CLS pushes for extension of SSI for asylees and refugees who are elderly or severely disabled

August 17, 2011

CLS has worked for years to ensure that asylees and refugees who are elderly or have  severe disabilities that prevent them from working qualify for SSI.  SSI, or Supplemental Security Income, provides subsistence benefits of $674/month.  But asylees and refugees who are unable to become U.S. citizens within a certain time period lose their SSI.

In 2008, CLS worked with nationwide allies to successfully lobby the U.S. Congress to pass an extension of time so that refugees and asylees could continue to receive SSI while they applied for naturalization.  Unfortunately, that legislation is set to sunset, or expire, on October 1, 2011.

Last week, however, Reps. Jim McDermott (D-WA) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) introduced a bill that would extend SSI for two more years for many asylees and refugees.  CLS continues to push Congress to remove the artificial time limit for asylees and refugees to receive SSI.  In the meantime, we are encouraged by this bill and are working hard to ensure that it is passed before thousands of asylees and refugees who are elderly or disabled lose their SSI at the end of September.

A press release issued by the National Immigration Law Center, a strong ally in these efforts, is below. Read the rest of this entry »

CLS advocates for fair Health Insurance Exchange

August 15, 2011

On August 11, CLS Staff Attorney Kristen Dama provided the following testimony at a forum convened by the Pennsylvania Insurance Department regarding how to best implement Health Insurance Exchanges in Pennsylvania.  

Community Legal Services (CLS) thanks Commissioner Michael F. Consedine and the Pennsylvania Insurance Department for hosting public forums to permit stakeholders to present ideas on the establishment of a Health Insurance Exchange in Pennsylvania.

For more than forty years, CLS has helped thousands of low-income Philadelphians with legal problems by providing them with advice and representation in non-criminal cases, advocating for their legal rights, and conducting community education to inform them about the laws that affect their lives.  CLS also engages in legislative and administrative advocacy on behalf of its clients.  CLS’s Public Benefits Unit works to ensure that low-income Philadelphians have access to public health insurance and other benefits.

In recent months, CLS has been happy to work with the Pennsylvania Health Access Network, a statewide coalition of organizations working to protect high quality health insurance coverage and to expand coverage to the uninsured, to develop a Joint Position Statement for Implementing a Health Insurance Exchange.  The Position Statement outlines recommendations for establishing a Pennsylvania-run Exchange that functions as a marketplace for affordable, accessible coverage for individuals and families.  Rather than reiterate the principles contained therein, we simply note our endorsement of the Position Statement and urge Pennsylvania to incorporate its principles if and when it establishes a state-run Exchange.

CLS believes that implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) creates an unprecedented opportunity to provide comprehensive health insurance coverage to low-income Pennsylvanians while, at the same time, addressing historical, systemic barriers to public health insurance access.  To that end, we focus our comments on how a Pennsylvaniarun-Exchange would be able to function best in concert with Medicaid and other public health insurance programs.[i]

Read the rest of this entry »

State of Pennsylvania eliminates successful homeownership rescue program

August 11, 2011

Pennsylvania has shut the door on aid assistance to Pennsylvania homeowners for the first time in the successful 27-year existence of the program known as the Homeowners’ Emergency Mortgage Assistance Program (HEMAP). On August 11, a coalition of advocates around Pennsylvania known as the Save Our Homes Coalition will announce a campaign to resuscitate HEMAP and push the State to give assistance for this successful program at a time when homeowners need it the most and the State has just ended the 2010-2011 fiscal year with a $785.5 million dollar surplus[1]. Community Legal Services joins this campaign and urges all our supporters to join the fight to restore funding to this vital program. Read more to see how you can help.

Testimony on PA HB 1754: unemployment compensation eligibility

August 9, 2011

CLS Attorney Sharon Dietrich was invited to provide testimony to a joint House-Senate Labor and Industry Committees hearing on House Bill 1754, which proposes changes to Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation law. Her conclusion:

“Since the UC Law was enacted 75 years ago, the statutory definitions of ‘willful misconduct’ and ‘voluntary quits’ have served the Commonwealth well.  Nothing about our workforce has changed such that we should cut back the scope of these definitions.  To the contrary, societal forces such as the depth of our current recession and ongoing high unemployment rate, the expanded role of women in the workplace, and the growth of our elderly population requiring care make provision of UC benefits under these definitions more vital than ever.

The only significant change that can be argued to militate in favor of a statutory change is our huge UC trust fund debt.  To be sure, changes must be made to address that problem.  However, a solvency plan that pays down the debt still should be fair and consistent with the goals of the UC Law.  We should not destroy one of our most needed safety net programs in order to save it.”

Read the full text of Sharon Dietrich’s testimony: Testimony on PA HB 1754 by CLS Sharon Dietrich

CLS Executive Director Cathy Carr appointed to LSC task force

August 2, 2011

“John G. Levi, Chairman of the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) Board of Directors, today announced the membership of the Board’s Pro Bono Task Force, which will help develop additional resources to assist low-income Americans facing foreclosure, domestic violence and other civil legal problems.”

Read more.