October 26, 2008
The Economic Crisis and Legal Clinics: Stories from the Field, Part 2
As I mentioned in my first post in this series, I will be including several stories from legal clinics across the country, both academic and non-profit, to get a glimpse of the effect the economic crisis is having on legal service providers. Tara Rosenblum, managing attorney of the Quincy office of Legal Services of North Florida reports her practice has seen a marked increase in recent months:
"I was just discussing this with staff the other day. We have never been busier, in all areas--foreclosures, evictions from subsidized housing, dissolutions of marriage, suits for credit card non-payment, dependency procedures for abused, abandoned, and neglected children, bankruptcy and tax. In the last three weeks I have had 15 clients served with evictions or notices prior to eviction. Last Thursday I received applications for five new tax cases, including a final notice of intent to levy on a deficiency involving a 1099C on a foreclosure and two EITC/Filing Status/Dependency Exams that had been responded to but denied by the IRS. This is at a small, rural legal services office that served 667 families total in 2007."
Paul Harrison, of the Community Tax Law Project in Richmond, VA confirms that rural taxpayers are feeling the pinch, "I would say that the signs of the economic downturn began appearing in 2004 and 2005 with gradual increases in AUR [Automated Under Reporter] cases involving COD [cancellation of indebtedness] income. This was especially noticeable among elderly and disabled taxpayers in rural areas. It has increased pretty consistently since then and is now one of the staples of our practice."
The situation is not likely to improve anytime soon and legal clinics practicing in areas even tangentially related to finance will continue to experience increased demand. Tara Rosenblum knows that low-income workers have it especially tough when it comes to pursuing a legal claim: "I think that as those with the least have to rely on family and friends for survival, and stay in one place less, filing status, dependency, and EITC exams will become more difficult to successfully challenge."
With just days left before the presidential election, a number of policy proposals on job creation have been proffered by the candidates. It is clear that jobs are at the heart of the matter. Ms. Rosenblum concurs, "We are seeing an increase in the other areas because they are directly related to money. People are tapped out. They've used all their credit, they've been fighting with their spouse for months, they can't keep the lights on so the state takes their children. We can help them with their legal problem, but we can't create a job." -jl
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