Fall 2015 Groundviews: Changing systems, changing lives

Imagine you’re a single mom with a permanent physical disability – waiting for federal disability benefits to be approved – and are told you’ve reached your cash assistance lifetime limit. Or maybe you’re struggling to make ends meet, using food assistance, only to be told you were “overpaid” and have to pay back benefits from the last six months. Where can you turn?

Solid Ground's team of Benefits Attorneys

Solid Ground’s team of Benefits Attorneys (l to r: Stephanie Earhart, Katie Scott and Sara Robbins) just might be able to help. Serving both individuals and families, our attorneys primarily represent people having difficulties accessing or maintaining state benefits from the Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS).

But it doesn’t stop there: Beyond helping people access benefits, our attorneys work with DSHS to make the system more equitable for thousands of people across our region.

From individual to systemic advocacy

Lead Benefits Attorney Stephanie Earhart explains, “We’re in DSHS Region 2, covering five counties from King all the way to the Canadian border. We meet quarterly with the Regional DSHS Administrator to tell them what we’re seeing on the ground. And if we make complaints or say we need systems change, they listen.”

One type of case our attorneys deal with is families applying for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) cash assistance. In Washington state, there’s a 60-month lifetime TANF limit and very few ways to qualify for an extension. These include families experiencing domestic violence, adults living with severe and chronic disabilities, and people taking care of a child or adult living with a disability.

Yet Stephanie and her team noticed that these extensions were often denied for people who were clearly eligible. “We were seeing two problems: people eligible for the family violence extension weren’t getting it, and people eligible for the disability extension weren’t getting it.”

Through outreach events, trainings and lectures, Stephanie publicized the time limit extension availability and our willingness to appeal denials: “If your family has zero income, somebody disabled in the household, or somebody dealing with family violence, they should still be on TANF. Period.” After several favorable decisions overturning TANF extension denials, Stephanie and her team set their sights on change at the policy level.

Collaborating for success

Teaming up with other advocates from the Northwest Justice Project, they facilitated a meeting in Olympia with DSHS administrators and the Attorney General’s office. “We have really good working relationships with them, and they know that we don’t come to them lightly,” says Stephanie. “So this year, when we advocated for DSHS to rewrite its policy manual around the family violence time limit extension, they took our concerns seriously and improved the way they screen clients for this exception and staff training on the issue.”

Lead Benefits Attorney Stephanie Earhart consults with a client

Lead Benefits Attorney Stephanie Earhart consults with a client

Also, our attorneys convinced DSHS to clarify how disabilities cases should be handled. As a result of their recommendations, DSHS changed the law to include a new disability time limit extension. “They actually agreed to do it, which was huge! I nearly fell out of my seat when I found out,” Stephanie recalls. So now, if a family member meets the eligibility criteria for ABD (Aged, Blind or Disabled), they can get a TANF extension.

“The work we’re doing is very real,” says Stephanie. “I’ve learned so much from the people we serve. Any of us could end up in a hard situation at some point, and it means everything to me that I can do this work now.”

The same end goals

Currently, our attorneys are working to ensure that state food assistance recipients aren’t saddled with unpayable debt when DSHS miscalculates their benefits. According to federal law, recipients are liable for any overpayment of food assistance even if the overpayment was caused exclusively by DSHS’s mistakes. For families living on the edge of poverty, repaying this debt is usually impossible.

Our attorneys represent people facing this situation in hearings and negotiations with the Office of Financial Recovery to show financial hardship and get the entire overpayment waived or put on a payment plan. While helpful on a case-by-case basis, this strategy doesn’t solve the systemic problem: Many people who qualify for a hardship waiver don’t even know about our services or that such a waiver exists.

So now, Stephanie and a Northwest Justice Project attorney are collaborating with the Attorney General’s office, the Office of Financial Recovery and DSHS to rewrite the policy manual regarding overpayments and hardship waivers. “The hope is that DSHS will analyze hardship when they assess overpayments, rather than waiting for clients to raise the issue, which is not something the current regulations require them to do,” she says.

“That’s why our working relationship with DSHS is really important; we can go a lot farther by collaborating. When you sit down at a table, especially with the policy makers, you realize they often want the same things that we do for our clients.”

For more info on Family Assistance, contact 206.694.6742 or familyassistance@solid-ground.org.


‘Changing systems, changing lives’ is the lead article from Solid Ground’s Fall 2015 print newsletter. Sign up here to receive the entire newsletter by snail mail! 


Community Needs Assessment a foundation for strategic planning

Gordon McHenry, Jr.

President & CEO Gordon McHenry, Jr.

Last year, Solid Ground reflected upon and celebrated our 40 years of service in King County and Washington state. We took time to understand the work and impressive legacy of our forebears. We recognized that the culture of Solid Ground is one of Innovation, Partnership and Action, and those intrinsic characteristics have enabled us to be highly impactful in our direct services, social justice and advocacy work.

As a Community Services Block Grant (CSBG) recipient and Community Action Agency, we are required to prepare a Community Needs Assessment (CNA) of the communities we serve. In addition to understanding the current needs of the communities we choose to serve, the CNA is also an analysis of our assets, capabilities and organizational challenges to successfully address the unmet needs of our communities.

In the 2014 Community Needs Assessment, we noted six areas of significant community need:

  • racial and economic inequities
  • lack of affordable housing
  • lack of educational attainment and opportunities
  • lack of living wage jobs
  • food insecurity and lack of nutritional education
  • inadequate access to health care and health services

Appropriately, Solid Ground has service and advocacy responses in each of these areas. The CNA also identifies some trends which we will need to better understand as we evaluate how we serve an evolving community, including:

  • growth in elderly residents
  • immigrants and refugees
  • an increasing gap in income and wealth
  • significant transportation challenges which exacerbate existing inequities

We look forward to using the 2014 Community Needs Assessment as a foundational analysis as we begin the 2015 process of creating our next agency strategic plan over the next three-to-five years.

May Day march brings community & action to the streets

SolidGroundBannerEditedThe first day of May is one when we feel relief knowing that our harsh winter weather is over and we eagerly await beautiful blooms in spring and (hopefully) bountiful harvests in summer. Traditionally in the past, a “May Day Basket” filled with Easter-like treats and flowers may have been left at a neighbor’s doorstep; a gesture meant to deepen community ties by sharing the celebration of spring and its promise of new beginnings. However, this ritual is slowly fading.

The promise of spring also informs the century-old International Workers’ Day, May 1st is also a day in which activists demand social change, especially as they pertain to immigrants’ rights. The origins of this day trace back to the late 19th century when thousands of workers in Chicago organized, demanding an eight-hour work day, fair wages and safe working conditions. A bomb was thrown into the crowd of picketers (the culprit is still unknown) which spurred a shooting frenzy with police, killing over a dozen people and wounding dozens more. This tragedy became known as the Haymarket Massacre, one that propelled the first day of May forward to unite those in solidarity, never forgetting those that lost their lives in Chicago over 100 years ago.

While violence has marred recent Seattle May Days, this year’s events started peacefully with a rally at Judkins Park, where thousands congregated, assembling signs and conversing with familiar faces. Shortly after 3pm, we were off on our 2.5-mile trek to downtown Seattle, during which temperatures reached up to the mid-80s. Thousands more joined the march as the crowd proceeded down Jackson to Boren Street.

People held signs that read “Health Care is a Human Right” supporting a single payer national health program and “¡Sí se puede!” (“Yes, we can!”), observing the United Farm Workers’ rallying cry so many years ago. Chants like, “Obama! Escucha! Estamos en la lucha!” (Obama! Listen! We are in the fight!) – calling upon the President to curb the over 2 million record deportations that have occurred under his administration – and “What do we want? 15! When do we want it? Now!”— demanding a livable wage of $15 per hour in Seattle proper (and eventually across America) – were heard throughout the march.

But the message seemed disjointed and all over the place, like too many options on the social justice menu. An all-encompassing rally demanding justice for all facets of inequality? Could the statements be confused for a chaotic and unfocused purpose?

“It was an important day of coming together around issues that affect everyone,” says Leah Grupp-Williams, Food Resources Program Assistant at Solid Ground. In the past, Leah has helped organize the May Day March with the May 1 Action Coalition. This year she planned a group from Solid Ground to attend the march. When asked why this march is so important to her, she replied, “Our current immigration policy is an example of how racism thrives in this country. And it’s important for Solid Ground to continue to have a presence in grass roots struggles.”

Another member of the Solid Ground team who attended the march offered his personal connection to the rally. Gordon Pun, Facilities Manager at Solid Ground, states, “I am an immigrant who wanted to be in the U.S. I wanted a better future and freedom in the U.S. …an opportunity to grow.” As he recounts his own experiences, he also relates his story to current immigration issues. “I see the struggle that immigrants have to [endure]. I see why immigrants have to cross the border. I feel bad that the families have to break up. That’s really sad.”

Even though he has a direct affinity with those cries for comprehensive and inclusive immigration reform, Gordon still agrees with the notion that there may be a community sentiment after all. “Everyone has their own reasons for being at the march,” he says.

And isn’t it true? That we all have our own reasons for all-encompassing advocacy? Whether your family is threatened with deportation every day of your life, a friend is living at poverty level because they make minimum wage, or your coworker just filed for bankruptcy because they couldn’t pay their medical bills, we all know someone. We might even be living it. But whether the former or the latter are the case, one has to feel a sense of unity and collective emotion to witness so much participation in a movement that is focused on helping out fellow Americans who are, in essence, strangers. To see them in good health. To prosper and live without fear of separation from their families.

Knowing these issues still plague our people, how can such things that anger and outrage us at times also make us happy in some ways? Happy that thousands came together for the same altruistic purpose. Happy that destructive behavior and obscenities were largely absent among thousands of people within the cramped streets of Seattle. Happy that that feeling of community, which is few and far between for some, showed its face on that warm, sunny, first day of May.

 

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Poverty Action at the Capitol

On Martin Luther King Jr., Day 2014, Statewide Poverty Action Network members and volunteers took their fight for social justice to the Washington State Capitol in Olympia. Over 200 members joined us for a day of action, and together, our network covered the Capitol in ‘Poverty Action Purple’ and made our voices heard, visiting nearly every member of the Washington State Legislature.

We stood for increasing support for basic needs programs, housing, health care, fighting predatory debt practices, and increasing educational opportunities for all Washingtonians. Thank you to all who participated in this inspiring day; without your support this could not have been possible!

For more information about Poverty Action or to become a member, visit: www.povertyaction.org.

CANCELLED: Tenant Rights Workshop in Wallingford, 1/30/14

We apologize for the late notice, but we’ve had to cancel this workshop due to staff schedules. We hope to reschedule within the next couple of weeks and will post here when we have a new date.

RENT SMART WORKSHOP:
For current & future renters & tenant advocates

Solid Ground Tenant Services is offering another opportunity for renters, housing advocates and service providers in King County to attend a free training about tenants’ rights and responsibilities as laid out in the Washington State Residential Landlord-Tenant Act.

Rent Smart Tenant Rights WorkshopsWHEN / WHERE:
Rescheduled date/location TBD

We’ll cover topics such as:

  • Understanding your rights and responsibilities as a renter
  • Finding affordable housing
  • Navigating landlord screening criteria
  • Protecting yourself from eviction & housing loss
  • Learning how to get your deposit back
  • Requesting repairs

Since we are in the middle of the legislative session from January 13 to March 13, we will also provide an update on any potential legislation that our lawmakers are considering. You can advocate by signing a letter to send to your lawmakers to support the Fair Tenant Screening Act or other legislation that benefits renters!

Whether you are a long-time renter who would like a refresher on landlord-tenant laws or a new renter who wants to know about your rights and responsibilities, we hope you will join us for the workshop! Email questions regarding the workshop or RSVP to tenantwa@solid-ground.org.

The tenant information contained in this article or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided here should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767  Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30am and 4:30pm.

Living on a low income in Washington State? Poverty Action wants to hear from you!

Advocates in Olympia on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, 2013

Help Poverty Action create change in our state!

Poverty Action is committed to making the voice of everyday citizens stronger in the Washington State capitol – especially people living on low incomes who have all too often been ignored in halls of power.

Together, we’re working to eliminate the root causes of poverty by advocating for statewide legislative policies that help people meet their basic needs and have opportunities to prosper.

Every year, Poverty Action goes around the state to listen carefully to people living on low incomes. We want to learn what issues you are facing and enlist your help to advocate for policy solutions that will address the root causes of poverty and provide equal opportunities for everyone.

To make this happen, we need your input. The information you give us informs our requests to lawmakers. Your stories show our elected representatives a more realistic picture of what it means to be living on a low income.

Please join us for an upcoming Listening Session and share your wisdom and stories. You will receive a $20 stipend for your time. Onsite childcare and dinner provided. Registration is required.

We also support you in telling your lawmakers what you told us. After the listening session, we will have a free advocacy training to give you the tools you need to effectively share your story with lawmakers in order to create change. Local state lawmakers have been invited. Now we just need you!

Poverty Action Listening Sessions 2013:

KENT: Aug. 28-29

EVERETT: Sept. 11-12

TRI-CITIES/PASCO: Sept. 25-26

SPOKANE: October 9-10

For more information, visit www.povertyaction.org. To register for a listening session or free advocacy training, contact Mallori at 1.866.789.7726 or email mallori@povertyaction.org.

Tenant Tip: Public meetings on the use of criminal records in employment

In our 6/24/13 blog post, “Seattle Jobs Assistance Ordinance bans the box,” we wrote about the Jobs Assistance Ordinance that Seattle City Council passed to regulate how conviction and arrest records are used during the hiring process.

The ordinance removes the arrest/conviction history checkbox on employment applications and requires that employers conduct an initial screening before asking about a person’s criminal record. It also requires that an employer has a legitimate business reason for denying a person based on their conviction record. (There are exemptions to the ordinance; this FAQ provides more information.)

SeaOCRlogoSince the new requirements will take effect on November 1, 2013, the Seattle Office for Civil Rights will hold several public meetings to provide information, answer questions, and gather input from the community.

To request an accommodation, please contact Brenda Anibarro at 206.684.4514 or Brenda.Anibarro@Seattle.gov.

Help spread the word to your community by sharing this flyer or blog post. Hope to see you there!

The tenant information contained in this article or linked to the Solid Ground Tenant Services website is for informational purposes only. Solid Ground makes no claims, promises or guarantees about the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of the information contained in or linked to its website. Solid Ground cannot act as your attorney. Solid Ground makes no representations, expressed or implied, that the information contained in or linked to its website can or will be used or interpreted in any particular way by any governmental agency or court. As legal advice must be tailored to the specific circumstances of each case, and laws are constantly changing, nothing provided here should be used as a substitute for the advice of competent counsel. Solid Ground Tenant Counselors offer these tenant tips as generalized information for renters. People with specific questions should call our Tenant Services hotline at 206.694.6767  Mondays, Wednesdays & Thursdays between 10:30am and 4:30pm.

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