Spring 2019 Newsletter
Spring 2019 Newsletter
Every year, thousands of people get one-on-one help from GBLS’ attorneys and advocates to help them meet their basic needs. Beyond the individual lives we are able to touch, however, our work has a significant impact through the strategic legislative and policy advocacy that we do on behalf of all low-income residents of our cities and state.
GBLS has been especially successful lately in some of our legislative efforts, and we’re pleased to be able to share updates on some of our biggest campaigns. Read on for the latest news on how we’re improving outcomes for children, elders, and everyone in-between. We thank you for your partnership in these efforts.
Advocacy Opportunity: Lift the Cap on Kids
Together with the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, GBLS has helped lead the campaign to Lift the Cap on Kids, a statewide coalition of 125 organizations that is on the verge of successfully repealing the welfare family cap. Enacted in Massachusetts in 1995, the family cap rule denies cash benefits to children conceived after their families have received benefits.
Legislators adopted the family cap in the misguided belief – unsupported by any evidence – that denying families a $100-per-month increase in benefits when they had a new baby would deter poor mothers from having more children. Welfare benefits are already extremely low, even when all the children in a family are included: the maximum monthly grant for a mother and two children is $593. However, if one of the children is excluded by the family cap, then the maximum grant is only $491. Children excluded under the family cap also do not receive an annual clothing allowance ($350 in FY19) provided to children on welfare each September.
Instead of preventing births, the cap leaves families struggling to provide their children with necessities such as clean diapers, warm clothing, and healthy food. One mother who participated in the campaign shared painful stories of being unable to change her crying baby because she couldn’t afford diapers and of having to pull her two small daughters in a wagon several miles to the grocery store because she didn’t have money for bus fare.
The Lift the Cap on Kids campaign pursued a family cap repeal during the 2017-2018 legislative session through bills in the House and Senate, sponsored by Rep. Marjorie Decker and Sen. Sal DiDomenico, and through the state budget. The Legislature included repeal in the budget, but despite overwhelming support for family cap repeal, Governor Baker vetoed it at the end of 2018.
In January 2019, Rep. Decker and Sen. DiDomenico refiled legislation to Lift the Cap on Kids for the new legislative session. The House and Senate both passed the bill nearly unanimously in March. It now awaits the final step of enactment by each branch before it goes to Governor Baker, who we hope will sign it, thereby ending Massachusetts’ cruel policy of punishing children for their family’s poverty.
You can help! Please call Governor Baker at 617-725-4005 or 888-870-7770 and ask him sign H. 3594 to Lift the Cap on Kids.
Client Success: GBLS' CORI & Re-entry Project helps John correct a stunning error
In November 2018, GBLS’ CORI & Re-entry Project celebrated its tenth birthday. Over its decade in existence, the CORI Project has produced results like John’s story below and changed the lives of hundreds of people in the Boston area, allowing them to work, find affordable housing, and clear their names.
As a result of 2018’s criminal justice reform legislation, for which GBLS’ CORI & Re-entry Project attorneys advocated passionately, GBLS can now help people expunge their criminal cases rather than simply seal their records. Before the reform, expungement was available only by filing a petition stating that the request fell into an exception to the law, so CORI clients were usually limited to record sealing. Expungement is far superior to sealing because it destroys all records of a case, whereas sealing merely limits who has access to see the record.
Shortly after the new law took effect, GBLS was able to help John, a veteran in his mid-60s. John is retired, but when his daughter opened a home childcare business, John agreed to work with his daughter on a part-time basis to help supplement his retirement income.
In completing the background check required to begin working at his daughter’s business, though, John was shocked to discover that he had a criminal record for a dismissed larceny charge from 1974. The problem? John had never committed, nor been accused of committing, larceny. His name is a common one, and the record of a larceny was erroneous, the crime attributable to someone with a similar name.
When John sought help to clear his name, the court suggested he contact GBLS. GBLS attorneys took John’s case and leapt into action. John’s free GBLS attorney performed a thorough investigation on the alleged crime. John’s attorney was able to show the Court that there was no police report nor court record for the alleged crime and argue that the error should be expunged from John’s record. The judge agreed and ordered the erroneous record in John’s name expunged. Now, John is free to work and enjoy quality time with his daughter in his retirement years.
GBLS’ Youngest Clients Get a Special Place of Their Own
On December 11, 2018 GBLS proudly dedicated the Jane G. Smith Children’s Corner on the fourth floor of GBLS’ Friend Street headquarters. The Children’s Corner is a colorful and welcoming play area where our young clients can enjoy books and toys (and take one home), while their parents meet with GBLS staff. The area is named in honor of longtime GBLS volunteer Jane G. Smith, whose tireless dedication has allowed the Children’s Disability Project to represent more than 800 child clients seeking access to essential SSI and disability benefits.
Our thanks to Jane and the rest of the Children’s Disability team for their work in helping some of the youngest and most vulnerable members of our community.
Advocacy Success: Protecting Elders from Nursing Home Abuse
GBLS and other members of the Nursing Home Advocacy Coalition, who have worked together for decades to improve the quality of life and quality of care for nursing home residents, were proud to join Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healy recently when she announced settlements with seven nursing homes in amounts ranging from $30,000 to $200,000. The cited facilities will undergo compliance monitoring for three years and face additional fines if they fail to comply with the settlement requirements. Settlement funds will be split between a government-administered fund to improve safety and quality of care in nursing homes and Massachusetts’ General Fund.
At a press conference where the settlements were announced, GBLS attorney Wynn Gerhard thanked the Attorney General for her advocacy and added, “There are approximately 37,000 nursing home residents in Massachusetts, and our elderly population will increase 76% by 2030. Nursing home residents have strong rights under state and federal law, but residents often do not know their rights or how to enforce them. They are … amongst the most vulnerable residents of Massachusetts. We know and appreciate the value of advocacy to give a voice to these vulnerable residents, who face risks including over-medication with psychotropic drugs, inadequate staffing and training of staff, improper eviction and transfer from the nursing home to unsafe locations such as homeless shelters, and risks of harm, including death.”
Attorney Gerhard concluded, “Our sympathy and support goes out to the families of the nursing home residents harmed by these facilities, who had a right to expect quality care for their loved ones.
For those residents who lack family and friends to monitor their care, we continue to advocate for a quality public guardianship program to help prevent abuse, neglect and harm to these vulnerable elderly and disabled residents of the Commonwealth.”
Legislative Victory: Tax Relief for Innocent Spouses
In January 2019, Governor Baker signed into law An Act Providing for Equitable Relief from Liability for Joint Filers of Tax Returns, which provides expanded tax relief for vulnerable people whose spouses filed fraudulent returns without their knowledge. The new law comes thanks to advocacy by GBLS and a coalition of organizations, together with committed supporters in the Legislature.
Now a married, separated, or divorced taxpayer is not liable for the tax and penalties owed by a spouse who cheated on taxes if the innocent spouse did not know about the deception. The change will positively affect the financial security and quality of life of Massachusetts residents affected by the law, especially those who are low-income and/or survivors of domestic violence, including financial abuse.
GBLS is grateful to the bill’s lead sponsor, Representative Natalie Higgins, and to Speaker of the House Robert DeLeo, Senate Committee on Ways and Means leadership, and Senate President Karen Spilka for supporting and getting this law passed. To read the law, click here.
GBLS’ Low-Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC), one of four LITCs in Massachusetts, provides legal assistance to taxpayers in tax controversies with the IRS and the Massachusetts Department of Revenue. GBLS’ advocacy on behalf of clients takes place at all stages of a tax controversy (compliance, examinations, collections, appeals) and includes litigation in Tax Court.
In addition to direct client assistance and legislative advocacy, the LITC program provides education to low-income taxpayers, many with limited English proficiency, and the community groups and advocates who support them. The educational sessions cover the range of tax rights and responsibilities. GBLS also provides substantive trainings to the private bar, legal services attorneys, volunteer attorneys, and law students to handle taxpayer controversy cases and provides technical assistance to fellow advocates assisting taxpayers.