State Advocacy for Systemic Change

Legal Impact Network Responds to COVID-19

States are on the frontlines of the COVID-19 crisis. From issuing stay-at-home orders to providing the necessary medical support and equipment to combat the virus, state governments are leading much of the response to the pandemic.  

States also have the critical role to ensure relief, supportand resources to all communities equitably, especially for the most vulnerableThat relief and support takes many forms and includes things like unemployment benefits and access to SNAP for working families, protection from evictions for tenants, release of people who are incarcerated, and healthcare access for everyone.  

The Shriver Center’s Legal Impact Network (LIN) fights for economic and racial justice in 33 states across the country and D.C. Since the onset of COVID-19, LIN members have connected tirelessly to support each other in advocacy action, legal research, and community education. Through our focused forums, LIN members build collective power to push for systemic change, state by state, toward a national movement.  

Several of our LIN members share their COVID-19 response priorities.  

Legal Aid Society of the District of Columbia 
Jennifer Mezey, Deputy Legal Director 
“Legal Aid has been working with the DC Council to ensure that there are protections in place for tenants, homeowners and consumers.  Among the provisions that we advocated for and were included in the pieces of legislation were tenant protections, debt collection, mortgage relief, unemployment insurance, public benefits and family/domestic violence.”  

Florida Legal Services 
Amy Guinan Liem, Attorney at Law 
“In our response to the COVID-19 crisis, Florida Legal Services’ priority is to provide Florida’s vulnerable individuals and families with accurate information and assistance that allows them to access services and supports they need immediately (i.e. health care, food assistance, and unemployment insurance). Misinformation from state officials and incompetent implementation efforts have created huge barriers for Florida’s most vulnerable individuals and families as they try to access services and supports at a time when they need them most. FLS has made it our immediate priority to filter through the misinformation and identify ways around system breakdowns so that our clients have accurate information and a clear understanding of how to apply for and access the supports and services they need now. At the same time, we are making it a priority to fully prepare for the next stage in our COVID-19 response advocacy by developing the best advocacy strategies for ensuring proper implementation of recent COVID -19 related legislation, as well as policy changes and system reforms that will be necessary to protect the rights of Florida’s vulnerable individuals and families as they rebuild and recover from the COVID-19 disaster.” 

Hawai’i Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice 
Gavin Thorton, Executive Director  
“We are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic to ensure equitable, productive conversations and solutions. Our priorities include bolstering safety nets for all those affected by this crisis, minimizing economic impacts, convening community partners and preventing an outbreak in Hawai’i’s jails.”  

Center for Civil Justice (Michigan) 
Kelly Bidelman, Executive Director  
“The Center for Civil Justice has taken an active role in advocating for an expansion of public benefits and for a state-wide moratorium on evictions and foreclosures. To that end, we have sent letters to state officials urging them to implement a moratorium on mortgage foreclosures, apply for a Section 1135 waiver to streamline the Medicaid program and submit a state plan amendment to expand and enhance Medicaid coverage. For each initiative, we have organized with community partners to amplify our demands and ensure that we are working efficiently.”  

Mississippi Center for Justice 
Beth Orlansky, Advocacy Director  
“The Mississippi Center for Justice is responding to instances where landlords are evading the eviction moratorium and pushing the state to adopt a foreclosure moratorium similar to what they did after Hurricane Katrina. We are also working with the Department of Human Services to ease requirements and strengthen access to SNAP and other benefits.” 

Nebraska Appleseed 
Becky Gould, Executive Director  
“This moment has exposed the critical vulnerabilities in our systems, spotlighting the inequities Nebraska Appleseed has been fighting against for many years. In this time, we are fighting for federal relief for all families impacted by the economic downturn, educating communities on the changes to public benefits, and we are advocating for an immediate start to Medicaid expansion so 90,000 Nebraskans can access to quality, affordable healthcare. Now more than ever, we must work together to ensure no one is left behind.” 

New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty 
Tim Davis, Attorney, Public Benefits 
“The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty’s immediate focus is on providing information for New Mexicans about their rights and available resources during this emergency, including health care coverage options to ensure free or low cost COVID-19 treatment, accessing unemployment benefits and income and food support, help with utilities, rights to paid leave, and prohibitions on evictions among other resources.  At the same time, we are analyzing policy options that will address the gaps in federal relief legislation, and advocating with our state on a comprehensive response to ensure all of our families, including immigrant families and tribal communities, have access to emergency assistance.”  

Empire Justice Center (New York) 
Eden Forsythe, Vice President of Policy & Government Affairs 
“Underserved communities in New York State have been hit especially hard by the pandemic. Empire Justice Center’s President and CEO, Kristin Brown, has made it her priority to ensure that programs serving low-income communities remain intact during an extraordinarily difficult budgetary year.  Empire Justice Center has also been active in advocating for a host of emergency measures affecting low-income communities, such as the need to waive waiting periods for Safety Net Assistance programs, and the need to relax mandatory video appearance for pro se litigants.”     

Vermont Legal Aid 
W. David KoeningerDeputy Director 
“At Vermont Legal Aid, we are working to help clients understand the new unemployment insurance benefits, encourage them to apply, and train additional staff to be able to handle the unemployment insurance cases that we anticipate will be coming; enact a legislative moratorium on evictions (and protect clients who still may be subject to enforcement of writs of possession); help clients understand the stimulus rebate payments, advocate to enable SSI and VA benefits recipients to qualify without filing a tax return, and to inform TANF recipients of the need to file a tax return in order to access benefits; and track the housing and homelessness funding from the CARES Act that will be coming into the state in order to make sure that homeless individuals and low-income tenants benefits from it.” 

About the Author

Marie Claire Tran-Leung
Marie Claire Tran-Leung
Marie Claire Tran-Leung
Director, Legal Impact Network

312.754.9450

Nolan Downey
Nolan Downey
Nolan Downey
Staff Attorney, Legal Impact Network

312.854.3375

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