New White House Initiative Focuses on Legal Aid

On September 24, the White House announced the establishment of the White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable. President Barack Obama released a statement including a six-part plan to make the justice system more accessible by people living in poverty in the United States.

The president believes that by making legal aid a part of existing federal programs, we can help more people more effectively and more efficiently. “By encouraging Federal departments and agencies to collaborate, share best practices, and consider the impact of legal services on the success of their programs,” he explains, “the Federal Government can enhance access to justice in our communities.”

The White House Legal Aid Interagency Roundtable, which will be referred to as LAIR, will be led by the U.S. Attorney General the Director of the Domestic Policy Council, and others they designate with the responsibility. It will include members from at least 17 different federal departments, offices, and agencies, including the Corporation for National and Community Service, the Department of Homeland Security, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the Federal Trade Commission, Legal Services Corporation, and Social Security Administration. The Department of Justice will be responsible for supplying the resources needed for this initiative to be successful.

LAIR will work with existing federal programs that are serving impoverished communities so they can properly implement legal aid into these programs. Their involvement and research within these programs will “increase the availability of meaningful access to justice for individuals and families, regardless of wealth or status.” They will meet at least three times a year and work with individuals nationwide on multiple levels of government.

In a world where legal aid is often ignored in the social services conversation, the efforts of President Obama and LAIR can only open doors to bring national awareness to this issue. At LAF, we see the importance of working together to bring change, through our medical-legal partnerships and our ongoing pro bono projects. Helping people achieve the justice they deserve will help us lift Americans out of poverty, and ensure them a permanent solution to a better life.

Poverty Prevents Long-Term Planning

Much of the political rhetoric surrounding poverty focuses on blaming the poor for their situation, and chides them for their lack of self-control.  It often argues that if people living in poverty had better self-control, they could plan for the future and improve their lives.  A recent article published by New Republic sheds some light on these preconceived notions and compiles research to push back against those stereotypes.

The article shows that people living in poverty often don’t have access to the resources necessary to address issues beyond their most immediate needs.  It also argues that the “permanent now” that poverty traps people in prevents long-term planning more than poor self-control does.  In summary:

“The science suggests that poverty has powerful harmful effects on people, and helps explain why it’s so hard to escape.  Their choices are much more a product of their situation, rather than a lack of self-control.”

You can read the whole article here, and you can learn more about the sort of difficult decisions that people living in poverty face at a new training presented by our Young Professionals Board for this year’s Pro Bono Week.  “Tight Budgets & Tough Choices: Poverty, Decisions, and Why Legal Aid Matters” will be led by Allicia L. Aiken and sponsored by Barack Ferrazzano Kirschbaum & Nagelberg LLP.  The training will demonstrate the tough choices the poorest people in our community face in their daily lives, and highlight how legal aid can prevent or even remove the obstacles that keep people stuck in poverty.  The training is free, but requires advance registration, and will take place at by Barack Ferrazzano, on the 39th floor of 200 W. Madison St., from 5:30-7:30pm on Wednesday October 28thRegister for that training here.

The Wider Impact: LAF’s September eNewsletter

Each of our clients faces an important and unique legal problem, and LAF’s staff work every day to achieve the best outcomes for that individual client.  But we also try to focus on the wider issues we see in our client communities that prevent them from living safe, stable lives.  In this month’s eNewsletter, you can see some of these larger poverty-fighting efforts at work, including Michelle Gilbert’s quarter of a century working for fair housing, Lizzie Rosenthal’s incredible victory for the residents of Cabrini-Green, and the wider national effort toward building medical-legal partnerships.
As always, on behalf of the staff, the Board, the YPB, and all the clients we serve here at LAF, thank you for your generosity and support of our work.  When you invest in LAF, you are investing in making lasting change in the lives of people living in poverty and improving our community.  Check out LAF’s September eNewsletter to learn more.

Hospitals Partnering with Lawyers to Improve Healthcare

A wonderful video premiered on PBS NewsHour earlier this month, profiling medical-legal partnerships in Nebraska.  Medical-legal partnerships allow lawyers and doctors to work together to address the causes and consequences of illness and build a path to long-term health. For those living in poverty like LAF’s clients, health issues can trigger legal problems, and legal issues can exacerbate chronic health problems.

The doctor in the video explains:  “I ran a medical-legal partnership, and came to find that I could not practice medicine without that.  We are learning that we really are impacting health. So, if we can get somebody reinstated with their insurance plan, then they’re going to be able to afford to take their anti-hypertension medication and their blood pressure’s going to be improved. And who would’ve thought of that — that an attorney’s going to fix somebody’s blood pressure?”

LAF partners with many hospitals and medical systems across Cook County in these sorts of groundbreaking projects to use local data-driven approaches to improve health and fight poverty for the people of Chicagoland.  Watch the video here to learn more about this important work.

LAF Wins Big for Cabrini-Green Residents

Thanks to dedicated LAF attorneys and great pro bono help from Sidley Austin LLP, displaced families from Cabrini-Green finally have a hope of returning home.  That’s because a settlement was reached last week between the Cabrini Green Local Advisory Council and the Chicago Housing Authority.

This settlement concludes a 2013 federal lawsuit LAF filed on behalf of the Cabrini Green Local Advisory Council to ensure that the public housing residents would not be forced out of their north side neighborhood into high-poverty, segregated areas of Chicago.  The agreement results in preserving public housing in the Frances Cabrini row houses and an increased number of low-income and affordable housing units in new mixed-income developments on the Cabrini-Green footprint.  LAF Supervisory Attorney Elizabeth Rosenthal, lead attorney for the Cabrini-Green residents, states: “We are very pleased by this outcome, as it will return at least 1,800 units of public housing to Cabrini, allowing residents displaced by the demolition of the high rises and the closure of the Rowhouses to return to their neighborhood, and providing more affordable housing in an area with good access to public transportation, schools, and jobs.”

“This outcome is not only a significant victory for Cabrini’s residents, but also for fair housing broadly as it recognizes and reaffirms a commitment to providing public and affordable housing to Chicagoans in racially integrated areas of opportunity,” said Richard O’Malley, a partner with Sidley Austin LLP, who co-counseled the case.

The LAF team representing the Cabrini-Green LAC, led by Elizabeth Rosenthal, also included Director of Advocacy Richard Wheelock, Housing Practice Group Director Lawrence Wood, and Senior Attorney Lea Weems. The Sidley team was made up of dedicated volunteers Richard O’Malley, Steven Horowitz, Veena Gursahani, Rachel Goldberg, and LAF Young Professionals Board member William Bruce.

You can learn more about the settlement in the Chicago Tribune here, in the Sun-Times here, in this video from WTTW’s Chicago Tonight or in this piece from WGN Radio.  Please join us in congratulating our team and our partners at Sidley for this historic victory.

YPB Ambassador in the Spotlight: Chris Schneider

Right after LAF’s Golf Outing in 2014, LAF Young Professionals Board member Chris Schneider came to us and asked to help lead the efforts to plan the event in 2015.  Schneider, a Director in KPMG’s Forensic Practice, has been working hard since then with co-chair Joe Pedota to make the 2015 LAF Golf Outing the best one yet – the 2015 Outing will feature a fun app for golfers to track scores across the course, a few new contests and prizes, and lots of great swag in the golfer goodie bag.

SchneiderChris joined the YPB in 2012, after attending a few YPB events with a friend already serving on the Board.  “After seeing how passionate some of my peers were about LAF, and how much fun everyone seemed to have being on the YPB, I decided to join,” Schneider recently told us.  “I have enjoyed getting to know other members of the Board better, and becoming more invested in its success over the past few years.  Stepping into a leadership role on the Executive Committee this year, to plan the Golf Outing with Joe has been a great experience.”

We figured if someone volunteered to plan a Golf Outing they must enjoy golfing, so we decided to ask Chris a little bit about his background in golf:

LAF: How long have you been golfing?
CS: I’ve been golfing on and off since I was 17 years old.

LAF: Do you consider yourself competitive, or is it more of a leisure activity for you?
CS: I’m very competitive, but I have also accepted that I don’t play enough anymore to be as good as I was when I was younger.

LAF: What are you better at – putting or driving?
CS: Usually putting.

LAF: What is the most embarrassing thing that has happened to you out on the golf course?
CS: My most embarrassing moment is always a shanked wedge after a great drive in the middle of the fairway, and it usually happens at least once a year.

Chris, we hope next Monday you hit nothing but great drives in the middle of the fairway.  Thank you for all of your hard work to make this year’s event a fun and exciting day to benefit LAF.

Interested in getting in on the fun? We have a few slots left to fill! Get your last-minute tickets here!