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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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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Working harder for Wisconsin veterans

Veterans Memorial ParkAs a part of our ongoing effort to improve the delivery of civil legal services for Wisconsin residents in need, the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission has begun working with the Wisconsin Department of Veterans Affairs, Army OneSource, and our other stakeholders to develop additional legal resources for assisting our veterans. This effort will be led by Commission member Jeff Unger, who also serves as Transition Assistance Advisor with the Wisconsin National Guard.

The Commission will be relying on this new working group to develop recommendations for specific resources that should be created or expanded by the Commission or others in Wisconsin.

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Provider spotlight: Kids Matter

Kids MatterKids Matter Inc. was founded in 2000 to help abused and neglected youth in the greater Milwaukee area. It is a small agency with a big mission.

Kids Matter is the only legal services agency providing non-GAL civil legal services within the child welfare system and for informal kinship families in Wisconsin. In addition to providing direct legal services for children and families, Kids Matter provides free legal information to the public and technical advice to attorneys and professionals. In an effort to keep up with growing demand, the Kids Matter website includes a guide to legal guardianship that has been used by caregivers in all 72 Wisconsin counties. As youth turn to the web for information first, Kids Matter has also developed “know your rights” guides for youth in foster care.

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Avoiding compassion fatigue





Keeping Legal Minds Intact: Mitigating Compassion Fatigue

By Linda Albert*, LCSW, CSAC

This is an excerpt of an article published in The Wisconsin Defender magazine, Winter/Spring 2009. It is reprinted with permission.

What is compassion fatigue?

There are several different terms often used to refer to the same phenomenon; to name a few: compassion fatigue, vicarious trauma, secondary traumatic stress, second hand shock and secondary stress reaction. Compassion fatigue is defined as the cumulative physical, emotional and psychological effects of being continually exposed to traumatic stories or events when working in a helping capacity. It has been studied extensively in social workers, nurses, doctors and therapists who work with victims of trauma. Recently researchers have begun to examine the impact upon legal professionals including lawyers doing criminal law or family law and judges. Compassion fatigue involves a cluster of symptoms such as, but not limited to, sleep disturbance, anxiety, intrusive thoughts, a sense of futility or pessimism about people, lethargy, isolation and irritability. The development of compassion fatigue involves neurophysiology and is best addressed from both the neurobiological and the social psychological research and perspectives.

Who is most at risk?

Levin et al (2003) found that attorneys and judges who work in the field of criminal or family law are considered at higher risk of developing compassion fatigue compared to those who work in other areas of the law.

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Wisconsin equal justice conference recap

M1027-WEJC-logo-webThe Wisconsin Equal Justice Conference is an education forum for advocates on access to justice issues related to low-income and disadvantaged clients. More than 120 people attended this year’s biennial conference in Milwaukee on March 6, 2015. Sponsored by the State Bar of Wisconsin Legal Assistance Committee and Public Interest Law Section, as well as the Wisconsin Access to Justice Commission, the conference offered a variety of presentations on topics of interest to attorneys who do pro bono work or are employed in public service. Here is a short summary of the conference sessions. Conference materials are available online (login may be required).

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Using family court to obtain immigration relief for minors

By Marsha M. Mansfield and Stacy Taeuber (This article was first published by the Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law and is reprinted with permission.) The Immigrant Justice Clinic at the University of Wisconsin Law School was created in 2012 to provide a sound clinical experience for law students and quality pro bono representation for Wisconsin’s growing immigrant … Read more

Provider spotlight – Community Justice, Inc.

By Jennifer Binkley Community Justice Inc. (CJI) is a nonprofit law firm that provides people with access to justice by offering affordable legal services from qualified and dedicated attorneys. Our attorneys work with low-income families and individuals to secure fair representation in court, protecting the legal rights of those who would otherwise face the system … Read more

Lawyer for a day update

By Michael Gonring Milwaukee’s Lawyer for a Day program to have volunteer lawyers provide representation to victims seeking restraining order injunctions has now been up and running for 18 months. This is an update on our progress. During our first 18 months, 478 petitioners were referred to the program through Sojourner Family Peace Center and … Read more