LSCCI

Equal Justice

News From Legal Services For Cape Cod & Islands, Inc.
Spring/Summer 1999


INSIDE
SJC and Voluntary Pro Bono Service
Message from Executive Director
1999 Earned Income Credit
New "Custodial Presumption" Act
LSCCI and Y2K
LSCCI Board profiles
Welfare Reform

Apart from the intangible personal satisfaction and reward of assisting an individual, who may be at a critical juncture or turning point in their life, attorneys should also consider the tangible benefits to pro bono work such as membership in LSCCI's Lawyer Referral Service (LRS), legal malpractice insurance coverage….













To offer your legal services pro bono or if you would like more information, please contact Audrey Miller,
PAIC at

(508) 775-7020 .
Pro Bono Work for the Community
by Audrey Miller, Private Attorney
Involvement Coordinator, LSCCI


Many private attorneys are willing to volunteer their time to provide legal assistance to those with legal needs, but who are unable to afford hiring a lawyer. This "pro bono" work is essential to meeting the legal needs of low income people.

LSCCI offers a variety of pro bono programs from which attorneys may select to participate in:


Law Firm Counselling Project (LFCP):
  Attorneys interview and counsel low income and indigent clients on civil matters such as housing, family law, disability law, government benefits, collections, foreclosure, simple wills, powers of attorney, bankruptcy, and other consumer related issues. Client interviews are held in Hyannis, Orleans, Falmouth, and Plymouth with an attorney or law firm committed to offering brief counsel and advice to six clients over a three hour period in thirty minute intervals. LFCP scheduling is handled by LSCCI's in-take paralegal once income eligibility is established. Case summaries are faxed to participating attorneys in advance for the purpose of conflict checking and to allow the attorney time to review the issues prior to meeting with the client.


Full Representation:
  Attorneys agree to represent a party in a legal proceeding coverage,from beginning to end. The cases are first reviewed by LSCCI to determine income eligibility and program priority.


Mentor Program:
  An experienced attorney is paired with a less experienced or new attorney and offers support and guidance during the representation of a case beginning to end.


In House Volunteer:
  For an attorney with a good amount of free time, volunteering in house for LSCCI may provide a good training ground and can offer secretarial support and a law library.


Clinics:
  LSCCI recruits experienced bankruptcy attorneys to conduct quarterly bankruptcy clinics to explain the general bankruptcy process and answer individual questions.

Advantages of Pro Bono Work
Apart from the intangible personal satisfaction and reward of assisting an individual, who may be at a critical Juncture or turning point in their life, attorneys should also consider the tangible benefits to pro bono work such as membership in LSCCl's Lawyer Referral Service (LRS), legal malpractice insurance coverage, discounted tuition vouchers in legal seminars and an opportunity for networking in the legal community.

Pro bono attorneys are eligible to participate in our Lawyer Referral Service (LRS). Attorneys volunteering in any aspect of our pro bono program are eligible to receive client case referrals which LSCCI determines to be over income, fee-generating, or criminal in nature. Therefore, an attorney involved in pro bono work on behalf of clients unable to pay, may very well receive referrals of clients who are able to pay. Legal Malpractice insurance coverage is provided through LSCCI to all attorneys handling cases on a pro bono basis. When MCLE or MBA seminar tuition waivers or discounted tuition vouchers are made available to us, we are able to distribute them to attorneys who participate in our pro bono program as a way of saying "thank you."

New to the practice of law in Massachusetts? Re-located from another jurisdiction? New admittee? Pro bono work is a great way to network in the legal community and gain both exposure and experience.

If you have an interest in offering your legal services pro bono or would like more information, please contact Audrey Miller, PAIC at (508) 775-7020 or write her at LSCCI 460 West Main Street Hyannis, MA 02601.















A lawyer should provide annually at least 25 hours of pro bono publico legal services for the benefit of persons with limited means
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The Supreme Judicial Court Recently Approved a New Aspirational Rule on Voluntary Pro Bono Publico Service
(Massachusetts Rules of Professional Conduct Rule 6. 1 Voluntary Pro Bono Publico Service text follows)



A lawyer should provide annually at least 25 hours of pro bono publico legal services for the benefit of persons with limited means. In providing these professional services, the lawyer should:
(a) provide all or most of the 25 hours of pro bono publico legal services without compensation or expectation of compensation to persons of limited means, or to charitable, religious, civic, community, governmental, and educational organizations in matters that are designed primarily to address the needs of persons of limited means. The lawyer may provide any remaining hours by delivering legal services at substantially reduced compensation to persons of limited means or by participating in activities for improving the law, the legal system, or the legal profession that are primarily intended to benefit persons of limited means; or,

(b) contribute from $250 to 1% of the lawyer's annual taxable, professional income to one or more organizations that provide or support legal services to persons of limited means.

This aspirational rule is based on ABA Model Rule 6.1 (25 hours is one-half of the hours specified in ABA Model Rule 6.1 as the Massachusetts Rule is focused solely on pro bono service which benefits those unable to afford access to our justice system.) Thirty-eight states have adopted pro bono rules based on Model Rule 6.1. It is important to note that this new rule is merely aspirational and failure to provide pro bono services will not subject a lawyer to discipline.

Several studies have shown that existing legal services meet only 20 percent of the need in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and in 1996 the Commission on Equal Justice concluded that the poor people in our State were unable to obtain legal assistance in approximately 225,000 cases.











Legal Services for Cape Cod and Islands, Inc. recently celebrated its 30th Anniversary. Since 1968, LSCCI has provided free civil legal services to low income clients on the Cape and Islands and in eastern Plymouth County
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Message from the Executive Director

Legal Services for Cape Cod and Islands, Inc. recently celebrated its 30th Anniversary. Since 1968, LSCCI has provided free civil legal services to low income clients on the Cape and Islands and in eastern Plymouth County, Massachusetts. Originally formed under the auspices of the Office of Economic Opportunity during President Johnson's War on Poverty, funding for Legal Services Programs was provided for the first time on a national basis. It was with this seed money that LSCCI was first incorporated as a not-for-profit corporation and began the work at hand. In1974, President Nixon signed into law the Legal Services Corporation Act, creating a funding organization that has been one of the main funding sources for our program. Today, LSCCI receives public funds and private donations from numerous sources. Our largest source of funds today is from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts through the funding organization Massachusetts Legal Assistance Corporation (MLAC).

Funding for legal services has always been unstable and we have experienced periods of funding increases and decreases. However, after experiencing deep cuts in Legal Services Corporation (LSC) funding several years ago, funding for our program has stabilized. For the current fiscal year, we have actually received increases in funding from MLAC both in its general support in special grant funding for services to battered women and the Medicare Advocacy Project. Also, we recently received good news that we will receive an approximate 5% increase in funding from LSC, at least for the first half of 1999 and that Massachusetts Legal Services Programs will be receiving funding from LSC for the next three years. This is now the maximum number of years LSC will provide funding pursuant to its com-petitive bidding process.

With funding stability, LSCCI has been able to maintain its main office in Hyannis and our branch office in Plymouth. We cur-rently have a staff of seventeen people in-cluding nine attorneys. In the past year, we were able to hire a part-time attorney as a new addition to our staff. Also, we received a grant from the Massachusetts Bar Foun-dation to hire a Pro Bono Coordinator. Our new coordinator is working with the private bar to help coordinate their volunteer efforts in providing further legal assistance to low- income people in our service area. With the help of the volunteer efforts of the private bar and the hard work of our dedicated staff, LSCCI looks forward to continuing to provide legal services to those most in need for at least another thirty years and to con-tinue to pursue the goal of providing equal access to justice to all people.

-Raymond A. Yox

New Pro Bono Coordinator Hired

Audrey Miller, Esq. has been hired at Legal Services for Cape Cod and Islands, Inc. (LSCCI) as a part-time Private Attorney Involvement Coordinator (PAIC) through a generous grant funded by the Massachusetts bar foundation.

Ms. Miller worked with the Patent and Trademark Office in Washington D.C. and since relocating to the Cape in 1993, she has worked within the human services community, practiced law, and is a freelance writer.

The PAIC will primarily focused efforts on recruiting attorneys and law firms across the Cape & Islands and Eastern Plymouth County for pro bono work in such areas as family law and housing and to centralize pro bono in-take and subsequent referrals to local attorneys. The overall goal of this new program is to provide a more efficient and organized manner in which to serve the legal needs of our community's low income population.

In addition to referrals, the PAIC will maintain contact with the private bar, court system, judiciary, and human service agencies in an effort to streamline the referral process and maintain an on going dialogue with respect to the needs of low income litigants across our communities



If you worked in 1998 you may be eligible for the EIC.
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The 1999 Earned Income Credit (EIC):
A Tax Benefit for People Who Work


Who is eligible? If you worked in 1998 you may be eligible for the ETC. Part-time and full-time workers, single or married workers, people who raised children in their household and people who did not may all be eligible for a refund from the federal government. Even if you don't owe taxes, you may be eligible for the credit; a federal tax return must be filed. Following is a breakdown:

One child + yearly income of less than $26,473=up to $2,271
File Form 1040 or 1040A and attach Schedule ETC

Two or more children + yearly income of less than $30,095=up to $3,756
File Form 1040 or 1040A and attach Schedule ETC

Zero children + yearly income of less than $10,030 + between the ages of 25 and 64=up to $341.
File Form 1040 or 1040A or 1040EZ

Part of next year's ETC can be advanced in your paycheck NOW! Call 1-800-TAXFORM and request Form W-5 from your employer. To get free help in filling out tax forms, call the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) program, a program of the IRS at 1-800-829-1040.

If you have not filed taxes in a long while, you may still be eligible to claim the ETC for the past 3 years and if back taxes are owed, the ETC could lower your tax bill.

Many legal immigrants, including green card holders and refugees are eligible for the ETC and receiving the ETC will not jeopardize immigration status.

If you work and receive benefits such as Food Stamps, SSI, Medicaid or public housing, the ETC does not affect or interrupt these sources of assistance.

Workfare Payments and the EIC
Individuals participating in "workfare," a requirement that those recipients receiving "welfare" benefit checks work in the community, should NOT count their "workfare" benefits as earnings when calculating the ETC. If a wage is paid and a worker receives a W-2 (or a 1099 in some circumstances), then the wage documented on the W-2 or 1099 SHOULD be counted in calculating the EIC, but workfare benefits are NOT WAGES and SHOULD NOT be calculated as wages

Child Tax Credit for 1998
A child tax credit may be available of $400 in 1998 (and $500 in following years) for each qualifying child under the age of 17.

To claim the child tax credit Form 8812 "Additional Child Tax Credit" should be filed along with either Form 1040 or Form 1040A.



LSCCI offers a full range of legal assistance to clients with domestic relations matters, including divorce, paternity, custody, visitation, and support.
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The New "Custodial Presumption" Act:
Consideration of Domestic Violence in Custody and
Visitation Proceedings
by Kim Bolinder, LSCCI Family Law Attorney

Domestic violence threatens the security and stability of families at all economic levels. The physical abuse of women, frequently mothers of children in the household, as well as neglect and harm to children themselves, calls for heightened awareness in-and quickened responsiveness by - the justice system.

LSCCI offers a full range of legal assistance to clients with domestic relations matters, including divorce, paternity, custody, visitation, and support. Unlike the caseload of most private attorneys, however, most of LSCCI's domestic relations clients are victims of domestic violence. LSCCI provides comprehensive assistance to victims of domestic violence, focusing on achieving longterm stability for at-risk families after the entry of an abuse prevention order, including permanent provisions for child support, custody, medical insurance, safe housing, an equitable division of assets, and where appropriate, visitation. The new Custodial Presumption Act is designed to add another layer of protection from domestic violence.

The Custodial Presumption Act (the Act) requires probate and family court judges to consider past or present abuse toward either a parent or a child as a factor which creates a rebuttable presumption against custody. Chapter 179 of the Acts of 1998, An Act Relative to the Consideration of Domestic Violence in Custody and Visitation Proceedings. The rationale for establishing this presumption is that often granting custody to someone who abuses a child or the child's other parent would be contrary to the best interests of the child.

The Act follows a national trend; other states have enacted rebuttable presumption legislation to protect children exposed to domestic violence as recommended by Congress, the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges and the American Bar Association. Brief of Amici Curiae, RE: An Act Relative To The Consideration of Domestic Violence in Custody and Visitation Proceedings (Amici brief), No. SJC-07603. This presumption represents an extension of current state law.

The Act helps children in several respects. First, it limits the risk of physical harm to the child. Second, it limits the emotional and developmental harm to the child. Third, the Act lessens the risk of placing the child in the middle of unwarranted, drawn out custody litigation........
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In Massachusetts, the probate and family court always considers the best interests of the child as the most important factor when determining custody of children. In the relatively recent case of Custody of Vaughn, 422 Mass. 590 (1996), our state's highest court held that the probate and family court must issue findings of fact on the effects of domestic violence on the child whenever custody is awarded to a batterer. In the context of divorce proceedings, the legislature had previously passed additional law which required the probate and family court to consider "...whether any member of the family has been the perpetrator of domestic violence……" M.G.L. Chapter 208, Section 31. The Custodial Presumption Act sup-planted this last legislative requirement in the divorce context, and, for purposes of raising the presumption, limits consider-ation to abuse of the child or the child's other parent. At the same time, the Act has extended statutory law requiring consider-ation of domestic violence beyond the di-vorce context, as the Act applies to all cus-tody disputes between parents and also to custody determinations made pursuant to an Abuse Prevention Order. Moreover, the Act adds the rebuttable presumption. The pre-sumption helps to insure that the harmful effects domestic violence has on children is thoughtfully considered in custody proceed-ings and in custody determinations. However, it appears that even when the abuse does not meet the standard neccessary to raise the presumption under the Act, the Probate and Family Court must still comply with the ruling under Custody of Vaughn and issue findings of fact on the effects of do-mestic violence on the child whenever cus-tody is awarded to a batterer.

The Act helps children in several re-spects. First, it limits the risk of physical harm to the child. Second, it limits the emotional and developmental harm to the child. Third, the Act lessens the risk of placing the child in the middle of unwar-ranted, drawn out custody litigation. Fourth, it lessens the risk of the child be-coming a batterer or an adult victim of do-mestic violence.

Children in households where domestic violence occurs experience emotional and developmental harm, are at greater risk for physical harm or physical abuse themselves, and are more likely to be participants, whether as victim or perpetrator, in the cycle of domestic violence once they become adults. See: Amici brief, supra and citations therein. Even after separation, divorce, or issuance of an Abuse prevention order, people who abuse their partners often use their own children to try to "get" at the other parent, passing messages to the other parent through the child, attempting to en-list a child's sympathy, and even through custody claims. "The abuser's need for power and control over the victim is a pre-dominant component of domestic violence, and custody litigation is misused as a vehicle of continued control over the victim." Amici brief, at 19. Batterers may use children as an effective bargaining chip to pressure victims into returning to abusive relationships or to gain an economic advantage in negotiation of support and property settlements. The Gender Bias Study of the Court System of Massachusetts (1989), at 87-88.

The Act also provides protection against false accusations of abuse for purposes of obtaining custody under the Act. First, only a pattern of abuse or a serious incident of abuse is enough to give rise the presumption. Note that a person who has had a rea-sonable fear of imminent serious bodily in-jury may meet the definition of a serious in-cident of abuse. Second, Abuse Prevention Orders, or "Restraining Orders" as they are commonly called, by themselves do not prove that a parent is abusive. In fact, the court will not even consider as evidence of abuse Abuse Prevention Orders that are issued without the presence of the opposing party. (Of course, the court can consider the facts of the incident or incidents which caused someone to seek the Abuse Prevention Order). Third, for purposes of raising the presumption, the law limits the consideration of domestic violence to incidents perpetrated against a child or the child's other parent. Finally, even when a parent has perpetrated a pattern of abuse or a serious incident of abuse against the child or the child's other parent, they may "rebut" the presumption if they can show to the court that despite this abuse, it is still in the child's best interest to award custody (whether physical or legal) to them.

Summary of the Custodial Presumption Act
The Act applies to all forms of "custody," including shared physical and even shared legal custody.

The Act defines "abuse" as: a) attempting to cause or causing bodily injury; or b) placing another in reasonable fear of imminent serious bodily injury; or (c) causing another to engage involuntarily in sexual relations by force, threat, or duress.

Footnote:
The Act defines "bodily injury" as "substantial impairment of the physical condition, including, but not limited to, a burn, fracture of any bone, subdural hematoma [i.e., bruise], injury to any internal organ, or any injury which occurs as the result of repeated harm to any bodily function or organ, including human skin." See also: M.G.L. Chapter 265, Section 13K.

To have the court "presume" against the abuser, a party must show either 1) A pattern of abuse; or 2) a serious incident of abuse. The abuse must be between a parent and the other parent or between a parent and a child.

The judge will use a "preponderance of the evidence" standard to determine whether the abuse occurred. The judge must find that there is enough evidence to believe that the abuse probably occurred, that, considering all the evidence, it is more likely than not that the abuse occurred. This is a lower standard of proof than the well-known criminal standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt." Again, Abuse Prevention Orders do not prove that a parent is abusive, and the court will not consider as evidence of abuse Abuse Prevention Orders that are issued without the presence of the opposing party.

Visitation
The court must provide for the safety and well-being of the child and of the abused parent when ordering Visitation rights to an abusive parent. Often, batterers have direct contact with the spouse when picking up and dropping off the child for visitation.

The act advises that the court may con-sider the following when considering visita-tion arrangements:
a) ordering an exchange of the child to occur in a protected setting or in the presence of an appropriate third party;

b)

ordering visitation supervised by an appropriate third party, visitation center or agency;

c)

ordering the abusive parent to attend and complete, to the satisfaction of the court, a certified barterer's treatment program as a condition of visitation;

d)

ordering the abusive parent to abstain from possession or consumption of alcohol or controlled substances during the visitation and for 24 hours preceding visitation;

e)

ordering the abusive parent to pay the costs of supervised visitation;

f)

prohibiting overnight visitation;

g)

requiring a bond from the abusive parent for the return and safety of the child;

h)

ordering an investigation or appointment of a guardian ad litem or attorney for the child; and

i)

imposing any other condition that is deemed necessary to provide for the safety and well-being of the child and the safety of the abused parent.

For a copy of the Custodial Presumption Act or the Brief of Amici Curiae, please contact Liz Belcher, Intake Paralegal, in LSCCI's Hyannis Office.









The website, which can be found at http://www.lscci.org, was designed to provide information and accessibility to our program for our clients, community groups, and private attorneys.
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LSCCI: Meeting Year 2000
by Jacqueline Sullivan, Executive Assistant

It seems like just a few short years ago that LSCCI was confronted with the challenge of upgrading its "sneakernet" (i.e. where users run around with disks in order to share files or to different computers to share printers) computer environments to real-world local area computer networks wherein users truly shared resources. With financial assistance from the Edward Bangs Kelley and Elza Kelley Foundation, Inc. of Hyannis in the form of a Challenge Grant, contributions from many members of the private bar and bar associations and funding from the Town of Plymouth, two local area networks using Novell Netware 3.12 were installed in both LSCCI's Hyannis and Plymouth offices in 1996 and 1997 respectively. Staff members now enjoy communicating via Groupwise 4.1; sharing documents is much easier and documents maintain their integrity. Although the fact that DOS 6.22 is still the platform for all LSCCI's applications, users feel they have taken a major step out of the prehistoric computer age into the world of the technologically advanced.

Massachusetts statutes and caselaw may now be explored in LOIS (Law Office Information Systems) and Shepard's Citations found on CD-ROM changed the way staff advocates conduct research, providing instantaneous and simultaneous access from the desktop computer. Internet access is provided by one computer in each of the Ply-mouth and Hyannis offices dedicated for that sole purpose for use by both staff members and clients.

No sooner had we advanced in one way, then it was time to advance in another. We applied for and received a generous grant from the Stephen Casey and Carlotta Casey Coyne Foundation to install a voicemail system in our Hyannis office which was accomplished in early spring 1997. We were forging ahead; technology was helping us keep pace with client demand while still working with limited resources. Clients and staff have benefitted from our updated computer hardware and voicemail system installation.

LSCCI completed work and went on-line with its own website in fiscal year 1998, again compliments of the Stephen Casey and Carlotta Casey Coyne Foundation and the Town of Plymouth. The website, which can be found at http://www.lscci.org, was designed to provide information and accessibility to our program for our clients, community groups, and private attorneys. The website provides a description of the services our program provides and details on how to reach our office or contact us. Legal information that is contained in many of LSCCI's pamphlets is reproduced on the website. There is information for the private bar on how to volunteer for pro bono activities through our program and the ability to register with us by e-mail. The website provides links to other legal services organizations and legal research sites. It also provides information about charitable giving to our program. More recently, the text for the statewide plan for the integrated provision of legal services in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts was posted as a result of a collaborative effort of all Massachusetts legal services programs which receive Legal Services Corporation funds.

We hope to expand our website's utility to include a links page for human services providers and some tools to assist private attorneys in pro bono efforts such as on-line document assembly programs and the ability to obtain and update client referrals.

With the year 2000 approaching, LSCCI again needs to reevaluate its technological position. Many funders are requiring desktop access to internet e-mail, some of our DOS applications may not survive the next tick of the clock at 11:59 p.m. on December 31, 1999, and it is time that we perform in a faster, more progressive environment. LSCCI is in the process of developing a master plan to migrate to a Windows environment as well as to install a better, more capable Case Management program which offers integrated scheduling, timekeeping, and case-tracking.

For more information on how you can help LSCCI safely emerge in the 21st century, please call Jacqueline L. Sullivan at 508/775-7020 or please send your tax deductible contribution to LSCCI, 460 West Main Street, Hyannis, MA 02601.



Last year, LSCCI completed more than 3,000 cases assisting 9,000 families in our area.
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LSCCI Profiles Three Board Members

Diane Shrank, Esq.
Diane Shrank attended Tufts University (B.A.) and later received a J.D. from Northeastern University Law School and obtained a M.A. in Holistic Counseling at Salve Regina.

Ms. Shrank is currently President of the LSCCI Board of Directors and was first appointed to the Board in 1983 by the Barnstable County Bar Association and later by the Cape Organization for the Rights of the Disabled (CORD). Diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis, Ms. Shrank decided to change her life path from a career in law to a career in holistic counseling in which she is active today. She has remained a member of LSCCI's board of directors for many years and is committed to the cause of equal health care and equal access to the legal system for all, regardless of income. Ms. Shrank is a member of the Board's Finance/Audit and Grievance Committees.

Keith McManus, Esq.
Keith McManus attended Boston University (B.A.) and received a J.D. from Case Western Reserve University School of Law where he supplemented legal studies with medical studies at the University's Law-Medicine Center.

Attorney McManus was appointed to LSCCI's Board of Directors by the Barnstable County Bar Association in April 1998 and began his term in May 1998. Attorney McManus is a solo practitioner with a concentration in estate planning, probate, real estate and business transactions. He acknowledges there is a great need on Cape Cod for low-income representation and that the best approach for him in helping those who are disadvantaged is by participating in the structured pro bono program offered by LSCCI. Attorney McManus is a member of the Board's Finance/Audit Committee.

Janis Bowes
Janis Bowes attended Massasoit Community College in Brockton where she received an Associate Degree in liberal arts and later attended Fisher College where she took courses relating to special needs.

Ms. Bowes was appointed to the Board of Directors in 1994 by South Shore Family Planning as a client representative member. Many years ago, Ms. Bowes came in contact with LSCCI when she requested and received legal assistance from LSCCI in obtaining her divorce. She was very pleased with the legal representation she received and is happy to again be connected to LSCCI as a board member. Ms. Bowes resides in Plymouth and has, over many years, done a great deal of work on behalf of community organizations including Council on the Aging, Head Start, Plymouth WIC, Plymouth Family Planning, and Plymouth special needs reading and math programs. She enjoys working for the community and helping people and, in her capacity as a client representative member of the Board, believes strongly in keeping client interests and perspectives alive. She is a member of the Board's Finance/Audit and Grievance Committees.



Massachusetts opted to impose the shortest time limit permitted under the federal Welfare Reform Act - two years of benefits for recipients who are not otherwise exempt from the time limit.
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Welfare Reform and Time Limits to Benefits
by Susan Sard White, LSCCI Staff Attorney

Welfare reform began in Massachusetts in 1995 when the Legislature passed a bill that low-ered cash benefits for many families, re-quired some of these families to participate in a work or community service program and excluded children born to women on welfare from receiving benefits in most cir-cumstances. As part of this legislation, the program was renamed "Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children" (TAFDC) and the state agency administer-ing this program became the "Department of Transitional Assistance" (DTA). Shortly thereafter, Congress enacted nationwide welfare reform with the Personal Responsi-bility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996, popularly known as the Wel-fare Reform Act, and states were allowed, for the first time, to impose time limits on how long families could receive these cash benefits.

Massachusetts opted to impose the shortest time limit permitted under the federal Welfare Reform Act - two years of benefits for recipients who are not otherwise exempt from the time limit. This change was effective on December 1, 1996, and limits non-exempt families to receiving benefits for no more than 24 months out of a continuous 60-month period of time. What this means is that a non-exempt family who has been continuously receiving TAFDC benefits since December 1996 was scheduled to have their benefits terminate on November 30, 1998. The first round of termination notices were mailed in Mid-December but were not sent to families who have pending waiver, extension or exemption requests. It is important to note that the time limit only applies to the cash benefits; families will still be eligible to receive Food Stamps and MassHealth.


There are thousands of families statewide (approximately 70 of whom live here on Cape Cod and the Islands) who were scheduled to lose their cash assistance on November 30, 1998. In addition, scores of families are scheduled to be cut off in each successive future month. Human services agencies are understandably concerned about a large number of low income families being further impoverished by the implementation of this time limit.
These rules are obviously complicated and LSCCI urges all recipients who are faced with the loss of benefits to contact our office for advice and possible representation on these issues.
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It is important for everyone who assists or advises these families to be aware of DTA rules that detail how a grantee qualifies for an exemption, extension or waiver of the time limit.

Families are exempt from the time limit if they can show one of the following: the parent is disabled; the parent is caring for a disabled child, spouse, parent or other relative living in the home; the parent is pregnant and within 120 days of her due date; the youngest child included in the grant is under age 2; there is a child not included in the grant ("family cap child") under age 3 months; the parent is under age 20 and attending high school; the adult caretaker is not the parent of the child(ren) and is not included in the grant; or the caretaker is age 60 or older.

It is very important to be aware that DTA may be terminating some families too soon under the 24-month rule. Only months in which the family was not exempt count toward the 24 months. Thus, a family not currently exempt, may be entitled to continued assistance if they were exempt at some point during the past two years. In some cases, families are not aware of past exemptions they were entitled to and the DTA worker ignored or overlooked their entitlement to the exemption. In other cases, families were illegally denied exemptions. The biggest problems in this regard were with the disability exemption where many disabled recipients were improperly found to be not disabled. Also, there may be some technical problems with the way DTA counts the 24 months. They should not, for example, be counting "partial months" (where the family received assistance for some, but not all of the month).

It should not be too late to fix these problems and continue assistance for at least some of the families who need it. It may, however, take some expertise or assertive advocacy. LSCCI is happy to provide direct representation or to consult with other community advocates in assisting improperly terminated recipients. DTA has a system of appeals which can work fairly well even for an unrepresented recipient, but works even better when an experienced advocate is involved.

In addition, families who are not exempt may still receive cash benefits after 24 months if they are approved for either an extension or waiver of the time limit. There are limited circumstances where a family is entitled to an extension. In all other cases, the granting of an extension or waiver of the time limit is within the DTA Commissioner's discretion.

Families entitled to an extension are those where the adult or adults are employed full-time (35 hours or more), earning at least minimum wage and are still earning less than the maximum TAFDC grant amount for a family of their size (after deducting child care and other work-related expenses). For example, the maximum TAFDC grant for a household of four is $668 per month.

For families unable to meet this narrow definition entitling them to an extension of the time limit, the regulations detail certain factors for the Commissioner to consider in exercising her discretion in allowing an extension. These factors include: whether the grantee has cooperated with all DTA work program/job search rules; whether the grantee has refused work/reduced hours/ quit a job without good cause or been fired for cause; whether there are appropriate job opportunities available locally; and whether suitable child care is unavailable. In addition, DTA will not consider an extension request until the grantee has received 22 of the 24 time-limited months of assistance.

Victims of domestic violence can also apply for a waiver of the 24-month time limit. Under the regulations, the granting of such a waiver is within the discretion of the Commissioner and requires the grantee to establish the relationship between the abuse and the need for additional financial assistance. Furthermore, the time limit may be waived in the circumstance of a child who received benefits for the full 24 months while living with a parent and now resides with someone other than the parent due to the parent's death, incarceration, disability, institutionalization or other event causing parental loss of custody.

These rules are obviously complicated and LSCCI urges all recipients who are faced with the loss of benefits to contact our office for advice and possible representation on these issues. We are also available to do trainings or other presentations regarding welfare reform to interested community organizations, their staff and/or clients.




Please Donate Your Legal Services

According to court records, 1/3 of the cases beard in the Probate and Family Courts across the Commonwealth lack representation on both sides, 1/3 of the cases lack representation on one side, while only 1/3 of the cases have representation on both sides.

Client under representation has wide ranging effects on the entire legal community; without funds for an attorney, the client is at an unfair disadvantage and may be unable to fairly access the justice system, frustration is felt by opposing counsel and party, and the judicial process is slowed.

We are very appreciative of the pro bono work done by local attorneys and, on behalf of our clients, we offer our sincerest thanks. For those attorneys or law firms interested in participating in our pro bono program and offering legal services to people who otherwise might not have the advantage of obtaining legal representation, please fill out and return the coupon below. If, at this time, you are unable to offer your professional services but would like to contribute in some way to LSCCI, a fully tax deductible donation would be welcome.



Legal Services for Cape Cod & Islands, Inc.

LSCCI

Cape and Islands and Administrative Office
460 West Main Street Hyannis, MA 02601
(508) 775-7020/428-8161
1-800-742-4107

Plymouth Area Office
18 Main Street Extension Plymouth, MA 02360
(508) 746-2777
1-800-585-4933

All numbers voice & TTY



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