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2011 May - June

Beyond Fear and Myth

Using the Disparate Impact Theory Under the Fair Housing Act to Challenge Housing Barriers Against People with Criminal Records

By Marie Claire Tran-Leung

Housing barriers targeting people with criminal records are vulnerable to attack under the Fair Housing Act. The Act prohibits housing discrimination on the basis of race. Because of the disproportionate number of racial minorities with criminal records, housing policies banning people with criminal records have a disparate, adverse impact on racial minorities. Disparate impact claims against criminal records policies have succeeded in the Title VII employment context; similar claims under the Act may succeed as well. A housing provider with a criminal records policy also may violate its duty of affirmatively furthering fair housing under the Act.

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Poverty Warriors

A Historical Perspective on the Mission of Legal Services

By Gary F. Smith

Sargent Shriver and the other founders of the federally funded legal services program believed the program should advocate on behalf of entire poor communities and pursue an antipoverty mission. The current push for “access to justice” and “Civil Gideon” strays from that original mission by focusing on individual legal problems that do not target the underlying causes of poverty. Even with Legal Services Corporation regulations, legal services programs can pursue an antipoverty agenda if they have the desire and creativity to do so.

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Considering Eligibility for Public Benefits in Settling a Client's Claim for Damages

By Douglas Sea & Andrew Cogdell

When settling a client’s claim for damages, an attorney must consider the settlement’s possible effect on the client’s present and future eligibility for public benefits such as SSI (Supplemental Security Income), Medicaid, SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and public housing. Many public benefit programs impose limits on the amount of income and assets that a recipient may have. For some clients, a (d)(4) Supplemental Needs Trust offers a beneficial way to structure a settlement award.

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A Season of Change

Reforming the H-2B Guest Worker Program

By Jayesh M. Rathod

The mistreatment of seasonal nonagricultural workers brought to the United States through the H-2B program is an area of concern for many immigration and workplace justice advocates. While recent proposed revisions of the H2-B regulations may bring some positive changes in the scheme, the H2-B program remains the same until the regulations are finalized. Examining the structure and flaws of the current H-2B framework shows that H-2B workers face many challenges, both when they try to participate in the program and when they try to challenge unfair treatment by their employers.

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Ensuring Fair Wages? Subminimum Wages for Individuals with Disabilities Under the Fair Labor Standards Act

By David T. Hutt

Workers with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to exploitation by their employers. When these workers are employed pursuant to Section 14(c) of the Fair Labor Standards Act, however, they are entitled to protections with which many advocates may be unfamiliar. Recent events in Atalissa, Iowa, should prompt advocates for workers with disabilities to familiarize themselves with Section 14(c) and related state legislation.

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The Next Frontier in Public Benefits

Electronic Benefit Cards

By Karen K. Harris & Ji Won Kim

Electronic benefit transfers are now the primary means that states use to deliver public benefits, and a growing number of states are moving to the use of commercial-brand prepaid debit cards, or electronic payment cards. A recently passed law requires that, without a waiver, all federal nontax payments be delivered electronically. While this mechanism offers many advantages for clients over paper checks, the need for consumer protections has received insufficient attention. Proposed federal legislation would extend consumer protections to government-sponsored electronic payment cards.

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Moving or Moving Up? Understanding Residential Mobility for Housing Choice Voucher Families in Illinois

By Andrew Greenlee, Janet Smith, Katherine E. Walz & Sharon Legenza

The federal Housing Choice Voucher program offers very low-income families the opportunity to move  to communities with improved access to jobs, schools, diversity, and other advantages. “Voucher portability,” or the process of moving outside the jurisdiction of the voucher-issuing housing authority, has been burdensome for participants and public housing authorities, even though the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) reminds housing authorities of their duty to comply with fair housing laws and other requirements. Regional and statewide cooperation among housing authorities and advocates, coupling moving with housing mobility counseling, landlord outreach and education, and establishing a HUD complaint process for affected households are, in this analysis of the Illinois experience, among recommended ways to improve a voucher holder’s right to move to communities of opportunity.

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