“The opposite of poverty is justice.”

Last week, NPR’s Terry Gross did a captivating interview on Fresh Air with Bryan Stevenson, a human rights lawyer and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative.

Stevenson’s work is not the same as LAF’s – he does criminal defense and fights for the rights of falsely accused death row inmates, and our work is limited to non-criminal matters and civil courts – but our missions overlap significantly.  We are both working to combat poverty by providing equal justice for people who couldn’t otherwise afford it.  In the interview, he explains:

“We’ve got a bigger population of poor people in this country than we’ve had in a generation, and we’ve got to take on the challenges of poverty. … For me, that means taking it on in a different way.  I’m not persuaded that the opposite of poverty is wealth — I’ve come to believe … that the opposite of poverty is justice.”

In our work at LAF, we believe that by providing free legal services in non-criminal matters to people in poverty, we are not just helping our client – we are helping our communities.  The National Coalition for a Civil Right to Counsel even argues that the work of LAF and our partners in civil legal aid is providing substantial benefits to our economy.  The Coalition notes that legal aid “helps people prevent events that would be harmful to them and expensive for the larger society, such as domestic violence, long foster care stays, eviction, and health emergencies.”

Together, as attorneys providing legal aid in both civil and criminal matters, we are working to end poverty through justice.  We encourage you to check out the Fresh Air interview and join our efforts to end poverty in Chicago and our world.



October eNewsletter

October brings us crisp fall air and changing leaves.  October also gives us a chance to celebrate National Pro Bono Week and acknowledge Domestic Violence Awareness Month.  In this month’s eNewsletter, we showcase the incredible pro bono work our Young Professionals Board and volunteers are doing, and we recognize the efforts of LAF staff attorney Kulsum Ameji to combat Domestic Violence.  We also look forward to celebrating another great year at LAF at our upcoming events with our Young Professionals Board and plans for another great #GivingTuesday.
As always, none of this work is possible without your dedicated backing.  On behalf of the staff, the Board, the YPB, and the clients we serve here at LAF, we thank you for your generosity and support.  You can continue that support by making a tax-deductible donation right now, or if you’re looking for a way to fulfill your ethical obligation to ensure justice for all during pro bono week, please consider signing up to volunteer with LAF.

Why we do what we do: Becky’s story

Becky is a 27-year-old single mother, who was working as an office temp while she sought long-term employment to provide for her son.  The firm she was temping with told her they had no more work for her, so she applied for unemployment benefits and redoubled her job search.  To prove that she was eligible for these benefits, she certified that she was able to work, and every two weeks, she presented a list of the job applications she had filled out.  In spite of doing everything needed to get the unemployment, her former temp firm challenged her eligibility four times so they wouldn’t have to pay into the Unemployment Insurance Fund.  On her own, Becky went before an administrative judge each time and proved that she was available to work and actively seeking a job, and so deserved the checks she should have been issued.  After the fourth challenge, the Illinois Department of Employment Security stopped sending her checks, because they assumed something was going wrong.  She needed the checks to care for her young son, but her bullying ex-employer still challenged her again.  She came to LAF, feeling harassed and persecuted.  She was right, and LAF Staff Attorney Matt Monahan and Harvard Law Student Sabreena El-Amin stepped up to represent Becky at her fifth hearing.  When the temp agency saw that Becky now had legal representation, they immediately withdrew their appeal of her receipt of benefits, and the Department mailed her check and made a promise of future checks until she finds a job.

She sent Matt Monahan the following email, to express her gratitude: 
 “I sincerely do not have the words to express my deepest gratitude to you, Sabreena, and the services of LAF. In a moment, when I was helpless and feeling that all hope is lost, and that I would continue to be bullied by my temp firm, there you and Sabreena were, with LAF. I am beyond thankful to you, that in my case, my file, and personally, I was not treated as a number, I was not treated as if I was ‘just another’ destitute client, but rather, the exact opposite. I was treated graciously, I was heard, the lines of communication were always open, and a weight was lifted off of my shoulders.  In closing, I have no more words other than thank you.”

LAF is proud to stand up against bullies who take advantage of people because they think nobody is looking out for them.  We are proud of the folks like Matt and Sabreena who are always looking out for our clients and willing to stand up to bullies.

Public Benefits Update

The saga of the Managed Care roll-out in Illinois continues!

After some delays, last week DHS began sending out the first batch of MMAI enrollment letters to individuals in Cook County who are receiving Long Term Services and Supports (LTSS).

MMAI is a managed care program specifically designed for the population known as dual eligible (those who are eligible for both Medicare and Medicaid). Unlike other managed care programs, MMAI is not mandatory, and dual eligibles have the ability to change their plan or opt out of the program at any time, whether during this initial enrollment period, or later.

Dual eligibles who receive LTSS services have the same right to opt out of MMAI at any time as their counterparts who do not receive such services. However, those who do choose to opt out will receive an enrollment package at a later date (possibly this winter) for a managed care plan specifically for their long term care. Medical services will still be covered by their traditional fee-for-service Medicaid and Medicare, but all LTSS services will be covered by the MLTSS managed care plan, and consumers will not have the ability to change MLTSS plans at will, or to opt out of the program.

We remind consumers that if they receive a package or letter titled “Your Health Plan Choices” they will have a 60 day voluntary enrollment period to pick a plan with a Primary Care Provider (PCP). They can go online or call Client Enrollment Services at 1-877-912-8880 from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, and from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday in order to enroll. If they don’t choose a plan within 30 days of when the enrollment package is sent, then a second letter will be sent containing the plan and PCP to which they will be auto-assigned if they do not choose in the next 30 days. Once a client is enrolled in a managed care plan, they will have 90 days to switch to a different plan, after which they are “locked in” to the plan for a year.

You can learn more about MMAI and other Managed Care programs here, and you can donate to support our work with public benefits here.