In Washington state, if you’re struggling to make ends meet and need legal help, resources are few and far between. In fact, a Civil Legal Needs study* found that 71% of low-income households in Washington reported facing at least one civil legal issue – and 76% of those did not receive any legal aid to resolve them.
Thanks to the Washington State Civil Reinvestment Plan, Solid Ground’s Benefits Legal Assistance (BLA) team has been able to hire a new attorney – one step toward better meeting this need. The Plan is a statewide initiative and response to the growing lack of legal aid made accessible to low-income households, those which oftentimes need the support most.
BLA attorneys provide assistance and legal representation to individuals and families whose state public assistance benefits – such as food stamps and Medicaid – have been reduced, terminated, or denied. In addition to reinstating benefits for clients, the BLA team also addresses the root of reoccurring problems clients face via advocacy and systemic policy change by getting the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) to rewrite or change their policies.
“Clients come to our office and feel like there is someone who is finally explaining things to them, supporting them, advocating for them – and I think that makes them feel a lot more hopeful and confident.”-Will Ross, Benefits Legal Assistance (BLA) Attorney
The importance and meaning of BLA’s work shows in the positive impacts they make in people’s lives. BLA Program Manager Sara Robbins describes one example: “We were contacted by a man calling on behalf of his 93-year-old mother, who was facing a $50,000 Medicaid penalty for nursing home/long-term care. His mother was at risk of being evicted from the nursing home because she did not have the resources to pay the penalty. Our office represented her at the administrative hearing and got the penalty overturned.”
Our new BLA Attorney, Will Ross, states that he hopes to “provide the best legal assistance possible to as many people as possible.” In the short run, BLA helps clients access the benefits they rightfully deserve and can also help them avoid large penalties. But in the long run, BLA helps to restore faith and community in people.
With an additional staff attorney, Solid Ground’s BLA team will be able to continue making impacts at the local and state levels, while increasing the number of individuals they directly help. Sara says, “It will hopefully expand the number of direct clients that we can represent in hearings and negotiate outcomes for.”
Will says, “Clients come to our office and feel like there is someone who is finally explaining things to them, supporting them, advocating for them – and I think that makes them feel a lot more hopeful and confident.”
Furthermore, Sara says more growth in the BLA team is expected in the near future; they anticipate adding a case manager either in the second half of this year or 2020. This would allow BLA to expand their scope to help clients with applications and other non-legal administrative work.
As the city of Seattle’s population continues to grow and evolve, the BLA is also growing to more effectively support the dynamic and resilient residents of our city.