Congress Must Not Cut SSI

December 19, 2011

In a recent Opinion column in Politico, Tim Shriver writes that Supplemental Security Income serves as a critical lifeline for children with severe disabilities, and must be preserved.

CLS advocates have been at the forefront of national advocacy to defend SSI from significant proposed cuts, as a co-founder of the SSI Coalition for Children and Families, which includes over 80 supporting organizations from around the country.

Read the rest of this entry »


CLS provides written testimony on proposed bills that affect immigrant clients

September 23, 2011

CLS attorneys recently submitted written testimony to the Pennsylvania House State Government Committee regarding a package of bills that would adversely affect many of our immigrant–and, in some cases, citizen–clients.

To read our testimony regarding bills that would affect public benefits and employment programs, click here.

To read our testimony regarding bills that prohibit agencies from offering translation or interpretation services, click here.

Congress has a role in preventing hunger

September 22, 2011

The following op-ed appeared in the Philadelphia Inquirer on September 21, 2011, by Kathy Fisher, Carey Morgan, and CLS Attorney Jonathan Stein

A recent report by the Food Research and Action Center found that more than one in five Pennsylvania families with children struggle to put food on the table. Members of Congress expressed shock and indignation at the findings. Rep. Bob Brady (D., Pa.), who represents a district where nearly half the families are at risk of hunger, said the report shone a “glaring spotlight” on the hardship American children are experiencing.

As bleak as the figures were, though, the report shouldn’t have been news to anyone who’s picked up a newspaper since the start of the recession – let alone anyone representing Pennsylvania in Congress. The study merely confirmed what lawmakers should know full well: that tens of thousands of families in their districts can’t afford the food they need.

The real outrage here is that even though members of Congress pay lip service to protecting American children, they have been chipping away at the nutritional programs that keep millions of kids from going hungry every day.

The House recently voted to slash $127 billion from the nation’s most important antihunger program, the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (formerly food stamps), which according to one study helps feed one in two Americans at some point during their childhood. The House also voted to slice $733 million from the Women, Infants, and Children program, which helps more than a quarter-million Pennsylvania mothers and children afford milk, cereal, and fresh produce. These cuts would come on top of another $1 trillion in discretionary spending cuts under the recent debt-ceiling deal, which will limit the reach of other nutritional programs well into the future.

What happens if Congress fails to protect SNAP, WIC, and other nutritional programs? All Americans, hungry or not, will pay the price in the years to come. Growing up without enough food can devastate children physically and psychologically. Hunger threatens their health and development and robs them of the ability to reach their full potential.

Over the next few months, partisan rhetoric will no doubt continue to consume Congress as an appointed “super-committee” devises a plan to further trim the budget deficit. As a member of the committee, Sen. Pat Toomey (R., Pa.) is in a unique position to represent all Pennsylvania families and confirm the nation’s long-term commitment to its children. As a businessman and strong supporter of economic growth, he must also understand that the country will not thrive if we don’t invest in our children. Cutting federal nutrition programs will make hunger and malnutrition more common and more deeply rooted in our communities, draining our economy, stunting child development, and increasing suffering.

No matter how divisive the debate becomes, we must hold our elected officials accountable for keeping the interests of our children at the center of their decisions. If we don’t, America will soon find that a generation of undernourished kids is struggling as adults.

Kathy Fisher is family and economic security associate for Public Citizens for Children and Youth. Carey Morgan is executive director of the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger. Jonathan Stein is general counsel for Community Legal Services.

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 »

Many Philadelphians may lose their TANF and Medical Assistance this Summer

July 15, 2011

Errors by overwhelmed workers anticipated during Logjam July

Philadelphiawelfare offices will have a lot of extra work to do this summer in addition to their other work.  They are being instructed to hold extra interviews for up to 9,300 TANF recipients and review around 16,000 Medical Assistance cases – all by August 12.  We are worried that many families will lose their benefits as welfare workers are overwhelmed by this unwieldy and hasty review process.

For a printable flier on what to expect this summer–including a preview of the notice thousands of families will be receiving–click here.

Who is at risk of losing their benefits?

There are three groups of people who may be at risk:

  1. Adults who have received TANF for more than 60 months in their lifetime since 1997;
  2. Adults who currently have a Good Cause reason not to participate in TANF welfare-to-work requirements; and
  3. Families with pending Medical Assistance renewals. Read the rest of this entry »

Update on the SSP class action lawsuit (Naylor v. DPW)

June 21, 2011

Over 359,000 low-income Pennsylvanians receive a monthly Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payment of no more than $674 per month because they are unable to work because of disability, blindness, or age.

Most Pennsylvanians who receive SSI also receive an additional state-funded payment called the State Supplementary Payment (SSP).

Until February 2010, the SSP was $27.40 per month for an individual (for most people.)  But in February 2010, the Department of Public Welfare abruptly reduced this amount to $22.10 without providing the opportunity for the public to comment on the proposed reduction.

To SSI recipients, this reduction in their income was significant.  The combined SSI and SSP monthly amounts of $696.10 for an individual now equal less than 78% of poverty.  For many SSI recipients, the reduction in SSP meant a missed meal, a medical co-pay that could not be met, or a paratransit ride that could not be taken.

In November 2010, Community Legal Services, together with Dechert LLP, filed a class action lawsuit against DPW.  We asserted that DPW wrongfully reduced the SSP without seeking public comment as required by Pennsylvania law.  The lawsuit is called Naylor v. DPW. Read the rest of this entry »