Legal Aid for Needy Stretched Thin/Legal Services of Northern VA

Tom Boland (wgcp@earthlink.net)
Mon, 23 Nov 1998 15:21:25 -0400


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http://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/WPlate/1998-11/22/023l-112298-idx.html
FWD  Washington Post - Sunday, November 22, 1998; Page V03


CUTS TURN WARNING INTO FACT
LEGAL AID FOR NEEDY IS STRETCHED THIN

By Maria Glod
Washington Post Staff Writer


Lawyers at the Loudoun branch of Legal Services of Northern Virginia warned
last spring that they would have to cut services drastically after the
Board of Supervisors eliminated $53,000 in local funding from the office's
$130,000 operating budget.

Now, those lawyers say, the predictions have come true.

The nonprofit agency, which had been staffed by a full-time lawyer, a
part-time lawyer and a paralegal, has cut its staff to one part-time lawyer
and one part-time paralegal. It has closed the doors of its longtime Royal
Street office and is working temporarily out of donated space at the
Piedmont Behavioral Center.

During the last several months, agency lawyers say they have turned away
about three to four dozen clients who would have been eligible for help
last year. They include single parents trying to collect overdue
child-support payments, tenants facing eviction and working people
struggling to keep collection agencies at bay.

"We've had to drastically change how we do business here," said Lewis E.
Gelobter, 44, who was the office's only full-time lawyer and who now splits
his time between the agency's Loudoun and Prince William branches. "There's
a large segment of people that we can't serve. That would be the working
poor as opposed to the poor poor."

Legal Services, which also operates in Fairfax and Arlington counties and
Alexandria, handles cases free for low-income residents.

The organization receives most of its money from the federal government,
allowing it to help residents below a certain income level -- $13,000 for a
single parent with one child and $20,000 for a family of four. In all of
the jurisdictions except Loudoun, local funding allows the organization to
raise the limits to $19,000 and $30,000, respectively.

Gelobter estimated that under the stricter guidelines now in force in
Loudoun, about one-third of the 222 clients served by the Loudoun branch
last year would be ineligible now. He said that between 36 and 48 people
seeking legal help have been turned away so far.

"These people will be in a real bind," Gelobter said. "The reason they come
to us in the first place is because they can't afford an attorney."

Supervisor Steven D. Whitener (R-Sugarland Run), who supported eliminating
local funding, defended the board's decision, saying that the organization
could raise money in the community to finance the office.

"They need to stop whining and move on," Whitener said. "If every
bleeding-heart lawyer in Leesburg just gave 1 percent of their income,
they'd be funded overnight." Whitener also noted that the agency has filed
several lawsuits against the county or county agencies -- none of them
pending -- over such matters as an eviction and a client's loss of Medicaid
coverage.

"They were using the taxpayers' money to sue the taxpayers," Whitener said.

Gelobter and other supporters of the program said the Legal Services
lawyers pursue only claims that they believe are valid. They added that
they worry about the long-term impact of the decrease in services.

"If we are unable to assist a single mother or father who has children in
obtaining child support, that directly affects whether there's money to put
food on the table," Gelobter said. "If we can no longer assist a tenant who
is being improperly evicted, that's an impact beyond the individual client
to the entire family."

Supervisor David G. McWatters (R-Broad Run), who voted against the funding
cut, agreed that Legal Services lawyers have helped residents in need avoid
more serious problems such as homelessness.

"We're in a money crunch in the county, but I believe these services help
keep people off welfare, and it keeps people and their families in
shelter," McWatters said. "These are people who are in positions that are
beyond their control, and they need help with legal services."

Gelobter said the Loudoun branch may have to cut back further if it does
not receive funding to replace a $23,000 United Way grant that will expire
in June.

END FORWARD
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** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is
distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in
receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. **

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http://washingtonpost.com/wp-srv/WPlate/1998-11/22/023l-112298-idx.html

FWD  Washington Post - Sunday, November 22, 1998; Page V03



<paraindent><param>right,left</param>CUTS TURN WARNING INTO FACT

LEGAL AID FOR NEEDY IS STRETCHED THIN


By Maria Glod

Washington Post Staff Writer

</paraindent>


Lawyers at the Loudoun branch of Legal Services of Northern Virginia
warned last spring that they would have to cut services drastically
after the Board of Supervisors eliminated $53,000 in local funding from
the office's $130,000 operating budget.


Now, those lawyers say, the predictions have come true.


The nonprofit agency, which had been staffed by a full-time lawyer, a
part-time lawyer and a paralegal, has cut its staff to one part-time
lawyer and one part-time paralegal. It has closed the doors of its
longtime Royal Street office and is working temporarily out of donated
space at the Piedmont Behavioral Center.


During the last several months, agency lawyers say they have turned
away about three to four dozen clients who would have been eligible for
help last year. They include single parents trying to collect overdue
child-support payments, tenants facing eviction and working people
struggling to keep collection agencies at bay.


"We've had to drastically change how we do business here," said Lewis
E. Gelobter, 44, who was the office's only full-time lawyer and who now
splits his time between the agency's Loudoun and Prince William
branches. "There's a large segment of people that we can't serve. That
would be the working poor as opposed to the poor poor."


Legal Services, which also operates in Fairfax and Arlington counties
and Alexandria, handles cases free for low-income residents.


The organization receives most of its money from the federal
government, allowing it to help residents below a certain income level
-- $13,000 for a single parent with one child and $20,000 for a family
of four. In all of the jurisdictions except Loudoun, local funding
allows the organization to raise the limits to $19,000 and $30,000,
respectively.


Gelobter estimated that under the stricter guidelines now in force in
Loudoun, about one-third of the 222 clients served by the Loudoun
branch last year would be ineligible now. He said that between 36 and
48 people seeking legal help have been turned away so far.


"These people will be in a real bind," Gelobter said. "The reason they
come to us in the first place is because they can't afford an
attorney."


Supervisor Steven D. Whitener (R-Sugarland Run), who supported
eliminating local funding, defended the board's decision, saying that
the organization could raise money in the community to finance the
office.


"They need to stop whining and move on," Whitener said. "If every
bleeding-heart lawyer in Leesburg just gave 1 percent of their income,
they'd be funded overnight." Whitener also noted that the agency has
filed several lawsuits against the county or county agencies -- none of
them pending -- over such matters as an eviction and a client's loss of
Medicaid coverage.


"They were using the taxpayers' money to sue the taxpayers," Whitener
said.


Gelobter and other supporters of the program said the Legal Services
lawyers pursue only claims that they believe are valid. They added that
they worry about the long-term impact of the decrease in services.


"If we are unable to assist a single mother or father who has children
in obtaining child support, that directly affects whether there's money
to put food on the table," Gelobter said. "If we can no longer assist a
tenant who is being improperly evicted, that's an impact beyond the
individual client to the entire family."


Supervisor David G. McWatters (R-Broad Run), who voted against the
funding cut, agreed that Legal Services lawyers have helped residents
in need avoid more serious problems such as homelessness.


"We're in a money crunch in the county, but I believe these services
help keep people off welfare, and it keeps people and their families in
shelter," McWatters said. "These are people who are in positions that
are beyond their control, and they need help with legal services."


Gelobter said the Loudoun branch may have to cut back further if it
does not receive funding to replace a $23,000 United Way grant that
will expire in June.


END FORWARD

-

** NOTICE: In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. **


HOMELESS PEOPLE'S NETWORK  <<http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/>  Home Page

ARCHIVES  <<http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/archives.html>  read posts to HPN

TO JOIN  <<http://aspin.asu.edu/hpn/join.html> or email Tom <<wgcp@earthlink.net>

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