In 2018, Governor Tom Wolf of Pennsylvania signed the Clean Slate Act. With its signing, Pennsylvania became the first state
Billie Washington was struggling to make ends meet. A former home care attendant, she was no longer able to work due to her rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, and other illnesses. While waiting for her disability benefits hearing, she began receiving General Assistance. Ms. Washington carefully budgeted the monthly $205.00 to cover her rent, toiletries, medical co-payments, and public transportation to get to doctor’s appointments. When she found out that General Assistance was being eliminated, Ms. Washington felt like she had the rug yanked out from under her. Describing the feeling of desperation, she said, “I was crushed. I just, I didn’t know what I was going to do.”
Mr. J was having a difficult time using his hands and feet. After developing arthritis and deformities in his joint muscles, Mr. J was forced to use special orthopedic shoes, ankle braces and a cane, and he was left unable to work, making it extremely hard to support his family in Philadelphia.Mr. J is a veteran of the Korean War. Having served in the Army infantry, he suffered from severe frostbite during the War – the catalyst for his arthritic condition. As a veteran battling a debilitating illness, Mr. J should have been eligible for Veterans Affairs (VA) disability benefits. Unfortunately, when he applied for such benefits in 2005, the VA denied his request, noting that all of his medical record had been destroyed, and that there was no record of his injury. Mr. J tried to appeal, but to no avail. Frustrated and out of options, he sought help, and Community Legal Services was there to take his case.
Sarah, 24, first came to CLS as a child. She was diagnosed with a severe case of sickle cell anemia at a young age. Sarah qualified for SSI (Supplementary Security Income), and her CLS attorney helped win her case when she was three years old. The SSI support helped Sarah get the medical attention she needed to stay healthy throughout her childhood.By the time Sarah turned 18, her condition had improved, so she dropped her SSI case. She was even able to pursue a nursing degree while working part time. However, her health suddenly worsened, and she was often in and out of the emergency room. She could not afford the expensive treatments and medicine to help her properly manage her sickle cell anemia, so her flare-ups always became critical.
Cheryl Springs had been paying her rent for years and had the receipts to prove it. She was shocked when she began to receive eviction notices alleging that she owed $1,400 for rent and water bills. Ms. Springs knew she had to find a way to save her family from wrongful eviction.Cheryl: “My daughter has cerebral palsy, and she can’t walk or talk. Why would I not pay rent? We’d be in the street. And I have grandbabies. I can’t do that to them. I have to take care of my family.”Although Ms. Springs showed all of her payment receipts to her landlord, she continued to receive eviction notices and harassing phone calls. Ms. Springs’ landlord also broke the terms of her lease by sending her water bills for the full amount, instead of the usage amount. Fearing eviction, Ms. Springs came to CLS for help.
Community Legal Services has a proven track record of helping low-income families access significant public benefits that help them feed, house and get medical care for their children. Regulations regarding the receipt of public benefits are often so complex and difficult that a lawyer is required to correctly interpret and apply them. While a social worker can help a family fill out an application for benefits, it usually takes an attorney to appeal an incorrectly denied application, or to interpret how to access the appropriate level of benefits. For instance, a family may appear to be over the income level for a benefit, but they may not have used the appropriate deductions that would allow them to qualify for it. Because of CLS’ in-depth knowledge and our ability to advocate with public agencies, CLS often obtains successful outcomes for our clients.
“Community Legal Services is the single most important organization to prevent homelessness.” – Sister Mary Scullion, Executive Director, Project HOMEWhen low-income Philadelphians are threatened with homelessness, Community Legal Services (CLS) tackles tough issues to give our clients a safe place to live. CLS works to prevent many of the causes of homelessness, stabilizing neighborhoods and saving money for the City. It can cost up to $60,000 to put up a family in a shelter, but CLS’ work to keep a family in their home is a fraction of that cost.We prevent homelessness by standing up against:
Mr. M contacted Community Legal Services’ Housing Hotline, frantic that he and his four children would be homeless. Only a month earlier, he paid his first and last month’s rent along with a security deposit to a woman claiming to be the owner of the home he and his family were now living in. As it turned out, she had lost the property at a sheriff sale months prior to this transaction. On top of that, Mr. M was served with an eviction complaint, filed by the actual owner against a different tenant “and all occupants.” Even though he had no idea who the named defendants were, he stood to be evicted as a result of this complaint against them.
When he was a teenager, Malik, now 25, was mistakenly arrested and erroneously charged in five different cases for a string of robberies. The District Attorney’s office withdrew all of the charges against him once they realized the wrong person had been arrested. Even though Malik was not involved in the incidents in any way, the five cases-each with many serious charges-remained on his record. Malik’s record painted a picture of a career criminal, and he struggled to find work for several years. He was rejected from employment at hotels, airports, and construction jobs. When Malik came to Community Legal Services for help, his attorney was able to quickly file petitions to expunge the withdrawn charges. Within a matter of months, Malik had a clean record and was able to find a steady job at a warehouse.
CLS’s work with immigrants, including those who are undocumented, prevents exploitation, lifts people out of poverty, and allows our clients to have a fair chance at accessing justice. CLS regularly represents immigrant clients and we advocate on behalf immigrant and refugee communities in a number of ways, including: