Summer 2013 | Vol. 3, Issue 2
"Our mission is to educate and inform the clients of the
Massachusetts legal services community"
|Fix it, Fund it, and Make it Fair: Update on the MBTA Fare Increases
By Robbie Adjei
On April 10, 2013 Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority (MBTA) riders marched over two miles from Washington Street in Roxbury to the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT)/(MBTA) board meeting that was held at the Transportation Building at 10 Park Plaza in Boston.
The MBTA riders marched to demand equity, accountability and accessibility. In the forefront of the riders marched the T-Riders Union (TRU) leading chants such as "Fix it, Fund it, and Make it Fair!" T-Rider Taisha O'Bryant of Roxbury addressed the board with the following comments: "It's time that the State Legislature fund public transit and that MassDOT and the MBTA do its part to ensure equity and protections for its riders."
Also Stuart Spina of Chelsea stated to the board, "We understand the T's financial problem. We've been paying for it with fare increases and service cuts. RIDE users (the Paratransit Program) are stranded. Youth are barred access to opportunity. We have been denied a system that we rely on because we can't afford it."
Mela Deonarain of Hyde Park said to the board "We've been to the State House calling for investment in public transit. Now it's time for the MBTA and MassDOT to stop ignoring the needs of its customers, particularly young people, seniors, people with disabilities and those that have no other choice but to use public transit."
After hearing comments from its riders and other interested parties, the MassDOT/MBTA Board voted to pass their fiscal year 2014 budget. The budget greatly depends on the State Legislature's decision on whether to fund a transportation finance package that will cover the $118 million dollars MassDOT says it needs to avoid more fare increases for MBTA Riders.
An organization called the Public Transit Public Good Coalition, in partnership with the T-Riders Union, has formed a state wide campaign, Transit Solutions for Equity, Sustainability and Economic Growth in our Commonwealth. In January 2013, three bills were submitted on behalf of T-riders, T-workers, and Communities United for Transit Justice. All three are now Bills in Committee in both the House and Senate. Listed below are the Bills and web information:
- More equitable public transit fare structure: House; Senate
- More public input into public transit decisions: House; Senate
- Payroll tax to increase public transit funding: House; Senate
Sources in the Joint Committee on Transportation at the State House have informed me that all three Bills have not yet been scheduled for a hearing.
The T-Riders joined forces with the Public Transit-Public Good Coalition on the State House steps after the MassDot/MBTA Board meeting to voice their demands for equity, accountability, and accessibility for all MBTA riders. As before, they raised their voices, but this time their demands were aimed at both the House and Senate as they chanted "Fix It, Fund It, and Make It Fair!"
The T-Riders and the Public Transit-Public Good organizations were joined by the Mass Senior Action Council who helped to hand deliver to the Massachusetts Senate letters calling for an improved version of the transportation finance package that passed the House of Representatives in April.
On April 24, the House passed its budget, which did not allocate enough revenue to cover the MassDOT/MBTA budget without the MBTA implementing fare increases, service cuts and potentially employee layoffs. On May 23rd, the Senate passed its own version. Because the two budgets differed, including the transportation package, a Conference Committee was appointed and proposed a compromise for 2014 which the full legislature approved on July 1.
The settlement between the two legislative bodies is very encouraging because it includes $805 million in new funding for transportation in Massachusetts. However, jubilation at the decision of the Legislature on a compromised agreement is premature because the compromise budget depends on revenue that comes from the state's rainy day fund and a controversial tax bill currently waiting to be signed by the Governor.
Governor Patrick on April 4 told both the House and Senate leadership that he could not and would not support any proposal that did not address the current MBTA crisis and guarantee a support system for the future needs of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. After reviewing the completed proposal passed by the Legislature the Governor is concerned that the current tax bill's removal of the Massachusetts Turnpike tolls in 2017 will cause tax revenues to decrease by $135 million less than intended by his original tax bill. The Governor plans to send the tax bill back to the Legislature with an amendment to structure an automatic gas tax increase in 2017 if the tolls are taken down. This action could cause another delay in the finalizing the 2014 Budget.
Considering that the financing bill directly affects the funding for the MBTA's FY14 budget and was passed overwhelming by both the House and Senate, it is highly likely the House and Senate will vote to override the Governor's veto. This would leave the Commonwealth to depend on a temporary spending budget of $4.1 billion and hold its political breath until a finalized budget for 2014 is completed.
|'That's Only for the Poor:' Addressing the Stigma of Poverty
By Tim Lee
The first time I was invited to eat at a local soup kitchen, I told my friend something like, "No, that's only for 'those poor' people." I felt it would be beneath me to use it when I could buy my food, even though it was a hardship. Years later, I've heard people ashamed, sometimes crying, because they receive benefits or assistance of some kind. Poverty can carry a significant stigma for some, as the definition, condition and experience are intertwined with many social values.
Some of these, mentioned by author David T. Ellwood in his 1988 book, "Poor Support," include autonomy, responsibility, work, family, community and compassion. A poverty scholar, Mr. Ellwood is currently Dean of the Kennedy School of Government. I like this book because it discusses poverty from a multitude of factors, and the conflicts that arise from provision of welfare. Other benefits, assistance and entitlements available today invoke the same emotions, conundrums and angst as the ongoing provision of welfare. I recommend this book because it brings into focus many unspoken, yet strongly felt emotions and assumptions about poverty, its causes, and what to do about it. The discussion of poverty in just the first couple of chapters is quite good, but is too much for me to go into in this short article.
Currently, I receive Section 8, Social Security and SNAP benefits. I was diagnosed with the mental illness schizophrenia approximately 30 years ago. Being poor or low-income can be challenging because of the frequent need to keep on top of paper work, deadlines and other mandatory processes, such as housing inspections, and other income and residence requirements. The time and mental effort involved can almost be like a job in and of itself.
This can be especially difficult if someone has a severe mental condition, such as depression, when just getting out of bed in the morning is difficult. For others, such as those in a possible domestic violence situation or those living in substandard housing conditions, meeting these obligations poses other, special kinds of hardship. Case managers can help, but legal services for low-income people are the best, especially if a definite legal situation arises, exists, or could possibly develop. So I express my thanks to all the organizations and devoted people who provide these services.
|MLRI Attorney Receives MBA Award
By Georgia Katsoulomitis
Ruth Bourquin, a Staff Attorney at the Massachusetts Law Reform Institute, was a recipient of the Massachusetts Bar Association's prestigious 2013 Access to Justice Award, in recognition of her tireless and effective advocacy on behalf of homeless families and her many achievements over the years to protect low income and underserved families in the Commonwealth.
Ruth, a graduate of Harvard Law School, joined MLRI in 1998 as a Staff Attorney in the Benefits Unit and then in the Housing Unit. She specializes in public benefits, including cash assistance and family shelter, and has engaged in legislative and administrative advocacy, as well as class action litigation, that have expanded access to income supports for needy families and access to emergency assistance for homeless families.
In recent years she has served as a lead statewide family homelessness advocate to preserve programs that protect homeless parents and their children. When Massachusetts recently decided to reorganize its emergency shelter system, proposing significant regulatory restrictions to emergency shelter access for homeless families with children, Ruth assembled a diverse coalition to identify deficiencies in the state's policies and suggest remedies to protect homeless families. In addition to leading the charge for systemic changes to protect families, she has also taken on the representation of individual homeless families, and has worked hand-in-hand with legal services partners and other allies in identifying areas for reform and cases where these families and children are falling through the cracks.
If it takes a village to raise a child, it often takes an army to protect one -- especially one as vulnerable as a homeless child. Ruth Bourquin has been a general in that army. Congratulations to Ruth and to Massachusetts Law Reform Institute!
|30 Years of Investing in Justice
By Tim Lee
At the MLAC 30th anniversary, I had a chance to talk
with two recipients of awards for 30 years of service, attorneys Gerald Wall and Mac McCreight of Greater Boston Legal Services. Mr. Wall talked to me a bit about his specialty, immigration law. Both men impressed me with their spirit, enthusiasm and dedication to their work. I share with them an interest in social justice, and I must say I admire their activism and advocacy through all those years.
Earlier in the day, at the 1st Annual Legal Services Conference 2013, MLAC Executive Director Lonnie Powers asked me, along with other Board members, if I would agree to the idea of naming the Language Access Fellowship position in honor of MLAC Board member and Vice-Chair Maria Matos. Support from the Board was enthusiastic, and I personally feel that Ms. Matos can well appreciate the value of good language access training, programs and activities. The first fellow, Moriah Nelson, has a number of impressive accomplishments which are detailed in the MLAC 30th Anniversary program. Spanish, and a couple of other languages, are informal fields of study for me, and even on such a hobby basis, I'm always learning something new. Competently understanding and practicing law in English alone requires much, and the value of rigorous, quality interpreting services for clients cannot be understated. Congratulations, Maria.
|GBLS Clients Lobby State Legislators
By Linda Lank
On January 24, 2013, despite the bitter cold, 88 Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS) clients along with family members, current and past GBLS client caucus members, community group members, and other legal services supporters participated in GBLS' Client/Staff Lobby Day for civil legal aid funding at the Massachusetts State House. In addition more than 45 GBLS employees and interns, MLAC's Freddy Matute, and GBLS' fellow advocates from Massachusetts Advocates for Nursing Home Reform and Metro West Immigrant Worker Center volunteered as "group leaders", registration workers, and interpreters.
Representative Byron Rushing again welcomed, inspired, and fired up the group. Representative Rushing has been a champion of legal services for many years and sponsor of GBLS' Client/Staff Lobby Day for the last several years.
The Unbeatable Advocate wishes to express our sincere condolences to:
Ms. Shaquella Butler, a longstanding member of Greater Boston Legal Services Board of Directors.
Ms. Butler's beloved mother, Mrs. Patricia Orr Tasker passed away in May. On behalf of her family and herself Ms. Butler sends her gratitude to everyone for their support and condolences.
Mrs. Catherine M. (Forgione) Texera's family, friends and colleagues
Mrs. Texera expired at her home in Revere on Sunday February 10 after a prolonged battle with cancer.
Cathy, as she was called by her friends and colleagues at Greater Boston Legal Services began her twenty years of service to the poor and disadvantaged as an Administrative Assistant at GBLS working with elderly and low-income people with disabilities in the Elder Unit and Medicare Advocacy Project (MAP) in 1992. Cathy's dedication to the MAP clients and her persistent work efforts gained her a promotion as an intake paralegal in the Elder Unit.
Cathy's advocacy had neither limits nor boundaries and her attention to detail pushed her to volunteer for whatever job needed to be filled during a case. Her effortless dedication did not go unnoticed by her peers. Cathy received the 2012 Massachusetts Bar Dow Gardiner Award after being nominated by GBLS colleagues Donna McCormick, Karen Dobak and Betsey Crimmins.
When it came time for Cathy to lay down the sword of justice and take her eternal rest, the timing of her departure from this world one could say coincides with her high attention to detail and the grace and humor she was known to display. So it makes one wonder if she planned her departure to take place on a Sunday that was a non-working day.
Cathy's wisdom, intelligence, compassion, and dedication to others will definitely be remembered by everyone who knew her. Her work lives on inside the lives and hearts of the many people whose lives were changed by her advocacy.
Cathy was an outstanding soul and truly an unbeatable advocate. She will be sadly missed but happily remembered.
|Connecting for Community Change and Greater Impact
By Suezanne Bruce
The opportunity to attend my first Annual Conference of the National Legal Aid & Defender Association reinforced for me the importance of taking time to connect, share, learn, and grow in the service of making a difference in the lives of people in our community. I write this article as the Board Chair of the Boston Workers' Alliance (BWA). We are a member-led organization committed to advocacy, direct service, direct action, and leadership development for unemployed and underemployed people of color in Boston. Eighty percent of our members are Black, African American, and Afro-Caribbean. We are a strong community presence in the Dorchester and Roxbury neighborhoods. Working with a broad coalition of community groups, labor, and Ex-Prisoners and Prisoners Organizing for Community Advancement, we led a successful campaign for the Criminal Offense Record Inquiry reform. Our campaign of "Ban the Box" which was the box requiring people to "check" if they had been convicted of a crime, was one of the significant achievements and an example in communities across the nation.
I share this background to say that I found a home at NLADA. The opening keynote address by Bryan Stevenson, a professor at New York University School of Law and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, brought me to tears. It connected me to my own story. Stevenson talked directly about the humanity of the people he represents. He recognized the dignity, experience, and knowledge of his clients. His words about the value of all human beings - including the incarcerated regardless of guilt or innocence -- are words I know to be true. Stevenson said that it is important that we "change the narrative." We must recognize the value of all of us. His caring words about the lives of the people he represents were direct evidence of the power of love. You only know what he expressed because you love people and want justice for all of us. It was not just a job to him. He was open to learn not only about his client but also from his client. Stevenson knows what we all know; the fight for justice is a shared battle.
I was moved as I witnessed Stevenson openly acknowledge things I know to be true. My father passed away in October. He was incarcerated for over 40 years. I will always love my father and I am proud that I learned many years ago of the ways he helped other people through his knowledge of law. He learned the law and provided counsel and advice to other people that led to their successful appeals and parole hearings. Stevenson's words reminded me not only of my father's humanity, but also the humanity of so many other men, women, and children that we love who are in jail or in prison.
My work in my community through BWA is supported by a partnership with Greater Boston Legal Services (GBLS). They provide legal counsel to people seeking to seal their criminal records. Their assistance helps fathers, mothers, brothers, and sisters to obtain work and turn corners toward more productive lives with their families, while reducing the recidivism rate.
In closing, the conference gave me a space to connect with my fellow Bostonians committed to justice while meeting people from all parts of the nation. I experienced the power of sharing with others who are passionate about the work of justice and community.
I look forward to continuing to participate in NLADA. I became a client member of NLADA at the conference and was inspired by sharing and learning during the client track. Hearing other community people talk about similar challenges around access and the misuse of fundamental laws that speak to housing, for example Section 3, was powerful. Not only was the sharing transformative! It was also the fact that people like me told stories about their standing up and offering themselves as volunteers, leaders, and board members. I recently used some of the practical learning from the board track session at the BWA board meeting.
NLADA forced me to go back to a lesson I learned in my work in Boston. Our personal stories are powerful. They are important and are part of the narrative of our shared dreams, hopes, and vision for justice. Our stories are unique and yet they all hold powerful potential to change the world. It is hard to share our stories and open our lives to others. The sharing makes us vulnerable, but in community, we can be safe to connect and grow together.
The NLADA conference showed me a community determined to move beyond the ignorance paved by relying on good intentions alone. I saw a community where people came together to engage and communicate with each other about a shared vision of dignity, hope and justice for all.
|Client Participation: Why We Participate
By Robbie Adjei
Each of us has our own story as to how we became board members. Previous to becoming legal services clients, many of us experienced some form of social injustice that led us to the legal services agency on whose board we now serve.
Though your stories are different, it's my belief that why you participate in your legal service programs is what's important. I believe that it's the passion we share to stop social injustice that binds us as advocates for the low-income communities that we represent.
Our experience as victims of social injustice gives us an insider perspective as to the needs of the clients that our legal services program support. It's this knowledge and experience that accounts for our prestige as members on the board of directors.
We should participate not for honor, prestige or the title of board member. I believe that our participation should be about ensuring that people who are seeking legal aid will receive services in a timely and respectful manner from the legal aid programs that we represent. We should also attend all boards of directors meetings to ensure a balanced dialog and input of information in regard to low-income clients.
As client advocates we understand the social injustices involved in housing, employment, and race discrimination and this should be why we participate in the legal services programs we serve. Recognizing these social injustices is the cornerstone to the prevention of social injustice in society. This is why we serve as members on the boards of directors of legal services programs.
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The next issue of The Unbeatable Advocate will be published in January 2014. All submissions must be received by December 15.