Summer 2022 Newsletter
Summer 2022 NEWSLETTER
Recent days have reminded us that the law and the court systems are not always just, which makes the work of public interest attorneys and advocates all the more difficult. As social and racial justice advocates, we are often propelled not by the law but by our guiding values and principles. These values – whether the right to bodily autonomy, freedom from violence or persecution, or the right to housing, healthcare, and education – are what drive GBLS’ staff to pursue incredible victories for clients, to advocate for changes to laws and policies that harm marginalized communities, and to work in concert with organizers and community partners to elevate and amplify client voices. The law doesn’t always provide justice, but together, we will keep pushing for it. Thank you for your partnership in this work.
A Big Win for Immigrant Workers
Equal Justice Works (EJW) Fellow Dave McKenna recently scored big for immigrant workers in Massachusetts, successfully advocating for Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML) benefits to be granted to workers regardless of their immigration status.
After being fired for needing to take sick time, "Rosa” came to a Chelsea Collaborative workers’ rights meeting. GBLS attorneys attend these meetings to provide legal guidance. The job Rosa had been fired from was a new job, so she did not yet have the right to sick time. In screening for other issues, GBLS discovered that Rosa had had a baby in 2021, but her employer never told her about Paid Family and Medical Leave (PFML).
Rosa applied retroactively for PFML benefits but was denied for financial ineligibility. GBLS appealed and provided Rosa’s pay records. Rosa was denied on appeal due to her immigration status / ID Verification. GBLS appealed again and showed that MA law grants PFML benefits regardless of immigration status. As a result, the Department of Family and Medical Leave (DFML) changed its policy, and it now allows ID verification with a foreign passport. Rosa was approved for eleven weeks of back benefits.
Dave, whose EJW fellowship is sponsored by Biogen and Finnegan, and other GBLS employment attorneys are currently working with DFML to expand outreach, simplify the appeals process, and improve agency notices to applicants.
Improving Access to Childcare for Low-Income Families
GBLS’ Welfare Law team has secured some much-needed support for low-income families with childcare needs. GBLS brought a lawsuit on behalf of Chanice Lee, a Massachusetts mother who lost her childcare subsidy from the Department of Early Education and Care (EEC) because she couldn’t afford her parent fees. She lost the subsidy until she paid the money she owed. GBLS sued EEC on behalf of Ms. Lee and other families who lost their EEC childcare subsidies because they couldn’t afford EEC’s parent fees. GBLS argued that EEC did not follow the law when it set the fees, and the fees were unaffordable. The court agreed.
The court ruled that the EEC’s parent fees in the income eligible child care program were unlawful because they were never properly established. EEC cannot deny subsidies to families who fell behind in their parent fees between March 1, 2019 and February 4, 2021. Families who fall into that category can now get back on the waitlist. In addition, and importantly, the fees were revised to be more affordable, allowing more families to resume needed childcare in order to work, go to school, and more. The new scale eliminates fees completely for families living below the federal poverty line, and it results in fees that are overall $53 million lower per year for families in the program.
For more information in multiple languages, click here.
A Legal Leader Takes on a New Role
Laticia Walker-Simpson, a tenacious housing and shelter attorney with our Housing Unit, was recently promoted to Managing Attorney of the Elder, Health, and Disability Unit (EHDU). We sat down with Laticia to get her thoughts on her new role, the work of her new unit, and what’s keeping her busy outside of the office.
GBLS: First of all, congratulations on this well-earned new role of yours! How has the transition been for you? Has anything surprised you?
Laticia Walker-Simpson: So, I’ve been manager for about five weeks now and the transition has been good. I‘ve received a lot of support from my unit and from Danielle [Johnson, now Deputy Director of the Mayor’s Office of Housing Stability], who left a lot of great resources for me and continues to be a help. The biggest surprise is how much work grants require and how much the advocates I manage do in a day. Almost all of the advocates work in multiple areas and they juggle them with ease.
GBLS: Tell us about your previous experience (at GBLS and elsewhere) and how those experiences have prepared you to lead the Elder, Health, and Disability Unit.
LWS: I first started at GBLS as an intern in the Family Law Unit in the divorce work group. I then volunteered with (now) Judge Alex Mitchell-Munevar [former GBLS housing attorney] at Rosie’s Place. After that, I came to GBLS through our partnership with HomeStart. From there, I became the EA Shelter Attorney at GBLS and was promoted to Senior Attorney. While working with the EA Shelter group, I supervised attorneys, paralegals, and interns. I also started the GBLS Book Club, helped create the Mentoring Program at GBLS, and was a part of the Racial Justice Committee.
These experiences helped me foster leadership skills, learn how to manage and supervise people, and learn my own limits and when to ask for help. It also helped that, through the activities I am a part of, I was able and have been able to get to know the members of the Unit outside of being advocates for clients.
GBLS: We affectionately refer to EHDU as working from “cradle to cane”, because the advocates’ specialties range from education and children’s issues, to elder housing and benefits, and some disability and other benefits work in-between. With such a broad spectrum of work, how do you set strategy for and manage the unit?
LWS: I talk to the unit. We do a lot of work in a lot of substantive areas but the advocates understand how the work fits together. The breadth of our work allows us to serve the whole client in one unit. For example, if an elder calls with an issue with getting SNAP, we may also realize that since they’ve been using money to cover food costs they’re in danger of getting evicted now or we realize that they also need help with MassHealth. All of which we can help with in the same unit. That’s really cool.
GBLS: You came to EHDU from the Housing Unit, what lessons or practices are you bringing from that work into your new team?
LWS: I take a lot of lessons from my former manager, Zoe Cronin. Have my unit’s back with what they need, encourage everyone to bring their perspective and most authentic selves to everything, rest, and really like your work and your colleagues.
GBLS: Speaking of our authentic selves, we happen to know that you are a bit of a chocolate aficionado. Do you have a favorite kind of chocolate?
LWS: I love chocolate. Milk chocolate with hazelnuts or milk/dark chocolate salted caramel are my absolute favorites but I'll take anything chocolate.
GBLS: Yum. And, we hear you have a new family member! Will you tell us all about your new puppy?
LWS: Her name is Asha and she’s about three months old now. She’s currently in puppy school and loving getting to be around other dogs (the smaller the dog the more she loves them).
Thank you, Laticia! We’re excited for your success and can’t wait to see how you make your mark on the Elder, Health, & Disability Unit!
New Affordable Housing Comes to Chelsea Thanks to GBLS & Partners
After six years of work, GBLS, La Colaborativa, and the Innes Resident Alliance tenant group are celebrating the creation of new affordable housing units at Innes Apartments in Chelsea. The deal creates almost 100 public housing units, which will be preserved for the next 99 years. The project will also create 40 middle-income units and 194 market rate units.
The public-private partnership to redevelop the distressed public housing units at the Chelsea development into an inclusive mixed-income development with amenities and close to public transportation began in 2016, and GBLS has been an integral part of the redevelopment process. As Executive Director of the Chelsea Housing Authority Albert Ewing stated, “This milestone is a transformative event for our residents, the Chelsea Housing Authority, the City of Chelsea and the Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD).”
Recent Awards & Recognitions
Alex Milvae was celebrated by City of Malden leaders for his efforts to increase voter access in that city. Alex, who is an Equal Justice Works Fellow, sponsored by Vertex, and part of GBLS’ Asian Outreach Project (AOP), has been influential in ensuring that Chinese-speaking residents in Malden are able to use linguistically appropriate ballots and that voting materials and signage are also language accessible to non-English speakers. Approximately 11% of Malden residents speak Chinese, making Alex and AOP’s work important in increasing civic engagement.
The Massachusetts Bar Association feted two dynamic GBLS attorneys with Access to Justice awards this month. Sarah Levy, a Senior Attorney in GBLS’ Welfare Law Unit and the leader of our Children’s Practice Group, and Hannah Tanabe, Senior Attorney in the Employment Law Unit, were both celebrated for their ‘exemplary legal skills and service to the community,’ and we couldn’t agree more with these recognitions!
Dan Manning, GBLS’ Director of Litigation, received the Dr. Marie Feltin Award in May from the Boston Center for Independent Living (BCIL). The award was created to honor the late Dr. Feltin by recognizing individuals and institutions who exemplify her pioneering spirit as a tireless advocate for disabled and chronically ill patients.
Managing Attorney Nadine Cohen was honored at CHAPA’s 2022 Fair Housing Symposium with the Open Door Champion Award in late April. Nadine, who leads GBLS’ Consumer Rights Unit, has been a vigorous and creative advocate for fair housing in Boston and the Commonwealth for decades.
GBLS in the News
GBLS’ attorneys and advocates are some of the best poverty lawyers in the country, providing valuable expertise to clients, community partners, legislators, and the public. Here are some of their recent newsworthy efforts and media moments:
- Pushing for Workers’ Rights in Enforcement of Covid Sick Time Program: Massachusetts businesses not following COVID-19 sick time program, workers and advocates say
- GBLS Sues National Tenant Screening Provider for Violating Fair Housing Laws: Housing nonprofit sues tenant screening service, alleging racial discrimination
- GBLS’ Consumer Rights Practice Leader Urges Passage of the Debt Collection Fairness Act: Help Boston’s working families struggling with debt
- De’Von Douglass, GBLS’ Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, was featured in the Boston Bar Journal’s DEI Leaders Roundtable: “The only way to make a Zoom training on bias useful is to ensure that it is the baseline, not the high-water mark, of our efforts to interrogate how we, individually and collectively, perpetuate bias and how we can carry through on our commitment to dismantle systems that inhibit true inclusivity in the legal profession and beyond.”
- Senior Attorney Janet Vo penned Fighting Anti-Asian Hate: Community-Based Solutions Beyond Prosecutions and the Cycle of Violence for the Boston Bar Journal. “The fight against anti-Asian hate must adopt holistic solutions that look beyond the current criminal legal system and center more community-based solutions, financial relief, and legal support to address the direct needs and concerns of the Asian American community.”
Greater Boston Legal Services provides free legal assistance in civil (noncriminal) matters to low-income families and individuals in the Greater Boston area, helping people access the basic necessities of life, including shelter, healthcare, and safety from abuse.
Please consider making a gift to GBLS to help make "justice for all" a reality for our most vulnerable neighbors. Thank you for supporting civil legal aid!