News articles and other items about Neighborhood Legal Services and of relevance to our clients, donors, community partners, and volunteers. NLS also publishes Equal Justice Matters, a quarterly newsletter updating our donors, clients and funders on the exciting new ways NLS is making civil legal aid more accessible, which can be read here.
Neighborhood Legal Services is pleased to introduce Equal Justice Update, a periodic e-newsletter to share important news and updates about how – with your support – we help vulnerable people throughout Allegheny, Lawrence, Beaver and Butler counties access free, civil legal aid. To see the latest issue of Equal Justice Update please click here.
April 20, 2021
This week the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) is raising awareness of victims’ rights and services, highlighting programs, celebrating progress achieved, and honoring victims and the professionals who serve them. OVC developed a helpful referral sheet with organizations that offer a variety of services for victims of crimes. Check out our social media, where all week we will be highlighting how NLS supports victims of crimes, or click here to view our Victims of Crime brochure about the type of services we offer.
April 9, 2021
NLS Attorney Julia Zebley Was Featured in Public Source for Her Work Fighting Unlawful Eviction
NLS Attorney Julia Zebley, was recently highlighted in Public Source for her work representing a client in an eviction case who’s story is all to familiar. Zebley is quoted,
“I have seen several of these situations where older adults have been living in a place for a while, and there's a desire to renovate, and suddenly a new owner is trying to evict them under a lease that’s several years old.”
In the article Rich Lord references a study by the Allegheny Department of Human Services and The Pittsburgh Foundation which showed that, “From 2012 through 2019, tenants won just 1.5% of eviction cases, with landlords prevailing in 85%, and the rest withdrawn, settled, or otherwise dismissed.” Despite the odds being against them, Zebley won her case preventing her client from being evicted. Click here to read the full article.
March 25, 2021
Joan Tutak is Honored at the PLAN 2021 Excellence Awards for Her Years of Service
Congratulations to NLS attorney Joan Tutak for being honored at this years Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network's Excellence Awards. Nominations are solicited from across Pennsylvania for the awards which are made based on a variety of criteria that demonstrated excellence and diligence in helping improve the availability and quality of civil legal services for low income people and victims of domestic violence in Pennsylvania. Click here to watch a video tribute in Joan's honor.
March 22, 2021
PA Launches Emergency Rental Assistance Program
Governor Tom Wolf announced the launch of a program that will deliver rapid relief to millions of Pennsylvanians at risk of eviction or loss of utility service. Effective today, Pennsylvanians can submit applications for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program online at www.compass.state.pa.us. Forty-seven counties have opted to collect applications from county residents through the COMPASS website provided by the Department of Human Services (DHS). DHS will route applications submitted through COMPASS directly to counties for processing. The online application is available in English and Spanish.
To qualify for assistance, a household must be responsible to pay rent on a residential property and meet each of the following criteria:
- One or more people within the household has qualified for unemployment benefits, had a decrease in income, had increased household costs, or experienced other financial hardship due directly or indirectly to the COVID-19 pandemic; AND
- One or more individuals in the household can show a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability; AND
- The household has an income at or below 80 percent of area median income, which varies by county. Income limits by county are available on the DHS website. Resources (like bank accounts and cars) are not relevant to ERAP eligibility.
Applicants will need to provide the following information: head of household’s personal information; income information for all household members 18 and older; rental lease and amount owed; landlord’s name and contact information. If applying for utility assistance, applicants must provide utility expenses and utility provider information.
Applicants should be prepared to provide documents that substantiate information provided, such as pay stubs, tax filings, unemployment letters, and rental/utility arrears. However, if applicants do not have documents, county ERAP offices will work with applicants to obtain documents or written attestations.
The program will end when all funds have been expended, which DHS expects to happen by September 2021. Per Act 1 of 2021, all funds must be spent by December 31, 2021.
More information about ERAP can be found at www.dhs.pa.gov.
January 20, 2021
Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network launches PAVictimsHelp.org
Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network has launched a separate section of PALawHelp.org at PAVictimsHelp.org that is specially curated for victims of crime.
The site features LiveChat with trained navigators, working Monday-Saturday from 12:00 PM-8:00 PM, who can help users locate the help and information they need through a real-time online chat.
PAVictimsHelp.org provides access to legal information on a variety of topics related to victims of crime including but not limited to:
- Victims Rights
- Victims Compensation Assistance Program
- Domestic Violence Issues
- Identity Theft
- Money and Finance
- Employment Issues and Human Trafficking
- Immigrant Issues and Rights
The site also has an extensive referral network available providing information on how to contact PA Victims Service Agencies; social service agencies; community action agencies; legal assistance agencies and other resources for victims of crime.
January 6, 2021
Social Security Benefits Increase in 2021
Starting in 2021, there will be a 1.3 percent increase for Social Security Benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Per the Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index (CPI-W), when cost of living rises, the federal benefits will rise as well.
These cost-of-living adjustments are known as COLA. SSA will mail out COLA notices in December of 2020 to retirement, survivors, and disability beneficiaries, SSI recipients, and representative payees. This will not be the only change in 2021. The minimum amount of earnings subject to Social Security payroll tax will be higher due to the increase in the national average wage index.
For additional COLA information in 2021, please visit the SSA website here.
Bogle, Darlynda, et al. “Social Security Benefits Increase in 2021.” Social Security Matters, 5 Nov. 2020, blog.ssa.gov/social-security-benefits-increase-in-2021/.
December 7, 2020
Being Unable to Afford a Lawyer Shouldn't Mean Accepting an Unfair Eviction, Especially During Covid-19
NLS clients often face dire civil justice problems. Combined with the challenges of COVID-19, these problems can become grim ... and even life-threatening.
Take two elderly sisters, Margaret, 83, and Barbara, 78.* When Margaret was too ill to live in her apartment alone, Barbara did what she always did: She took care of things. Instead of putting Margaret in assisted living, Barbara simply moved in to share expenses.
Their quiet life went on ... until they received an eviction notice. Almost nothing is more frightening to people their age during a health crisis than the thought of losing their home.
They were scared ... and dumbfounded. They had paid their rent and utility bills every month.Their lease wasn’t up yet. How could this be happening? And how would they safely find another place to live during the pandemic?
They needed to fight the eviction but couldn’t afford an attorney on their small incomes. Barbara thought she could represent them in court ... after all, they hadn’t done anything wrong. But they soon discovered what so many low-income Americans learn:
The civil justice system isn’t made for people like them. Barbara lost the case.
Months earlier, a new landlord had changed the requirements for paying utilities ... and the sisters hadn’t realized it. As far as the judge was concerned, they were many months behind. He let the eviction order stand and made them responsible for months of outstanding bills, accrued late penalties and the landlord’s legal fees.
Very soon, they’d have nowhere to live. Margaret’s health issues made the prospect intolerable. A civil legal aid attorney with NLS stepped up for Margaret and Barbara, recovering some of their money, getting late fees dismissed and court fees reduced, and extending their move-out date. The sisters are now safe and secure in a new apartment.
December 7, 2020
For people needing health insurance coverage starting on January 1, 2021, the new deadline to enroll is December 22, 2020 through Pennie.com. It is important to note that people can still enroll through Pennie.com up until January 15th, but their coverage will not start on January 1st.
If you need help getting covered, please feel free to refer them to PHAN's statewide helpline:
Call 877-570-3642 or email email@example.com
If you need more information, please take a look at PHAN's blog post on our new state-operated health insurance marketplace, Pennie, or our Get Help! Page, which features frequently asked questions about how to enroll in health insurance.
November 23, 2020
Continuing Disability Benefit Payment Announcement
Have you received a notice from Social Security indicating that you are no longer eligible for social security disability benefits because your medical condition has improved or no longer exists? (Cessation Notice) Or, have you received notice that you are no longer eligible for children’s SSI benefits because you have turned 18? In both situations, you have 60 days to file a Request for Reconsideration to appeal that decision. If you want your benefits to continue while Social Security is reconsidering whether you are eligible, you have to file a Request for Reconsideration within 10 days of the date on your notice.
However, because of delays in processing reconsideration requests, Social Security is allowing individuals who have filed Requests for Reconsideration who DID NOT request continuing benefits within the 10-day timeframe, to submit late requests for continuing benefits. There are two requirements:
- The notice terminating benefits for the two reasons listed above, must be dated on or before August 30, 2020
- Your request for reconsideration of the termination notice is still pending with Social Security.
November 5, 2020
Neighborhood Legal Services is is pleased to announce a collaborative pilot project with the Allegheny County Bar Foundation’s Pro Bono Center to help people overcome past mistakes, expand opportunities and create a better live for themselves and their families.
Does someone you know or a client you serve have a criminal record that's holding them back? Neighborhood Legal Services and the Pro Bono Center are helping people in Allegheny County apply for pardons from the Pennsylvania Pardons Board. To be eligible clients must be low income, have a case that was in Allegheny county, have completed their sentence and have no arrests or convictions within the past 5 years and have no serious violent offenses.
Individuals interested in obtaining a pardon should call 412-402-6606 for eligibility details and more information about the Pittsburgh Pardons Project. Call today as program participation is limited and closes on November 30, 2020.
November 4, 2020
Continuing Disability Reviews and SSI benefits
Even if you have been awarded SSI benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will review your case every three years or so, to make sure that you are still disabled. When the time comes for that review,
you will receive a notice from SSA indicating that you are under a continuing disability review. The envelope will contain a paper form for you to complete and mail back to Social Security. However if you prefer to do it online, Social Security is now making it possible for you to complete the form through their website. The form will ask you to provide information about your medical conditions and your treating doctors. Make sure you have your doctors’ contact information in addition to your Social Security number, current address, phone number, and a valid email address. You can also upload any medical records that you would like Social Security to review to determine whether you remain disabled and unable to work. You can find the form at https://secure.ssa.gov/ssa455/front-end/
November 2, 2020
Journalist Charlotte Keith Interviews NLS Attorney in, "Locked Out" an Investigation About Evictions In PA
Spotlight PA shows that despite a federal eviction ban, whether or not families get kicked out often comes down to where they live, and which judge happens to hear the case. In the article, NLS director of litigation Eileen Yacknin explains that, "In practice, some landlords are filing “end-of-lease” evictions to try to get around the CDC order." Yacknin was in a local court in Allegheny County with a client in early October, when the judge told the landlord that while an eviction for non-payment of rent wouldn’t be able to proceed, an eviction filed for a different reason would.To read the full article click here.
October 27, 2020
Helping Domestic Violence Victims Obtain Protection Orders Virtual CLE Seminar
On November 6, from 9:00am-1:30pm, along with K&L Gates we are hosting a Virtual CLE session for attorneys about the PFA process and helping victims of domestic violence obtain protection orders. The session is free for attorneys who agree to take pro bono PFA cases in the next year. Three substantive credits and one ethics credit will be offered. Click here if you are interested in registering for this CLE.
October 20, 2020
Following the cessation of the Statewide Eviction Moratorium on September 1 by Governor Tom Wolf, NLS attorneys have helped tenants across Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties maintain housing during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is made possible in part by NLS's receipt of CARES Act funding, given through the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network, aimed at preventing evictions. NLS attorneys have also sought to mitigate confusion and inconsistencies in courtrooms brought about by (1) the end of the Moratorium and (2) the subsequent introduction by the Trump administration of public health laws putting a federal halt on eviction proceedings. NLS Housing Attorney, Eileen Yacknin, was quoted in an article by 90.5 WESA, on this issue: "Different magistrates have different interpretations and therefore carry out these hearings in totally random - for them, maybe not random - but we as litigators see as random ways, in ways that aren't necessarily, what we believe, is in compliance with the law."
September 29, 2020
The Pittsburgh Pro Bono Pardons Project
Neighborhood Legal Services and the Pro Bono Center are launching the Pittsburgh Pardons Project to help clear criminal records in Allegheny county. Do you have a criminal record that's holding you back? Click here to find out if you're eligible for our services.
On October 13th, from 12:00pm-1:00pm, we are hosting a Free Virtual CLE session for attorneys about the Pardons Process. The session is free for attorneys who agree to take one pro bono pardon case through the Pittsburgh Pardon Project and a one hour substantive CLE credit will be offered. Click here to register and learn how you can help someone with a criminal record maximize their chance of success in the pardon application process.
June 28, 2020
Amy Carpenter, a managing attorney at NLS, appointed to Co-Chair of the Pennslyvannia Bar Association's Legal Services to the Public Committee!
Congratulations to Amy Carpenter on her appointment to Co-Chair of the Pennsylvania Bar Association's Legal Services to the Public Committee. The PBA's Legal Services to the Public Committee provides assistance in the creation of programs designed to provide for the delivery of legal services to indigent Pennsylvanians. It also monitors and makes recommendations concerning all legislation regarding unmet legal needs and pro bono service. Congratulations to Amy!
May 8, 2020
Attention: Volunteers Needed to Assist Attorneys With PFA Cases When the Courts Reopen
The court has continued all “final” PFA hearings due to the current Covid-19 pandemic. NLS attorneys and our PFA law students are helping each PFA petitioner prepare their petition over the telephone for presentation to the Court. Anyone granted a Temporary Order of Protection is either assigned to NLS, the Women’s Center and Shelter, or private counsel. Because the final hearings are not being scheduled on a date certain, we have chosen to keep the cases as opposed to trying to assign them to pro bono attorneys who may or may not be able to handle the case on the date they ultimately get scheduled by the court. We cannot be certain that any case assigned to a pro bono attorney will ultimately be handled by the same attorney given the uncertainty. This can put victims in the position of telling their story to multiple attorneys. We certainly do not want to create this kind of confusion and additional stress for these victims. However, we are still going to need help once all the existing PFA’s get scheduled for the final hearings. We expect that the court will want to move these cases quickly and that there will be numerous cases scheduled on any given day.
The help we are requesting of you in the month or so after the Court reopens comes in the form of helping us negotiate and/or continue the cases should service still be an issue. If you can sign up to take a morning to come up and help our attorneys, we would email you one or two client Petitions and Temporary Orders before the date of the final hearing. You do not need to talk to nor interview the client prior to the day of the hearing. If you can negotiate a settlement or continue the matter that morning, your work is done. If a hearing is required, NLS staff will take the case back. Your triage, analysis, and negotiation skills will help to process cases in an efficient manner benefiting both the court, the litigants, and the NLS attorneys! If you are willing to help us in this manner, please contact Mary Ann Troper Malley at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at (412) 586-6134 so she can get you on the calendar for a date or dates in the month of June – at least we “think” this will be when hearings start getting set up. If the court’s order gets extended, we would simply ask you to choose another date.
May 5, 2020
Neighborhood Legal Services on The Confluence Discussing Custody Issues During Covid-19
NLS Managing Attorney for Family Law Susan Abramowich addressed how pandemic protocols can be complicated for ex-partners navigating child custody and the impact of the judicial emergency on family law cases during The Confluence, WESA-FM's morning news broadcast. You can listen to her segment here.
November 1, 2019
Giving Matters because Justice Matters - Equal Justice Campaign Benefitting Civil Legal Aid Programs Underway!
Neighborhood Legal Services’ Equal Justice Campaign is an annual fundraising campaign where the entire legal profession comes together around a common cause — helping to ensure that the neediest members of our community have access to civil legal help. Contributions made to NLS’s Equal Justice Campaign enable to people to obtain justice they deserve not just what they can afford.
Over the 32 past years, our legal community collectively has contributed more than $6.2 million through the Equal Justice Campaign. Those receiving services made possible by the Equal Justice Campaign Campaign include the elderly, disabled individuals, veterans, children, domestic violence victims, people at risk of losing their homes, and many other people in need. Thanks to the legal community’s generosity and the ongoing success of the Equal Justice Campaign, tens of thousands of low-income and disadvantaged people have been able to get necessary legal assistance, and the justice system continues to work better for everyone.
Please consider making an annual gift to NLS’ Equal Justice Campaign today.
December 12, 2019
Neighborhood Legal Services Attorney Donna Allen Rosemond Honored as a 2019 New Pittsburgh Courier Woman of Excellence
NLS Attorney Donna Allen-Rosemond was recently named one of the 2019 New Pittsburgh Courier’s “Women of Excellence” in recognition of her excellent legal work on behalf of victims of domestic violence. Donna is one of the region’s experts in this important area of the law, dedicating her career to helping people navigate a serious crisis in their lives, while maintaining a remarkably sunny outlook herself.
November 21, 2019
Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network Excellence Awards
NLS Attorney Joan Tutak and NLS Pro Bono Volunteer Samuel R. Grego with Dickie McCamey & Chilcote, P.C, were selected to receive the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network Excellence Awards at banquet honoring them and 7 others on March 31, 2020 in Harrisburg. The PLAN Excellence Awards are presented each year to individuals, groups, and/or organizations that have established excellence and diligence improving the availability and quality of civil legal services for low income people and victims of domestic violence in Pennsylvania. The award recipients include a variety of civil legal aid professionals and friends of civil legal aid across Pennsylvania who were recognized for their efforts in support of the clients served by the civil legal programs of the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network.