Our communities, our state and our nation face profound economic uncertainty caused by the COVID-19 crisis.
NHLA and LARC are preparing for a surge in demand that may exceed what we experienced during the Great Recession. As more people fall into poverty, the economy suffers, often leading to state and local budget cuts; at the same time, more people struggle to meet their basic needs and require legal assistance to protect themselves and their families.
Economic recessions make your contributions to legal aid all the more important because our programs face likely shortfalls in public grants and IOLTA funds donated by banks, driven by lower interest rates and a slow real estate market.
We’re getting ready for an onslaught of civil legal problems directly related to the COVID-19 crisis, as well as those that always spike during a downturn. Our clients face impossible, sometimes dangerous, decisions: Do they pay for food, or medicine, or to keep the lights on? Stay with an abuser, or face life in homelessness? Here’s some of what we expect to see in the coming months, and what we’re ready to do, with your support, to protect people in need:
Below, you’ll find stories about the impact legal aid has made in New Hampshire in recent months, from ensuring that women at state prison have adequate education and vocational training, to receiving national recognition for creating a collaborative model of support for victims of domestic violence. Thank you for all you have helped us to, and all you will make possible as we launch into the hard work ahead.
Advocating and educating in the wake of COVID 19
NHLA began advocating in early March to counteract the dangerously destabilizing effects the COVID-19 crisis will have for people living on the edge of poverty in New Hampshire.
We recommended proactive steps state and local leaders should take to protect low-income New Hampshire households, and we are proud to report many of our recommendations have been enacted. These include:
+ Waive the one-week waiting period before laid-off workers can receive unemployment benefits.
+ Institute a temporary moratorium on evictions, foreclosures and tax liens on residential properties, utility shut-offs or denial of fuel delivery, and the termination or reduction of public benefits.
+ Streamline the application process for public benefits for newly eligible people and for domestic violence protective orders.
+ Wherever possible, accept applications submitted online, by mail, fax or telephone.
Changes to public programs are being tracked daily at www.nhla.org/blog
Meet the new staff: Legislative Intern Lara Gilroy and NH Alliance for Healthy Aging Director Heather Carroll
A desire to live closer to family brought Lara Gilroy to New Hampshire. A passion for equality and access to justice led her to NHLA.
Gilroy, a 3L at the University of New Hampshire Franklin Pierce School of Law, is assisting Policy Director Dawn McKinney in monitoring legislation and educating lawmakers on the potential impact of their votes on low-income families, senior citizens and other vulnerable populations.
“While I’d had the opportunity to do this type of work from a courtroom perspective while interning with the NH Pro Bono Program and the ACLU-NH, I’d yet to tackle this type of work from the angle of legislative advocacy,” Gilroy said. “NHLA gives me an opportunity to do just that. I feel lucky to be part of the team, even for a short time.”
McKinney feels lucky to have the help: “It’s so valuable to have an intern during the legislative session, especially someone with Lara’s experience as a 3L. She literally doubles our presence at the State House! Her insight on legislative changes and the potential impact on vulnerable Granite Staters is incredibly helpful.”
In addition to interning with NHLA, Gilroy is spending her final semester of law school working as a student attorney at UNH’s Advanced Immigration Law Clinic.
Elder advocate Heather Carroll joins NH Alliance for Healthy Aging
Heather Carroll, a licensed social worker with more than 20 years of experience in geriatric psychology, long-term care, assisted living and
public policy, has joined the NH Alliance for Healthy Aging as Director of Advocacy.
In this role, Carroll will work with NHLA Policy Director Dawn McKinney and Senior Law Project Director Cheryl Steinberg to protect state’s rapidly growing aging population.
“Ensuring that rights of aging adults in New Hampshire are protected and that the best quality of life is pursued connects all of us in the
aging policy work,” said Carroll, who was most recently with the Alzheimer’s Association. “The consumer voice needs to be heard in any
discussion around policies that will affect older adults,”she said. “I’ve always brought my perspective as a social worker to the advocacy
arena, and that will continue to lead to success for NH Alliance for Healthy Aging.”
Kay Drought honored for Outstanding Public Service by NH Bar Association
In February, NHLA Litigation Director Kay Drought received the NH Bar Association’s 2020 award for Outstanding Service in Public Sector/Public Interest.
Drought has led NHLA’s efforts at the state Legislature and in federal court to fight Medicaid work requirements and protect health care access for 50,000 New Hampshire residents.In her nomination letter, NHLA Executive Director Sarah Mattson Dustin noted Drought’s advocacy for the state’s most vulnerable residents: very poor children. For example, as a result of Drought’s leadership, families raising children with disabilities are no longer expected to divert their children’s federal Supplemental Security Income to support their entire family. She also led an effort that increased Medicaid reimbursement rates for dental care, which prompted dentists to resume accepting Medicaid patients. It also set a new standard for beginning children’s dental care at age 1, instead of age 3.
Drought, a fourth-generation attorney, received the award at the NH Bar Association Midyear Meeting and dedicated it to her father, who passed away in August 2019.
“He always said being an attorney is the best job in the world. I do really appreciate receiving this award,” she said, “and will do my best to continue living up to it.”
Equity for women in state prison
Nearly eight years after NHLA sued on behalf of four women, the state has formally agreed to provide programs and services at the women’s prison that are “substantially equivalent” to those provided to men.
The agreement also calls for three years of monitoring to ensure that the Department of Corrections lives up to the terms of the agreement.
“We believe that Commissioner Helen Hanks and her staff are committed to providing rehabilitative programs and services that are equal to those which are available to men, and that the settlement agreement will actually assist them in carrying out that commitment,” said Elliott Berry of NHLA.
Beginning in April, the department will provide semi-annual reports, including a detailed accounting of the educational, vocational, recreational and work opportunities available to women, as well as staffing levels and health services at the women’s prison.
Berry, attorney Peter Beeson (now retired), and Leigh Willey of Devine, Millimet and Branch brought the lawsuit in 2012. The parties agreed to put the case on hold in 2013 while the state built a new prison, which opened in 2018.
“The new prison provided the space that is essential to increase programs and services for women,” said Berry, “but at the end of the day, what’s important is what is actually happening inside of the prison.”
Advocates will be using the monitoring process to ensure that despite the prison’s chronic staffing shortages, the department still offers women the agreed-upon opportunities and services.
“The department has had a very difficult time hiring and retaining correctional officers,” said Candace Gebhart, a NHLA paralegal who
has worked on the case.
“When they are shorthanded, there is a serious risk that educational classes, industries programs, visitation, recreation and other
programs or services will be seriously compromised.”
Protecting Medicaid for New Hampshire families
NHLA continues to work to protect health care access for thousands of low-income Granite Staters at risk of losing their insurance under a proposed Medicaid work-reporting requirement.
Beginning in 2018, NHLA advocates fought the requirements in the Legislature and then partnered with the National Health Law Program and the National Center for Law and Economic Justice to oppose the program in federal court. In July, a federal judge agreed that the requirement was contrary to federal law and vacated the proposal.
However, neither the federal nor state government accepted the federal judge’s decision in favor of New Hampshire’s Medicaid enrollees. Instead, they appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. On February 14, 2020, that same Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Arkansas’s Medicaid recipients in a very similar challenge to work requirements.
We hope for the same result for New Hampshire. In the words of Jane Perkins, legal director of the National Health Law Program: “Coverage matters because it enables people to live, work and participate as fully as they can in their communities.”
NH's collaborative model for domestic violence survivors receives national recognition
A delegation of domestic violence victims’ support groups from New Hampshire, including NHLA’s Domestic Violence Project Director Erin Jasina, was one of two groups in the country invited to present best practices for protecting families at a U.S. Department of Justice conference in New Orleans in January.
With grant support from the federal Office on Violence against Women, NHLA partners with the Strafford County Family Justice Center to provide low-income families secure and supervised visitation as well as access to necessary services such as civil legal aid to develop safe parenting plans that meet the safety needs of the vulnerable parent and child(ren).
In their presentation to other grant recipients, Jasina; Scott Hampton, project coordinator of the Strafford County Supervised Visitation Center; Paula Kelley, director of the Strafford County Family Justice Center; and Sherry Edwards, deputy director of Caring Unlimited in Maine shared how they’ve supported victims since the center, NHLA, the courts and other agencies began working together.
Legal aid leading coalitions protecting older adults
NHLA is leading a new public awareness campaign to protect the state’s older adults from financial exploitation, a critical need with trends showing that one in three Granite Staters will be over 65 by 2030.
The year-long campaign will include statewide public service announcements and radio interviews to raise awareness about financial exploitation.
“We know that elder financial exploitation is highly under-reported. Victims are ashamed and don’t want people to know what happened to them,” says Cheryl Steinberg, director of NHLA’s Senior Law Project.
Similar efforts in Maine led to a 44% increase in calls from victims as a result of its public awareness campaign.
Nationally, between $2.9 billion and $36.5 billion is stolen annually from older adults. Seniors are often reluctant to report; they may not believe they are being exploited; have issues with capacity, or they are isolated and without support.
“Hopefully this public awareness campaign will encourage people to seek help once they have become victimized — or ideally, before the damage has been done,” Steinberg said.
The consequences can be devastating. Older adult victims may lose their homes, become dependent on other family members or require public assistance from state programs.
The statewide ad campaign is financed by $20,000 from the Endowment for Health; $15,000 from the Cooperative Credit Union; $5,000 from the Service Credit Union; and $2,500 from Bank of New Hampshire.