Legal Services Advocacy Project Publishes 2018 Session Summaries

Minnesota_State_Capitol.jpg

The Legal Services Advocacy Project (LSAP) has released its annual Session Summaries. These summaries address specific changes to Minnesota law made by the 2018 Legislature in a range of legal areas relevant to low‐income and financially‐fragile Minnesotans, and the attorneys and advocates who serve and represent them.

The summaries are divided by area of substantive law, and contain contact information for the lead LSAP attorney in that area. Read the 2018 Summaries.

SMRLS Attorney Named Rock County's “2018 Face of Hope” by the Southwest Crisis Center

Meghan Maes.jpg

Meghan Maes, supervising attorney with Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services - Mankato, has been named Rock County's 2018 Face of Hope by the Southwest Crisis Center (SCC) of Worthington.  

SCC works with people experiencing domestic and sexual violence in Rock, Cottonwood, Jackson, Pipestone and Nobles Counties, and Maes is being honored for her impactful work in helping to support survivors and victims of domestic and/or sexual violence, as well as her dedication to raising awareness of domestic and sexual violence through collaboration, volunteerism, and education.

Maes is a 2011 graduate of Hamline University School of Law, and received her undergraduate degree from Minnesota State University, Mankato. At SMRLS, she practices exclusively in the areas of family law and obtaining civil protective orders on behalf of survivors of domestic abuse, sexual assault, and stalking. 

“I am privileged to work with survivors. I am drawn to represent survivors because I want to provide a safe space for survivors to explore their legal options. I believe access to the justice system and resources can help survivors put themselves in the best position to make decisions about their safety and the safety of their family. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with survivors and am constantly in awe of their courage,” Maes said. 

She will receive her award at SCC’s Faces of Hope Banquet on April 21st in Pipestone. The banquet brings community members together to increase awareness of domestic and sexual violence and trafficking through supporting the work of the Southwest Crisis Center.

Housing Preservation Project Keeps Affordable Housing in Reach

LASNEM logo.jpg

With its integrated Housing Counseling, Information, & Litigation Project, the Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota (LASNEM) demonstrates its commitment to the housing needs of low-income people in northern St. Louis County. The Project's goal is to ensure and preserve safe and affordable housing options by providing litigation, conflict resolution, and legal counsel in four primary areas:

  1. Eviction Defense – both post-filing and pre-filing of court eviction;
  2. Income maintenance – public benefits, unemployment issues,  wage and garnishment matters, Social Security termination, spousal maintenance and child support;
  3. Safe housing – repair and habitability as well as Fair Housing issues; and
  4. Housing denials – Subsidized housing application denials and private housing discrimination. 

LASNEM is unique as the sole legal component in the area's housing continuum. In its collaboration with community service providers such as the Arrowhead Economic Opportunity Agency (AEOA), Range Transitional Housing (RTH), Range Mental Health Center (RMHC) and St. Louis County, LASNEM's Housing Counseling, Information, & Litigation Project seeks creative solutions to housing the homeless and maintaining housing for those at risk in an area where affordable rental housing is in short supply. The Project actively participates in the Coordinated Entry System (CES), attending and leading weekly shelter meetings that address solutions for every homeless household in northern St. Louis County. LASNEM assists approximately 400 households with housing related issues each year, and provides legal information, education, and guidance to its community partners about changes in housing laws and community housing trends.

Because of the often adversarial, costly, and time-consuming nature of the Court process, LASNEM has developed strong working relationships with landlords – both public and private – in order to be involved in addressing issues before they reach the Court system. These relationships help prevent litigation and obtain the best outcome for the tenant, with less time and cost for the landlord. Landlords are also asked to refer tenants at risk of losing housing, or being denied housing, to LASNEM.  

The Project conducts landlord forums as needed to address systemic issues, as well as educational events on relevant landlord- tenant law. The Project also works closely with housing providers and social service agencies to keep abreast of issues and to work on systemic and individual solutions.

LASNEM’s housing advocate, Heather Lindula, represents the legal aid perspective in several community capacities such as the Rural Housing Coalition, and the Heading Home St. Louis County Governance Board. She actively participates in the Prevention Rapid Rehousing subcommittee of the Governance Board, chairs the Coordinated Entry subcommittee, and is the Coordinated Entry Planner for northern St. Louis County.  Last year, Lindula was instrumental in implementing the first annual Northern St. Louis County Housing Summit, which  identified  barriers to housing and possible  solutions. LASNEM’s managing attorney, Bill Maxwell, provides legal work for Habitat for Humanity  and is a member of the Board of Directors of Range Transitional Housing.

As part of its commitment to community education, LASNEM conducts monthly trainings on the rights and responsibilities of renters at Merritt House – a treatment facility for individuals with significant mental health and chemical dependency needs and at area schools and other gatherings of community members. Through these efforts, LASNEM improves awareness of housing rights and mitigates future housing problems.

SMRLS Prevails in Appeal Holding Recipients of Housing Support Harmless for Overpayments

SMRLS2015Logo.jpg

In an appeal interpreting new law by Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services (SMRLS), a Human Services Judge concluded that recipients of Housing Support (formerly Group Residential Housing, or GRH) are to be held harmless for overpayments.  The judge also determined that Ramsey County, acting on instructions from the state Department of Human Services (DHS), had incorrectly determined that SMRLS' client's agency-error overpayment of $97 in General Assistance was collectable.

The client, a resident in a GRH facility since March 2017, worked for temporary agencies and properly reported her income, but her county worker got confused because she reported the jobs as if the work site, rather than the temporary agency, was the employer.  The county originally assessed more than $5000 in overpayments.  After SMRLS got involved, the county reduced the overpayment to $1400 in Housing Support plus $97 in GA (representing one month's grant).

Minn. Stat. 256P.08, which establishes uniform overpayment and underpayment procedures for several state public benefit programs, became effective in 2016.  It says that GA recipients are not responsible for agency-error overpayments "unless the amount of the overpayment is large enough that a reasonable person would know it is an error."  DHS issued instructions to counties saying overpayments are collectable if the overpaid amount exceeds the correct grant amount for the month.  Because the client's correct grant amount for GA should have been $0, Ramsey County concluded that the $97 overpayment was collectable.  The Human Services Judge held that DHS had applied the wrong standard and that the $97 overpayment was not large enough to make the client responsible for it.

Minn. Stat. 256P.08 also states that recipients of Housing Support "are exempt from this section."  No other provision of law grants the state or county authority to collect Housing Support overpayments.  DHS has written instructions to counties on its CountyLink website that mirror the overpayment procedures in Minn. Stat. 256P.08, except for the provision that forgives agency error overpayments.  The Human Services Judge concluded that this guidance is not supported by legal authority and that the apparent intent of the legislature was to hold Housing Support recipients harmless for overpayments.

Both Human Services Judge Kathleen McDonough, who decided the appeal, and Co-Chief Human Services Judge AmyLynne Hermanek, who approved the decision on behalf of the Commissioner, are former Legal Aid attorneys. The case is docket no. 197507.  For more information, contact staff attorney, Ben Weiss at ben.weiss@smrls.org