Katie Liss Stands for…Livelihood

Katie Liss.pngCollege education offers opportunities for personal and professional growth, but with tuition on the rise, students are borrowing more and more to ease the financial burden. In fact, the average 2016 graduate holds $37,172 in student debt—up 6% from last year. And according to the Department of Education, the student loan default rate is 11.3%

“Student loans aren’t a huge part of what we do at LAF, but it’s an area that we’re trying to cover more,” says Katie Liss, Senior Attorney in LAF’s Consumer Practice Group. “Given the nature of our work, we’re often putting out fires—stopping foreclosures and wage garnishments, keeping people in their homes—we’re not always able to deal with student loan issues as much as we’d like to. But it impacts millions of Americans, and even more in the future, so we’re trying to find ways to address it.”

“When it comes to cases involving student loans, many of our clients became disabled or faced mental illnesses that prevented them from getting jobs and being able to sustain themselves,” says Katie. Through what’s called a Total Permanent Disability Discharge, she’s helped a number of clients with disabilities discharge their loans. “I can see the weight being lifted off their shoulders.”

For other clients who come to LAF seeking foreclosure defense or help filing bankruptcy, student loans aren’t their primary issue, but they may be a contributing factor affecting their overall livelihood. “We counsel clients in other types of cases to help them get on track to make affordable payments on their student loans,” Katie says. “There are a number of affordable ways to make payments on your loans, like income-based repayment plans, that people just don’t know about.”

“There’s just so much stacked against our clients—we need to stand up for them. We need to try to level the playing field.” Help dedicated attorneys like Katie continue standing up for vulnerable and under-resourced communities by making your tax-deductible donation for 2016 at www.lafchicago.org.

World Series Wager

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The largest civil legal aid organizations in the home cities of the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians have raised a bet on the outcome of the 2016 World Series.  Both organizations work to provide free civil legal services to people living in poverty in their regions, and have entered into a friendly wager on behalf of their teams, who are each hoping to break the two longest championship droughts in Major League Baseball.

From Chicago, LAF has promised a deep-dish pizza lunch to Cleveland Legal Aid’s staff if the Cubs can’t win their first World Series since 1908.  Cleveland’s Legal Aid answered the challenge, offering Cleveland pierogis to the staff of LAF if the Indians lose the series.

LAF’s Executive Director, Diana C. White, explained “For the last 50 years, LAF has flown the W flag in the courtroom for people living in poverty in our community.  We’re so excited to cheer on the Cubs and Chicago in the World Series!”

Cleveland Legal Aid’s Executive Director, Colleen M. Cotter, highlighted “Our attorneys hit home runs each day for our clients, so it is terrific to celebrate some sports success with LAF through this friendly bet.”  Cotter adds, “The last time Cleveland won the World Series, our Legal Aid was celebrating its 43rd year of serving the community.  I don’t think our attorneys back in 1948 ever imagined our Legal Aid would be celebrating its 111th year when we win our next World Series.”

Follow along all the fun on social media on LAF’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and Cleveland’s website.  Go Cubs Go!

Let’s Do Lunch: Part Two

 LAF’s 2016 Brownbag Roundtable Series Continues with the Consumer Practice Group

Predatory Lending Round table

As times change, so do the methods of people who abuse systems for personal gain. Those who take advantage of mortgage lending are no exception. But as their methods grow and change, so to do the efforts of the team at LAF who stand against them. “The Life and Times of Predatory Mortgage Lending: A Tale Told Through the Lens of LAF Litigation” was the second of LAF’s 2016 Brownbag Roundtable Series. Dan Lindsey, Director of the Consumer Practice Group, along with Supervisory Attorneys James Brady and Michelle Weinberg, and Senior Attorney, Kathryn Liss, shared their work with a crowded room last week, teaching about how predatory mortgage lending has evolved and exacerbated racial and economic inequality in our community.

One of the cases they profiled was against Mark Diamond, a notorious home repair contractor who preyed predominately on elderly African Americans with false promises of home improvements. He overcharged for bare-bones work (if any work at all), arranged the financing so that he could directly obtain the maximum available funds from a clients’ mortgage loan, and did not provide the legally required consumer rights disclosures. LAF attorneys represented more than a dozen of Diamond’s victims and obtained over $250,000 in recovery. In June 2015, Diamond was finally stopped by the Attorney General, due in large part to the information provided by LAF and the Consumer Practice Group’s tireless representation of individual victims.

“Fraud never sleeps. And so there will always be predators of one kind or another,” they declared last week. Let the hard-working Consumer Practice Group serve as an example that there are also those who will stand up for what is right. Way to go, team!

Ashley Fretthold’s LAF is…a future.

“I feel like education work is about preventing our clients from becoming our future clients, ” explains Ashley Fretthold, Supervisory Attorney in the Children and Families Practice Group. “We have a lot of cases where kids are scheduled to be expelled, and that’s a turning point in someone’s life. If those kids are expelled, their only option is to go to the alternative school that’s nowhere near their house, and they have to get there themselves. So they’re probably not going to go to school. Then they’re probably never graduating, and then they’re probably on the streets. I feel like when we prevented expulsions, that’s been a major win for us.”Ashley Frethold (2)

Ashley advocates for one of the world’s most vulnerable populations: children. The scales that can tip, the tidal wave that a single traumatic event can instigate, are realities she navigates daily in her work at LAF. The stakes are incredibly high – the full length and potential of a productive and healthy human life in the balance – and, for Ashley, every case won is a step forward for the child and the community.

“We just settled a case where we got a boy almost $20,000 in compensatory services- which is additional tutoring and speech language services. He’s 7 years old. If he’d come to us when he was 12, 13, or 14 he would already be having tons of behavioral problems in school because he had kind of a serious language processing issue that wasn’t identified. So because he’s 7 and we’ve gotten him the support he needs, I like to think that he’ll go on and he’ll be fine in middle school and high school, he’ll be totally on track.”

Laws are put in place to protect children and ensure that they acquire a good education and the opportunity it affords. Unfortunately, these laws, while well-intentioned, often remain inaccessible without the advocacy of an attorney. Like all those that work at LAF, Ashley’s work is governed by a passion for justice and a core understanding that the world extends so much further than her own experience in it.

“You shouldn’t just go through life living your life. There should be a purpose to your life that involves leaving the world a better place some way. Even if that’s not your full time job, you should – and can – do something. LAF is affecting change now in a way that makes our communities stronger in the future. The things we’re doing now are helping people immediately, but it’s really about creating a better future, not just for them, but for the whole Cook County community.”

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.