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2008 March - April

The Use of Supplemental Security Income to Maximize Assets and Income for Foster Youths with Disabilities

By Angie Schwartz & Diana Glick

Laws recently enacted in California ensure that disabled foster youths who may be eligible for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) have applications submitted on their behalf well before they leave foster care so that they receive SSI upon emancipation. California’s model can be replicated elsewhere. With high rates of disability and only a very small percentage receiving SSI, many youths exiting foster care become homeless, addicted, and involved in the criminal justice system. To avert this, advocates can promote policies requiring child welfare agencies to apply for SSI for youths in their care. Washington State Department of Social and Health Services v. Guardianship Estate of Keffeler, 537 U.S. 571 (2003), need not discourage advocates from making sure that foster youths with disabilities obtain SSI when they need it.

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Ideas for Accommodation

Ensuring Equal Access to Legal Services for Clients with Disabilities

By Shawna L. Parks

Services available through legal aid offices must be accessible to all who qualify for assistance regardless of disability status. The Americans with Disabilities Act and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act impose affirmative obligations on legal aid organizations to ensure that their facilities are accessible to clients with any form of disability. From accommodating disabilities to removing barriers, legal aid organizations can do much to ensure that their services are accessible to all.

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Advocacy for a Civil Right to Counsel

An Update

By Paul Marvy

Advocacy for a right to counsel in civil cases that affect basic human needs continues around the country. The American Bar Association and many local bar associations support recognition of the right; model legislation is developed, and litigation is under way. Right-to-counsel advocacy benefits from deep involvement of the legal aid community but is generally pursued through broad coalitions deploying multiple strategies.

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Learning About Your Community

As this guide for developing community knowledge and contacts shows, legal aid lawyers benefit from familiarity with the community that they serve. Being well informed about the population, organizations, and local officials makes a lawyer better equipped to advise and refer clients to resources within the community, whether urban or rural. Community information helps lawyers understand their clients’ experience and thus helps them serve clients better.

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The Challenge of Diverse Leadership in Legal Services

By David Hall

The dialog about diversity in the legal profession has largely failed to address the particular challenges facing attorneys of color who work in legal aid programs. Cultural competence as a standard for delivery of quality legal services must encompass treatment not only of clients but also of those with whom we work. To avoid treating diversity as mere ritual, legal aid organizations must take concrete steps to institutionalize diversity.

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A New Framework for Evaluating the Fair Housing Amendments Act's "Direct Threat" Cases

By Liam Garland

Landlords, citing exception to the Federal Housing Amendments Act’s reasonable accommodation requirement, may refuse to accommodate tenants with disabilities when the tenant has a serious lease violation and the tenant’s actions are a “direct threat” to the health and safety of others even if such actions are attributable to the tenant’s disability. Relevant court decisions are fact-specific, and generalizing about them is difficult. A new framework harmonizes court decisions to guide the advocate in evaluating direct threat cases. Advocates should focus not on past tenant actions but on post-lease-violations or posttermination actions that would ensure future lease compliance.

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Emerging Legal Aid Leadership

The Fellows' Manifesto

By The Fellows of the Center for Legal Aid Education Leadership Institute

The leadership of legal aid organizations across the country will shift in the coming years as many longtime leaders retire. The Center for Legal Aid Education recently conducted a leadership institute to develop a larger pool of leaders who can fill impending gaps. The first group of institute fellows discovered that current leaders’ attitudes could create barriers to leadership development within legal aid organizations. The fellows propose ways to foster emerging leaders and thus the permanence of the legal aid movement.

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Rediscovering the Organizations We Worked to Invent--How to Build an Environment and Culture that Support Affirmative Advocacy

By Ross Dolloff

All set to attach the root causes of poverty and strike down institutional policies that keep the low-income community from making progress, young advocates join legal services. Some attend advocacy skill courses—such as the Center for Legal Aid Education’s course on affirmative litigation and community lawyering—but experience difficulties and resistance from management when they try to integrate complex advocacy into their work situation. Legal aid program management needs to support and encourage affirmative advocacy with adequate resources, freedom to experiment, training and supervision, and a reinvigoration of the mission to eradicate poverty.

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Improving Work Supports

Using the Family Resource Simulator to Identify Problems and Test Solutions

By John Bouman, Kinsey Alden Dinan & Nancy K. Cauthen

Work support programs, such as tax credits and child care subsidies, help low-income workers enter and remain in the labor market. However, too often these programs are implemented haphazardly by states rather than as part of a comprehensive workforce strategy. Eligibility “cliffs” that result when a marginal increase in earnings leads to an even greater loss in work support benefits can cause a family’s total resources to drop precipitously. A new Web-based tool, the Family Resource Simulator, can be used to calculate the impact of work-support policies on families’ resources.

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