ACLU of Georgia Files Brief on Behalf of GLSP Client

In an amicus brief filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Georgia on behalf of a Georgia Legal Services Program client, the ACLU joins GLSP in defending students’ rights in schools.

See below an excerpt about this case from the ACLU:

The American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of Georgia have filed a brief in the Georgia Supreme Court defending students’ due process rights and challenging “zero tolerance” policies that feed into the school-to-prison pipeline.

The brief was filed on behalf of “S.G.,” a high school student who defended herself in a fight on school grounds.  The Henry County Board of Education expelled S.G. from school without giving her the opportunity to assert a defense for her actions.

“Students shouldn’t be deprived of their right to an education – a right guaranteed by the Georgia Constitution – without due process of law, including the right to argue self-defense,” said ACLU of Georgia Executive Director Andrea Young. “The ACLU of Georgia is dedicated to combating the school-to-prison pipeline and challenging the unjust school policies that feed it.”

S.G., a client of Georgia Legal Services Program, lost her appeals to the Henry County Board of Education and the Georgia Board of Education, but won her appeal in the Superior Court, which found that S.G. was justified in using force because she acted in self-defense. This holding was affirmed by the Georgia Court of Appeals.  The Henry County Board of Education has appealed the ruling to the Georgia Supreme Court.

The ACLU brief argues that schools must provide students with due process before depriving them of their constitutionally-guaranteed right to education, including an opportunity to assert that they acted in self-defense, which is the same defense that is available to adults in other contexts.  Furthermore, Georgia law makes clear that a student who defends herself in a fight or steps in to break up a fight has not broken a school rule.

“Zero-tolerance policies like the one adopted by the Henry County Board of Education funnel a disproportionate number of minority students into the school-to-prison pipeline and fail to make schools safer,” said ACLU of Georgia Legal Director Sean J. Young. “We urge the Court to affirm the decision by the Court of Appeals and protect students’ rights to due process and equal protection.”

To read the full article about the brief click here.

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Free Veterans Workshop

Join us this Friday, April 28, in Waycross from 12 to 3 p.m at the Waycross City Auditorium, 865 Pendleton Street. The workshop includes free legal services arranged by Georgia Legal Services and the State Bar of Georgia as a part of Ask a Lawyer Day.  Georgia Legal Services staff will assist veterans to access benefits for which they could potentially be eligible. Spouses and dependents of the veterans may qualify for benefits as well. State and local agencies will be on hand advise veterans and their family members about the resources that are available locally. Download the flyer here.

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Seniors and Low-income People Wrongly Denied Medicare Savings

Georgia Legal Services Benefits Hotline May Be Able to Correct DFCS Mistake

Some seniors and people with disabilities who get help paying their Medicare premiums through Georgia Medicaid are getting erroneous notices that their assistance will be cut off because their incomes are suddenly too high. The notices are a result of Georgia Division of Family and Children’s Services’ (DFCS) failure to update their systems with the latest cost-of-living adjustments, updated at the beginning of each year. Losing the benefits that help pay their Medicare costs–all because of an error on the part of the state agency—is costly for people with already-meager incomes.

People who believe they are being wrongly terminated from the Medicare Savings Program or who want more information to see if they qualify should call Georgia Legal Services Program’s Benefits Hotline at 1 (888) 632-6332.

Additional information:

People with incomes low enough to qualify for the Medicare Savings Programs can get help with their Medicare premium. Individuals with incomes below $1,377 or couples below $1,847 can have their Medicare Part B premiums paid for and some can get Medicare deductibles and co-payments paid.

DFCS systems often do not recognize the changes in incomes as cost-of-living adjustments (COLAs) made in the beginning of each year and instead issue false termination notices for those who were on the edge of eligibility. The result for some is that their Part B premiums start getting deducted from their Social Security checks. Others may be faced with copayments and deductibles they should not have to pay.

For more information, please contact:
Vicky Kimbrell, GLSP Benefits Hotline Project Director
vkimbrell@glsp.org; 404-563-7710 ext. 1603

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Georgia Legal Services Program’s Benefits Hotline Provides Georgians with Millions in Public Benefits

This article was first printed on the Legal Services Corporation website here.

“My medicines cost $200 per month. I wasn’t able to get them although I had had two prior heart attacks. Now I can get my medication because of the Medicaid. I would have given up without your help.”

“Thank you very much for helping me. I called everyone and did everything I was supposed to do. GLS was the only place that helped.”

These quotes are from people who received help through Georgia Legal Services Program’s (GLSP’s) benefits hotline.

The hotline was created in 2012 to optimize the legal process of receiving public benefits—specifically, to reduce the number of hearings attended by GLSP lawyers and to help clients get the food and health care they needed, which were often delayed or denied by the bureaucratic process.

In addition, the hotline served a critical purpose because at the time in Georgia:

  • The state’s Medicaid, food stamp, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) programs were put online and applications, renewals, changes, and notices were often not sent.
  • Many local welfare agency offices closed and the staff in the remaining offices weren’t allowed to talk to the public.
  • The state agency’s central phone system was a mess, with wait times lasting up to four hours.
  • The system had a 48 percent drop rate to get through the phone lines for food stamps and Medicaid applications or renewals.

The GLSP benefits hotline uses a holistic model to provide legal assistance quickly, efficiently, and effectively. The paralegals who staff the hotline take individuals out of the GLSP intake and screening queue and transfer them directly to public benefits attorneys for legal assistance. In addition, they work with state agencies to solve problems and partner with other organizations to provide housing, education, veterans benefits, and other assistance.

For simple issues such as lost documents or a missed phone interview, the hotline staff contact the Georgia Division of Family and Children Services, and the issue is often resolved the same day.

From the hotline’s creation in 2012 through 2016, more than 2,700 people have been helped. And, according to estimates by the hotline’s funders, those people have received nearly $7 million in benefits. (See the table below)

Year Funder/grant Number of individuals served Estimated value of benefits by funder
2012 National Council on Aging (NCOA) Innovations Grant 647 $647,211
2012-2013 NCOA/Healthcare Georgia (HCGA) 467 $863,480
2014 NCOA/Robust Follow Up 475 $1,729,001
2015 NCOA 648 $1,986,761
2016 NCOA/Victim Legal Assistance Network (VLAN)/LSC 504 $1,670,710
Total   2,741 $6,897,163

These numbers don’t reflect the identification of larger issues—GLSP identified and resolved a problem affecting 40,000 Medicaid recipients who had been terminated because the vendor failed to send renewal forms. In addition, GLSP obtained benefits for Medicaid recipients weren’t receiving automatic drug coverage, as required by federal regulations.

Such outcomes have led to a high level of client satisfaction with the benefits hotline and GLSP. According to the Georgia Health Policy Center’s evaluation of the hotline’s impact, “Three to six months after their hotline contact, 80 percent of respondents felt that their overall well-being had improved since they received help from GLSP.”

For more information on GLSP’s benefits hotline, click here.

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El Departamento de Agricultura de Georgia Extiende Protecciones a Personas que no Hablan Inglés

La Querella de Derechos Civiles Presentada por los Servicios Legales de Georgia en Nombre de Trabajadores Agrícolas Produce Resultados

El 8 de febrero de 2017, el Departamento de Agricultura de Georgia aceptó hacer que sus protecciones para los trabajadores fueran más accesibles a quienes no hablan inglés. El acuerdo, alcanzado entre el Departamento de Agricultura de Georgia y la Agencia de Protección Ambiental de los Estados Unidos (EPA, por sus siglas en inglés), es el resultado de una querella que el Programa de Servicios Legales de Georgia presentó ante la EPA. Servicios Legales de Georgia presentó la querella en nombre de un cliente de habla hispana, cuya denuncia inicial de una violación de protección de trabajadores fue desestimada por el Departamento de Agricultura de Georgia porque el departamento no estaba equipado para entrevistar a alguien que no hablara inglés.

El cliente de Servicios Legales de Georgia, un trabajador agrícola en el sur de Georgia, se enfermó después de estar expuesto a pesticidas en julio de 2015 mientras trabajaba en una granja. La exposición del trabajador a los pesticidas fue causada por el manejo inadecuado de los pesticidas en la granja, en violación de las regulaciones de la EPA. El trabajador presentó una querella al Departamento de Agricultura de Georgia, pero la agencia no pudo procesar adecuadamente la querella debido a la barrera del idioma y, en consecuencia, rechazó la queja del trabajador.

La querella del trabajador demostró una violación de la Norma de Protección de Trabajadores (WPS, por sus siglas en inglés) de la EPA, un reglamento diseñado para proteger a los trabajadores agrícolas. El reglamento incluye requisitos de equipo de protección, entrenamiento de seguridad, tiempos de entrada restringida después de la aplicación de pesticidas y otros que previenen el envenenamiento y lesiones por pesticidas.

El Departamento de Agricultura de Georgia, que recibe fondos de la EPA, está encargado de hacer cumplir la Norma de Protección del Trabajador en el estado. Todas las agencias estatales que reciben fondos federales para proveer servicios al público deben asegurarse de que esos servicios sean accesibles a todos los individuos, independientemente de su raza, color u origen nacional, bajo el Título VI de la Ley de Derechos Civiles de 1964.

La División de Derechos del Trabajador Agrícola de los Servicios Legales de Georgia presentó este asunto ante la Oficina Externa de Cumplimiento de Derechos Civiles de la EPA y, como resultado, las agencias firmaron un acuerdo comprometiendo al Departamento de Agricultura de Georgia a desarrollar, publicar e implementar procedimientos escritos para asegurar un acceso significativo a todos los programas y actividades del departamento por todas las personas – incluyendo personas con dominio limitado del inglés.

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Georgia Dept. of Agriculture Extends Protections to Non-English Speakers

Georgia Legal Services Civil Rights Complaint on Behalf of Farmworker Yields Results

On February 8, 2017, the Georgia Department of Agriculture agreed to make its protections for workers more accessible to non-English speakers. The agreement, reached between the Georgia Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is a result of a complaint that Georgia Legal Services Program brought to the EPA. Georgia Legal Services brought the complaint on behalf of a Spanish-speaking client, whose initial complaint of a worker protection violation was dismissed by the Georgia Department of Agriculture because the department was not equipped to interview a non-English speaker.

The Georgia Legal Services client, an agricultural worker in the south of Georgia, became ill after being exposed to pesticides while working on a farm in July 2015. The worker’s exposure to pesticides was caused by the farm’s inadequate pesticide handling, in violation of EPA regulations. The worker filed a complaint to the Georgia Department of Agriculture, but the agency was unable to adequately process the complaint because of the language barrier and, as a result, it dismissed the worker’s complaint.

The worker’s complaint demonstrated a violation of the EPA’s Worker Protection Standard, a regulation designed to protect agricultural workers. The regulation includes requirements for protective equipment, safety training, restricted-entry times following pesticide application, and others that prevent poisoning and injury from pesticides.

The Georgia Department of Agriculture, which receives funding from the EPA, is charged with enforcing the Worker Protection Standard in the state. All state agencies that receive federal funding to provide services to the public must make sure that those services are accessible to all individuals, regardless of race, color or national origin, under Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.

The Farmworker Rights Division of Georgia Legal Services Program brought this matter to the EPA’s External Civil Rights Compliance Office and, as a result, the agencies signed an agreement committing the Georgia Department of Agriculture to develop, publish, and implement written procedures to ensure meaningful access to all of the department’s programs and activities by all persons–including people with limited English proficiency.

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GLSP Augusta Client Board Member Honored

National Legal Aid and Defender Association Awards Augusta Resident Terence Dicks

Georgia Legal Services Board Member Terence Dicks was honored by the National Legal Aid and Defender Association with a client contribution award at their annual conference last month. From his firsthand dealings with renowned singer James Brown, to decades fighting for the rights of African Americans in our city, Terence Dicks life’s work is worth formal acknowledgement.

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Rev. Terence Dicks accepts the NLADA award in Nov. 2016.

An excerpt from a letter written by Lisa Krisher, also an Augusta resident and the litigation director at Georgia Legal Services, detailing her reasons for nominating Rev. Dicks follows:

Rev. Terence A. Dicks of Augusta, Georgia deserves the 2016 NLADA Client Contribution Award for his three decades in community service and involvement, including founding and leading many organizations with an emphasis on civil rights, needs of inner city and low-income children, and civil legal representation for persons with low and moderate incomes.

 … The son of an army solider, Rev. Dicks has lived most of his life in Augusta. During high school and for about seven years following, Rev. Dicks was a radio announcer for local radio stations. That experience helped him as the co-coordinator of the James Brown Appreciation Day in Augusta in 1986, the first organized appreciation of Mr. Brown in Augusta. Rev. Dicks recognized Mr. Brown’s efforts to end rioting in Augusta and encourage better relations between races. Shortly thereafter, Mr. Brown made Rev. Dicks the manager of Mr. Brown’s first concert in Augusta.

 … Long an advocate of expanded public transit, Rev. Dicks is the immediate past chairman of the Richmond County Transit Citizens Advisory Committee and remains an active member. Augusta’s transit system has been limited in service, but it is much needed to help residents go to jobs, medical appointments and other places. Recently, in part because of his leadership, Augusta Transit added three holidays for bus services helping persons without vehicles reach jobs on those days. He also is an active member of the Richmond County Board of Elections. He continues educating people about voting and organizes and participates in voter registration drives.

 He is the go-to person in the east central area of Georgia on a variety of issues, from civil rights to nuclear safety. Rev. Dicks uses his knowledge and experience from his association with GLSP to offer counsel and leadership to others who are trying to improve the quality of life for Georgians, and particularly the community of Augusta where 26% of the residents live below the federal poverty level and more than 50% are African American.

 Rev. Dicks doesn’t just talk the talk, he literally walks the walk; he does most of his work as a volunteer… without a vehicle.

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New Medical-Legal Partnership to Serve Hospital Patients

Georgia Legal Services Attorney Available Free of Charge at Navicent Health

(November 4, 2016) – For hospital patients, sometimes health-related problems actually have a legal remedy. Medical-legal partnerships allow patients to access a lawyer’s help free of charge. Patients have received legal help leaving an abusive relationship, enrolling in Medicaid or Social Security benefits, and with landlord disputes—for instance if a mold infestation is affecting the tenant’s health. An independent lawyer is now, as of September, positioned in the Macon hospital to assist with such legal issues. This makes it the second medical-legal partnership in the state.

Such partnerships are a relatively new concept, but can yield significant impact in the lives of patients. There are only 290 medical-legal programs between hospitals and legal aid agencies around the country. This kind of collaboration allows partners to “address the social determinants of health that create hardships for vulnerable populations through the integration of free legal services in the healthcare setting, according to the American Bar Association. The legal help offered can range from issues related to housing, access to utilities, immigration, education, public benefits, guardianship, wills and family law.

The lawyer will be funded by Navicent Health. The healthcare system plans to add at least two more fully-funded attorney positions within the next three to five years.

Read more about the partnership on Navicent Health’s website here.

Read about the ribbon-cutting ceremony here.

 

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