Good news on civil legal aid funding in Wisconsin

Summer is off to a good start when it comes to funding for civil legal aid in Wisconsin. On July 12, Governor Scott Walker signed Wisconsin’s 2015-17 state budget into law, including a provision that appropriates $500,000 in each year of the biennium for civil legal aid services to abuse victims. That funding was added to the budget by a unanimous vote of the Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee following a motion by Rep. MIchael Schraa (R-Oshkosh) and Sen. Alberta …

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Profiles in pro bono: Jay Miller

Jay-Miller-200x250Jay Miller wants to get the word out. The Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) is available to low-income residents who need assistance with IRS tax matters. “LITC is a valuable resource for low income taxpayers who have disputes with the IRS. We’re busy, but we currently are not turning anyone away,” he said.

Miller has been a tax attorney since 1977. He worked for the Tax Division of the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington, D.C., and later as vice president and tax counsel for Northwestern Mutual Insurance in Milwaukee. He retired from the company in 2009, having served there for 20 years.

For years Miller has been a valuable volunteer for the LITC. “In 2014, he committed 287.10 hours to the clinic,” said Maggie Niebler-Brown of Legal Action of Wisconsin, the organization that sponsors LITC. “He handles very challenging federal tax controversies and gets great results for clients.”

Miller said, “Volunteering at [LITC] is an extension of my career. I represent people who either dispute the amount of taxes owed or acknowledge that taxes are owed but can’t pay them. We often are able to work out a compromise settlement where the IRS agrees to accept a lower amount if the client can show he can’t pay the taxes now and it is unlikely he will be able to do so in the future.”

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A crucial source of help for the elderly

GWAAR logo 321 copy_2By Kate Schilling

Greater Wisconsin Agency on Aging Resources (GWAAR) is a nonprofit agency committed to supporting the successful delivery of programs and services to seniors in 70 counties and 11 tribes in Wisconsin. The legal issues that our seniors face are complex. Wisconsin may be unique in how it provides access to Elder Benefit Specialists in every county with legal backup provided by GWAAR.

Everyone has heard that our population is aging, but what does that mean for Wisconsinites? It is estimated that by the year 2035, approximately 28 percent of Wisconsin’s total population will be age 60 and older. In many rural, northern counties, up to 48 percent of the population is expected to be age 60 and older in 2035. (Source: DHS, Bureau of Aging and Disability Resources, aging demographics)

Upon turning age 65, people become eligible for health insurance through Medicare, but increasing health insurance costs combined with income near the poverty level equates to many older adults struggling financially to make ends meet each month. “In 2013, half of all people on Medicare had income less than $23,500, which is equivalent to 200 percent of the federal poverty line in 2015.” (Source: Jacobson et al., “Income and Assets of Medicare Beneficiaries, 2013–2030)

Medicare Part B covers outpatient medical appointments, emergency room visits, most lab work and durable medical equipment. For services covered under Medicare Part B, Medicare pays 80 percent, and the consumer pays the remaining 20 percent out of pocket. While subsidy programs are available to help pay monthly Medicare premiums and/or copays for low-income older adults, those programs are limited to people with income below 150 percent of the federal poverty line. Many older adults fall just slightly above the eligibility line and, therefore, must pay those costs out of pocket.

The Affordable Care Act has begun to close the Part D coverage gap for prescription medications; however, in 2015 consumers in the “donut hole” (upon reaching $2,960 in covered medications) still have to pay 45 percent of brand name medications and 65 percent of generic medications. Although the coverage gap will close by the year 2020, it continues to present a large financial hurdle for many Medicare consumers who must decide between taking their medications, buying groceries and paying rent.

Increasing medical costs have been met by increasing housing costs as well. Quality, subsidized housing for older adults is hard to find in the state. Many counties, such as Dane County, have closed the wait lists for Section 8 housing vouchers. Other federally funded programs through the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) typically have long wait lists.  That means older adults must continue to pay market rate rental amounts until there is an opening or they get off the wait list. It is not uncommon for a consumer to pay $915 per month in rental costs in some counties.

Unfortunately, with the population aging, there has also been an increase in elder financial abuse. Telephone and mail scammers pretend to be staff from the IRS, Social Security, Medicare and other government programs trying to obtain Social Security numbers, bank account numbers, and credit card information from well-meaning elderly people. Financial exploitation was the second highest form of elder abuse in the year 2014. (Source: DHS, WITS Statistical Summary Report for Elder Adults-at-Risk Age 60+ State Reporting Year 2014 – As of 04/01/2015)

It’s important for older adults to be aware that services exist to help them and are provided free of charge.  

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More help is on the way for DV victims in Winnebago County

Christine Ann logoThe Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission is pleased to announce that a $100,000 subgrant has been awarded to the Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Services in Oshkosh to fund legal representation for domestic violence victims in that area. The subgrant proposal was developed through a collaboration between the ATJ Commission, the Christine Ann Center, the Winnebago Family Court Commissioner’s Office, and the Winnebago County Bar Association. The subgrant of STOP funds from the Director of State Courts Office will be used to help pay private attorneys who have been trained to represent abuse victims who already receive other support services from Christine Ann.

The ATJ Commission worked with partners in Winnebago County to develop a project proposal that builds upon a successful all-volunteer restraining order clinic already operating in Winnebago County. It is anticipated that over 100 victims will be served by this project and it offers the opportunity to examine closely the economic, social and judicial outcomes of providing representation in these types of cases. The program is expected to be in operation by September 2015.

The purpose of the Winnebago County project is to measure and evaluate the cost and effectiveness of providing attorneys to represent victims in family law cases that involve domestic violence.

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Provider profile – Legal Action of Wisconsin

 

legalaction_logoThe legal problems faced by low-income people often threaten them with dire consequences: eviction, loss of income, domestic violence, loss of health care, homelessness, repossession of vehicles (which can result in the loss of employment) and more. These are the problems that Legal Action of Wisconsin (LAW) helps over 8,000 people address each year. While the cases usually do not involve large sums of money, the outcomes for poor families can be of enormous importance. LAW’s advocates provide legal assistance with a wide range of legal issues to help families maintain their homes, their income, and their personal safety.

LAW serves a 39-county area of southern and central Wisconsin (Wisconsin’s northern 33 counties are served by Wisconsin Judicare), with offices located in Milwaukee, Racine, Madison, Oshkosh, Green Bay and LaCrosse. Its service area includes approximately 75 percent of Wisconsin’s poverty population. Some of its projects are statewide, such as the Migrant Project, which provides help to migrant and seasonal farmworkers with issues such as unpaid wages and other employment-related matters. LAW handles a diverse range of issues, including housing, family law, public benefits, consumer law and employment issues. A low-income family faced with these problems without legal representation may face a loss of housing or income that will push it into a severe financial crisis or homelessness. Effective legal representation can often prevent that from happening and help maintain stability for a family.

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