The Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) is designed to help low-income working families and individuals move out of poverty by reducing taxes for these workers and supplementing low wages. Studies show that approximately 44% of the homeless population works within a given month and may be eligible to receive the EITC. However, many eligible homeless families and individuals are often unaware of this valuable resource, or do not know how to claim it. In order to overcome this barrier, the National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty has conducted its own outreach campaign since 1993. Our goal is to raise awareness and provide information and assistance to homeless workers who are eligible for the credit.
Over the years, our program has helped many homeless individuals and families get access to this valuable benefit. In 2002, the Law Center and a group of committed volunteers successfully expanded our free tax clinic program. We helped 114 homeless and low-income workers in DC to file taxes and to claim tax refunds and credits worth over $42,000!
We conducted free tax preparation clinics at 14 local-area direct service agencies. Among the many people we helped was one mother with two young children. This family lived in a safe house for victims of domestic abuse. Our volunteer tax preparer helped them claim both the Federal and local DC EITC, which brought their total tax refund to $1213. They intended to use this money to help buy much needed basic necessities including clothing and food.
Now that the rush of the tax season is over, our next step is to publish our evaluation of the program to share our findings on what worked (and what didn't).
Look for a how-to guide with tips for groups who want to offer their own free tax clinic program.
Income Project Advocates on Many Fronts
for Policy Changes Affecting Benefits Available to Disabled Homeless Persons
The National Law Center on Homelessness & Poverty?s Income Project is moving forward in many different areas, on the way towards reaching its goal of ensuring that all homeless persons have access to any public benefits to which they may be entitled.
The Project?s top priority is ensuring that more eligible homeless persons are able to receive Supplemental Security Income (SSI) disability benefits. Towards that end, the Project has undertaken several important activities. Last fall, the Project successfully got Congress to require the Social Security Administration (SSA) to prepare a plan on how to provide improved service to people who are homeless. SSA is now working closely with the Law Center and other homelessness advocates, in preparing this plan. We are hopeful that the plan will be comprehensive, and will focus on eliminating many of the barriers that homeless persons face in accessing SSI benefits.
As part of the Law Center?s advocacy with SSA, we are also requesting a meeting with SSA Commissioner Jo Anne Barnhart. At that meeting, we will seek to impress upon the Commissioner the importance of providing homeless disabled persons with an income, which will often allow them to afford housing. We will also express the view that the SSA Homelessness Plan is a critical part of White House and Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) efforts to have mainstream Federal programs (those targeted to all low income people ? not just homeless people) better serve homeless persons, in furtherance of the Bush Administration?s stated goal of ending ?chronic? homelessness within ten years. This meeting is anticipated for later this spring.
The Income Project is also continuing work on our SSI manual. The manual will help teach case managers how to aid eligible homeless persons in securing SSI disability benefits. Printed copies of the manual will be available by August 2002, with an online version expected shortly thereafter. It will serve as a model advocacy tool to guide non-attorney staff at homeless shelters through ways they can assist homeless persons in applying for and receiving SSI benefits. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has plans to distribute copies of the manual to HHS-funded mental health programs that serve homeless people with mental illnesses.
On a state level, the Income Project is providing technical assistance in several areas. Recently, Project Staff Attorney Jeremy Rosen attended a HHS/HUD/VA Policy Academy in Boston, where teams of agency heads from seven states were brought together to develop statewide plans for using mainstream programs to better serve homeless people ? by both preventing and ameliorating homelessness. At the Academy, Mr. Rosen served as a consultant with respect to how states could work to make SSI and other public benefits more readily available to qualified homeless people. As follow up to the Academy, Mr. Rosen expects to consult with the State of Colorado on improving its disability determination process. Mr. Rosen also plans to continue working with SSI advocates in Massachusetts, who work with their state disability determination service (DDS) to make it easier for homeless persons to receive SSI.
Finally, the Income Project is pleased to announce that the District of Columbia?s Interim Disability Assistance (IDA) program is now up and running. Over the past eighteen months, the Project has worked diligently, to ensure that this program was approved and funded by the D.C. City Council, and implemented by the D.C. Department of Human Services. Since the program was implemented in February, it has taken 800 applications. IDA provides $239 per month to homeless and other disabled poor people, who have applied for SSI and are waiting for their applications to be processed. As the only source of income for people awaiting a SSI determination, IDA is a critical part of the District?s social safety net.
Over the coming months, the Income Project will be continuing on its current focus. Additionally, we will focus on implementation of the farm bill, which contains food stamp program changes that will benefit homeless people. We will also be involved in the Congressional debate over TANF (welfare) reauthorization, which will have a profound impact on how the federal government helps families who are homeless, or in danger of becoming so.
For more information or assistance with issues regarding benefits available to homeless persons, contact Staff Attorney Jeremy Rosen at email@example.com, or call 202.638.2535, ext. 207
Civil Rights Project Provides Assistance Nationwide:
Files Brief Supporting New York City Church's Outreach Program, Homeless Persons' Rights
This spring, the Civil Rights Project has been engaged in filing an amicus curiae (?friend of the court?) brief, continued technical assistance to advocates and attorneys around the country, visits with international legal professionals following the release of ?Illegal to be Homeless,? and the Equal Justice Conference.
In March, the Law Center, along with The Partnership for the Homeless (NY) and Urban Justice Center (NY), filed an amicus curiae brief to the United States Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in support of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church?s lawsuit against the City of New York. The case, Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church et al. v. The City of New York et al., centers around the Church?s claim that the City should be enjoined from dispersing and/or arresting homeless people that sleep outside on Church property as part of the Church?s ?Homeless Neighbors? overnight outreach efforts. In support of the Church?s position, the Law Center?s brief focused on the constitutional rights of homeless persons to be protected from discretionary and arbitrary law enforcement as well as their right to freedom of movement. To date, the court has not yet scheduled a hearing.
The Civil Rights Project is finding that the reach of our latest criminalization report, ?Illegal to be Homeless?, has spanned across the world. Also this Spring, the Project was honored to receive visitors from Japan and Australia who had read the report and inquired to learn more. These legal professionals, fighting similar criminalization efforts in their own countries, are using our report and in-person interviews to find constructive alternatives to criminalization of homelessness. The Project is staying in touch with these new contacts and hopes to share more information in the future.
Additionally, the Civil Rights Project has been quite busy through its outreach efforts. In April, the Project, in collaboration with the American Bar Association Commission on Homelessness and Poverty, sponsored a panel at the 2002 ABA/NLADA Equal Justice Conference in Cleveland, Ohio. The panel, entitled The Lawyer as Reformer: Innovative Advocacy to Combat the Criminalization of Homelessness, featured Civil Rights Monitor Pallavi Rai, who discussed national trends in criminalization and examples of constructive alternatives; Thomas Jackson, Jr., a formerly homeless person that shared his previous experiences of harassment by police in the City of Cleveland and his subsequent successful legal efforts to curb these practices; Brian Davis, Executive Director of the Northeast Ohio Coalition for the Homeless, who discussed his organization?s grassroots advocacy strategies against criminalization; and Steve Binder, whose presentation conveyed information about the Homeless Court program in San Diego, California. Members of the audience were quite interested in the content of the entire panel, as evidenced by the discussion and questions that followed. The Project is planning similar presentations for the summer months.
Finally, the Civil Rights Project?s provision of technical assistance to advocates has covered a wide array of issues, ranging from responses to proposed camping and aggressive panhandling ordinances in Florida, to restrictions on library entry in Ohio, to city-led sweeps of homeless people in Las Vegas, to increased requirements for picture identification in Virginia. The Project will continue to provide assistance in these and other areas in the months ahead.
Education Project, Other Advocates Succeed in Securing Free School Meals for Students Experiencing Homelessness:
New Policy Creates Automatic Eligibility
On April 4, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) issued a new policy making students in homeless situations automatically eligible for free school meals. The policy clarifies that any student who is homeless under the new McKinney-Vento Act?s definition can receive free meals. This means students sharing the housing of friends or relatives due to loss of housing, economic hardship or a similar reason and students living in motels, camping grounds, shelters, public spaces or any other homeless situation are automatically eligible for free meals.
Students who are homeless also do not have to complete an application for free meals. Shelter directors and school district liaisons for homeless children and youth can obtain free meals for students simply by submitting a list of students experiencing homelessness and effective dates. (The new McKinney-Vento Act requires every school district to have a liaison by July 1.) A copy of the new USDA policy is available on the Education page of the Law Center?s website.
The USDA issued the new policy after our Education Attorney and other advocates and educators voiced concerns that many students experiencing homelessness were being denied free meals. Both the director and staff of the USDA?s Child Nutrition Division were open to these concerns and felt strongly that homeless children and youth should receive free meals at school. The USDA is also promoting the Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP), which permits shelters to be reimbursed for food and preparation costs for meals and snacks served to children age 12 and under. For more information about CACFP, visit the USDA?s website, at http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/care/cacfp/cacfphome.htm.
In addition to advocating with the USDA, the Education Project has been involved in shaping U.S. Department of Education regulations on Title I, the federal education law designed to eliminate the achievement gap between poor and wealthy students. Title I provides funds for schools to improve education and provide supplemental services for the most disadvantaged students. Children and youth experiencing homelessness are automatically eligible for Title I services, regardless of the school they attend. Title I services must be coordinated with McKinney-Vento services, including providing services directly to homeless students.
Title I also requires a system of testing to hold schools accountable for the academic achievement of disadvantaged students. It is anticipated that new Title I regulations will fully integrate students experiencing homelessness into the law?s accountability systems, ensuring that these students are not left behind.
To make sure families, youth and providers can take advantage of Title I, the USDA?s free meal policy and the McKinney-Vento Act, the Education Project is reaching out to legal aid attorneys. The Project will lead an Education Track at this summer?s National Legal Aid & Defender Association?s Substantive Law Conference, July 24-28, 2002, in addition to presenting a workshop at the conference with other Law Center attorneys. Visit the Law Center?s website for a complete list of dates and locations where our attorneys will be offering training.
From the Desk of the Executive Director
Dear Law Center Friends
Each year?s McKinney Award ceremony is a special occasion for the Law Center. This year?s reminded me how much we have persevered, how many extraordinary people have joined this cause and in how many different ways.
The amazing Tipper Gore showed us the power of committed, informed and persistent efforts of public figures. Joseph McColley reminded us of the tremendous impact personal risk taking and the simple will to take action by a private citizen can make. And Neisha Robinson, a formerly homeless mother, demonstrated the incredible grace and courage of individual homeless persons, under conditions that no one should have to face.
The award honors the late Stewart B. McKinney, the primary Republican sponsor of the landmark legislation also named for him. We were especially glad that Congressman Chris Shays, Stewart McKinney?s friend and successor to his seat, presented the award to Tipper Gore. This year too we presented the first Vento award, named in honor of the late Rep. Bruce Vento, a tireless supporter and a principal author of the McKinney Act who passed away last summer.
The Stewart B. McKinney Homeless Assistance Act?now renamed the McKinney-Vento Act--was first signed into law in 1987, as an initial, emergency step toward ending homelessness. Now, through advocacy by the Law Center and many others, it is much expanded and improved. Yet despite much progress, we are still far from our goal of ending homelessness in America.
The Bush Administration has announced a goal of ending ?chronic? homelessness in 10 years. While we have a larger goal?ending homelessness for all, not only for those suffering from mental illness or addiction?the Administration?s stated goal represents major progress, and an important advocacy opportunity. As you?ll read, we are working actively to put it to good use.
With each step, and each victory, we make progress towards our ultimate goal: ending and preventing homelessness. By persevering on behalf of that goal, we build a movement. Each of our McKinney awardees represents a piece of the movement we are building together.
A Celebration of Hope and Personal Achievement:
Stewart B. McKinney Award Benefit
Tipper Gore received the Stewart B. McKinney Award for her advocacy on behalf of homeless Americans at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington DC on March 6. Recognized for her longstanding leadership and advocacy efforts, she has worked to advance solutions in mental health and homelessness since the early 1980?s. Mrs. Gore?s accomplishments in addressing homelessness on national levels are generous examples of her persistent commitment to advocating for improved services for those often overlooked in our society.
The award, which is presented annually to an individual who exemplifies an outstanding commitment of years and devotion to poverty and homelessness - pays tribute and honor to the legacy of the late Stewart B. McKinney, who was a primary sponsor of the landmark legislation that provided federal assistance to the nation?s homeless. Four months before his death, he spent a night outside in 20-below weather to raise public awareness about homelessness.
This year we added two additional awards to the evening?s program to recognize and celebrate two remarkable individuals, who portray extraordinary courage, leadership and commitment to those experiencing homelessness and inspired all who were present as they shared their stories of hope and personal achievement.
In September 2001 Joseph McColley, a native and former English teacher from Massachusetts ? linked up with the Law Center to support the Center?s work using the law to help a segment of society that has no voice and to promote awareness of homelessness across the country. Flying from Boston to San Diego, California, he embarked alone on a two-month long bicycle ride across the country through the Southwest desert heat, Midwest thunderstorms, Western Pennsylvania snow and the uncertainty following the September 11th terrorist attacks on our nation. Mr. McColley was presented with the Vento Award, which is given in honor of the former McKinney Award recipient Congressman Bruce Vento (D-MN), to express our appreciation for his efforts and commitment.
Our evening would not have been complete without the third award presented to Niesha Robinson, who received the Personal Achievement Award. This award was created to recognize a former homeless person?s achievement along with his or her own hard efforts to realize self-sufficiency. Ms. Robinson utilized programs and services offered through local shelters with the Law Center providing necessary resources that address the individual?s situation.
During the closing remarks of the awards ceremony, founder and executive director of the Law Center, Maria Foscarinis remarked, ?We want especially to recognize those homeless persons who were able to benefit from the McKinney Act, because this is after all what our work is all about: Using the law to put into place the opportunities and resources so that no one in America has to be homeless.?
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