kathleen McGarvey time during oral argument. In May 2016, the Ohio Supreme Court ruled in Pryor’s favor, explaining that Pryor had completed his duty to ensure he was granted an appeals hearing by simply filing the appeal on time. This decision by the Ohio Supreme Court provides a step in the right direction to ensure that all individuals tackling important legal issues will not be sidelined by administrative nuances that only those well versed in the law can understand. LASC is proud to have assisted Pryor in his case, and commends his hard work in front of the highest court in the state. Moving forward, we remain strongly committed to justice and our mission to advocate for equality in a complex legal system.

 

View more here.

Tenants Move Out as Eviction Deadline Arrives

Some residents of the Bryden House apartments on the Near East Side milled inside, while others crammed belongings into cars. Still others questioned why they were being forced out by Sunday, despite assurances from lawyers that they have rights.

In December, dozens of tenants — many elderly and some disabled and using federal Section 8 housing vouchers to help pay their rent — were told they needed to be out by Jan. 31. The building, at 1555 Bryden Road, has 152 units.

Attorneys with the Legal Aid Society questioned the evictions in the middle of winter but acknowledged their legality.

On Sunday afternoon, stacks of fliers offering housing options and legal advice were left inside the lobby. They were later found ripped in half and scattered.

Tom Kramer, who suffers breathing problems, had, until recently, been receiving $497 monthly in housing assistance from Columbus Area, Inc.

That stopped without explanation. So on Sunday, he was loading a truck with his belongings, including bedding and a television. The agency said it had found new housing for him.

Read more at the Columbus Dispatch.

Some Evicted from Bryden House Offered Homes

Rental property managers and others have offered homes to residents of the Bryden House apartments who were told by management that they need to be out of the building by this weekend.

Meanwhile, Ben Horne, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society of Columbus, talked on Tuesday to a lawyer representing the apartments’ management company. Horne wants to connect tenants who need help with organizations that have offered assistance, and go through the Near East Side building apartment by apartment to find them.

In December, an unknown number of tenants — most of them elderly and some disabled and using federal Section 8 housing vouchers to help pay their rent — received notices that they needed to be out by Jan. 31. The building, at 1555 Bryden Road, has 152 units.

Horne said that the management can legally do that, but he questioned the timing — in the dead of winter — and wondered why the company didn’t give tenants more time to find housing.

Read more at the Columbus Dispatch.

Elderly Tenants Evicted from Near East Side Apartments without Explanation

The owner of the Bryden House apartmentson Columbus’ Near East Side is ending the leases of a number of elderly, low-income tenants, leaving many wondering why and struggling to find a place to live in the dead of winter.

The residents started receiving terse notices in December that they needed to be out by Jan. 31. There was no explanation.

“I was shocked,” said Gregory Pritchard, 59, who has spinal problems and has lived there five years. He fears that if he can’t find somewhere else to live by the end of the month, he’ll be forced to go to a shelter.

The short notice concerns Ben Horne, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society of Columbus. He believes that though the move is legal, the owner didn’t allow enough time to find new housing.

He’d like management to give residents, many of whom are elderly or disabled, more time to locate an apartment.

Read more at the Columbus Dispatch.

Somali immigrants fight for improvements to North Side apartments

Cockroaches and mice scurry across the carpeted floor where Luul Botan’s three young children play.

The bathroom and kitchen faucets leak a steady stream of water. Some of the kitchen cabinets are broken. The drawers stick. And the front door doesn’t close easily, leaving the 32-year-old mother fearful that someone might break into their North Side apartment at night.

“The conditions are horrible, and the management at Capital Park apartments doesn’t care how bad it gets,” she said last week through a Somali interpreter.

Botan said she fears that her children, who are 5 years, 1 year and 4 months old, are being sickened by the insects and mouse droppings. She said she asked the manager five times to replace a missing screen in the living-room window of her second-floor apartment in the complex on Agler Road.

“I’m so afraid my daughter will fall out when she runs over to watch children playing outside. It’s so dangerous,” she said.

Read more at the Columbus Dispatch.

Summary of Voluntary Compliance Agreement

On August 11, 2000, President Bill Clinton signed Executive Order 13166, “Improving Access to Services for Persons with Limited English Proficiency,” requiring federally-assisted programs, such as housing authorities, to draft and implement language access plans that would assure that individuals with Limited English Proficiency (LEP) would have meaningful access to their programs.  On January 22, 2007, HUD released its Final LEP Guidance, setting forth its expectations of what steps would be required to be in compliance with 13166.

In response to this, in the summer of 2009, the Columbus Metropolitan Housing Authority drafted a Language Access Plan, promising to translate all vital documents into Spanish and Somali. The Plan promised voicemail options in Spanish and Somali, and called for the Plan to be published on its website.  These steps were to be completed by October, 2009. 

Settlement Reached in Homewood v. McCarthy

Settlement Reached in Homewood v. McCarthy

Settlement Reached in Homewood v. McCarthy reinstating benefits for over 180,000 Ohio Medicaid Recipients and Overhauling Renewal Process

The Plaintiffs in a lawsuit filed by Legal Aid Society of Columbus, Southeastern Ohio Legal Services and Marshall & Morrow reached a settlement agreement with the Ohio Department of Medicaid on May 11, 2015. The agreement brings Ohio’s Medicaid renewal process into compliance with federal law and results in the reinstatement of Medicaid coverage for all beneficiaries across Ohio who lost coverage between January 1, 2015 and March 31, 2015 as a result of the flawed renewal process. The agreement also reinstates coverage for the individual Plaintiffs and members of the two organizational plaintiffs, Community Development for All People and Community Refugee and Immigration Services, who lost Medicaid coverage as a result of Ohio’s Medicaid renewal process. 

New Rules Troubling Advocates

The state says it is making changes to its Medicaid program specifically for low-income people with disabilities to simplify the process and make more Ohioans qualify for health coverage.

But advocates say thousands of needy residents will be left without a safety net — when the state no longer allows older adults and people with disabilities to “spend down” their excess income so they can qualify for Medicaid.

“Everybody is for expanding health-care efficiency and lowering unnecessary spending,” said Cathy Levine, executive director of Universal Health Care Action Network of Ohio, which helps the poor secure coverage.

“But to pull the rug out from under some of our most-vulnerable citizens just defies the imagination.”

Read more at the Columbus Dispatch.

ADAMH Clients Make Good Use of Legal Services

It was great to see the Oct. 6 Dispatch endorsement of Issue 14, the ADAMH Renewal levy. The Legal Aid Society of Columbus has been fortunate to have a partnership with the Alcohol, Drug and Mental Health (ADAMH) Board of Franklin County over the past few years to provide legal services to low-income residents of Franklin County. This has given us insight into the fine work of ADAMH and the tremendous needs it addresses.

Studies in the past 20 years have shown a link between mental illness and poverty as a part of a complex negative cycle. Living in poverty increases an individual’s risk of mental illness and mental illness increases the chance an individual will end up poor.

We applaud ADAMH for recognizing that the needs of those who are mentally ill go beyond medication and therapy, and for helping Legal Aid stabilize the living situations of low-income individuals who are mentally ill or who have substance-abuse disorders.

Read more at the Columbus Dispatch.

Ohio Fees for Debt Collection Questioned

John Kasich has argued forcefully that politicians have a duty to help the poor. He’s even been praised by some on the left who see him as a more compassionate voice of his party, largely because of his cooperation with the Obama administration in expanding Medicaid in his state.

Kasich’s compassion, though, has always been tempered with a kind of discipline. First as Ohio’s congressman and now as its governor, he advocated requiring the poor to work or take classes in order to get help from the government. Far fewer American families are on the rolls because of Kasich. From the conservative point of view, his policies encouraged more people to support themselves. Liberal opponents of his approach worry that some families simply have nothing as a result of the reforms.

Kasich, now a Republican candidate for president, was one of the sponsors of the legislation that reformed federal welfare policy in 1996. The law combined with a healthy economy to decrease the national cash-assistance caseload by about 20 percent, an unprecedented change.

Read more at the Washington Post.

This Republican Candidate said we’ll be judged based on what we do for the poor: Here’s what he did.

John Kasich has argued forcefully that politicians have a duty to help the poor. He’s even been praised by some on the left who see him as a more compassionate voice of his party, largely because of his cooperation with the Obama administration in expanding Medicaid in his state.

Kasich’s compassion, though, has always been tempered with a kind of discipline. First as Ohio’s congressman and now as its governor, he advocated requiring the poor to work or take classes in order to get help from the government. Far fewer American families are on the rolls because of Kasich. From the conservative point of view, his policies encouraged more people to support themselves. Liberal opponents of his approach worry that some families simply have nothing as a result of the reforms.

Read more at the Washington Post.

How John Kasich Rewrote the Welfare Laws and is Now Keeping Food Off Family Dinner Tables

In 1996, then-Congressman John Kasich cosponsored a welfare reform bill that, for the first time ever, put a time limit on recipients’ access to food stamps. Healthy, childless adults would be able to receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits for no more than three months in any three-year period, unless they were employed or in a training program for at least 20 hours a week. When Congress balked at a rule that would cause an estimated 1 million people to lose food aid each month, Kasich added an exception that would allow states to seek time-limit waivers for areas with especially high unemployment.

Twenty years later, in his second term as Ohio’s governor, the GOP presidential hopeful is taking advantage of these waivers, as most governors have done. But Ohio civil rights groups and economic analysts say Kasich’s administration is using the waivers unequally: It applies for waivers in some regions of the state but refuses them in others, in a pattern that has disproportionately protected white communities and hurt minority populations.

Read more at Mother Jones.

 

Veterans May be Eligible for VA-Guaranteed Home Loans

Law You Can Use

Q: I’m a veteran and am interested in purchasing a home. Might I be able to get a home loan through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA)?

A: You may be eligible for a VA-guaranteed home loan if you have sufficient income and you can provide a “certificate of eligibility” confirming your veteran status. For more information on how to obtain your certificate, visit the VA website at www.benefits.va.gov/HOMELOANS/purchaseco_certificate.asp. Once you have obtained your certificate, you can take it to a private lender of your choice.

Q: What, exactly, is a VA loan?

A: VA home loans are provided by private lenders, such as banks or mortgage companies, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) guarantees a portion of the loan. This means that the VA promises the lender to cover some of the costs if the transaction ultimately ends in foreclosure. The guarantee allows lenders to give you more favorable terms. For example, while you may have to put 20 percent down to get a conventional loan, it is generally possible to get a VA-guaranteed loan with a much smaller down payment, or even without any down payment.

Read more at Akron.com

Ohio Settles Lawsuit Involving Dropped Medicaid Recipients

COLUMBUS — About 154,000 Ohio residents will have their Medicaid health benefits restored and their eligibility for the program rechecked as part of a settlement reached in a lawsuit against the state, the state’s Department of Medicaid said today.

The agreement comes in a case involving how Ohio officials “re-determine” the eligibility of recipients in the federal-state health program for the poor and disabled.

In March, the Legal Aid Society of Columbus sued the state’s Medicaid director on behalf of several people and two nonprofits in central Ohio: the Community Refugee and Immigration Services and Community Development for All People. They claimed that some individuals’ Medicaid benefits were terminated or put at risk after Ohio failed to follow federal law and Medicaid regulations during the review process.

Among other issues, the legal group had argued that Ohio failed to conduct certain Medicaid renewal procedures and did not adequately notify recipients as to why coverage was being terminated and how to appeal.

Read more at The Toledo Blade.

More than 150,000 Ohioans to get Medicaid again after settlement

More than 150,000 poor Ohioans will regain tax-funded Medicaid health coverage under a settlement on Tuesday of a lawsuit against the state.

Details of the deal were released a week after a court hearing was canceled because an agreement had been reached. The dispute focused on how the Ohio Department of Medicaid conducted an annual process to determine whether beneficiaries remain eligible for the government health coverage.

The agreement “will result in hundreds of thousands of individuals around the state maintaining the coverage they are eligible to receive under the law and being able to seek the medical care they need, without worrying about racking up medical bills or having to forgo other necessities,” said Kathleen McGarvey, deputy director of the Legal Aid Society of Columbus, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of several former beneficiaries.

Read more in the Columbus Dispatch.

Ohio’s Payment Plan Helps Get Drivers Licenses Reinstated

Melissa Linville sees it all the time — the cycle of debt that people struggle to break when they are told they can’t legally drive anymore.

Sometimes, it’s because they didn’t pay child support. Or they can’t afford to pay an insurance company’s judgment against them. And then, they drive again — to punch the time clock at work or drop off a kid at school — and get caught behind the wheel. That leads to more fines, longer suspensions and bigger debts.

“There’s definitely a cycle where they drive and then get caught again … and that’s how the reinstatement fees add up and multiply,” said Linville, a lawyer with the Legal Aid Society of Columbus. “It’s such a hurdle for people who are trying to get and keep gainful employment.”

Read more in the Columbus Dispatch.

Guide to Life: Does a divorce or dissolution make the best sense?

Decision marks critical first step on long legal road to ending marriage

Lawyer Danny Bank viewed the couple as perfect candidates for a dissolution: no children, few marital assets, husband and wife equally ready to say goodbye to the shadows of their one-time wedded bliss and move on.

Then he found himself sitting at the couple’s kitchen table as they fought over who would get each piece of Tupperware.

Yes, plastic bowls and lids were that important.

Bank understands the conflict. After all, he has seen more-trivial matters take center stage in the wake of a collapsed marriage.

Read more in the Columbus Dispatch.

States Tighten Conditions for Receiving Food Stamps as the Economy Improves

BRUNSWICK, Me. — The food pantry here, just off the main drag in this neat college town, gets busiest on Wednesdays, when the parking lot is jammed and clients squeeze into the lobby, flipping through books left on a communal shelf as they wait their turn to select about a week’s worth of food.

The Mid Coast Hunger Prevention Program is intended to be a supplemental food pantry, but a growing number of clients here and at pantries around the state have little else to rely on because of a change in state policy this year. That change is part of an adjustment being made by states that will strip food stamp benefits from a million childless, able-bodied adults ages 18 to 49, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan organization that focuses on low-income Americans.

Read more at the New York Times.

Ohio Counties Kick People Off Welfare to Satisfy Feds

Criticism lobbied at caseload-management company hired by Franklin County Job and Family Services

Threatened with the loss of millions of dollars in federal money because not enough of its welfare recipients were working, Franklin County did what many other counties across the state did: It kicked people off welfare.

Instead of helping more of Franklin County’s poorest residents find jobs in the years following the Great Recession, the county slashed the unemployed from its welfare caseload. That raised the percentage of the remaining participants who were working.

And that’s the only benchmark the federal government requires counties to meet to keep getting money.

Read more in the Columbus Dispatch.

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