SMRLS Insider: Spring 2020
Addressing Coronavirus (COVID-19)

The health and safety of our clients and staff is our top priority. With this in mind, we continue to observe government recommendations regarding the recent COVID-19 outbreak. Out of concern for the well being of our clients and staff, SMRLS is asking clients to contact us through email or by telephone rather than come into SMRLS offices . Please click here to find the contact information for each of our offices.

As we adapt to this crisis, SMRLS stands with our clients who need our help. Our Volunteer Attorney Program (VAP) is continuing to place cases with our volunteers, with all client contact administered by phone or mail. We are also redesigning how we run our clinics for volunteers and staff to do their legal work remotely. We will post updates about our clinics and client services on our website and social media channels. If you have any immediate concerns about how COVID-19 may impact your rights, please visit the resource page here .

SMRLS wishes you and your family good health and safety through this difficult time.
What's new at SMRLS?
SMRLS' Divorce Clinics are making a difference
Many people come to SMRLS for help getting a divorce. Some of these people have complex situations to resolve. But some of them are fairly straightforward – and that is where the SMRLS' Volunteer Attorney Program (VAP) Divorce Clinics come in.

Clients are carefully screened by VAP staff to ensure the clinic is a good option for them. Clients are sent a worksheet to complete and list of documents to bring to the clinic. At the clinic, all of the divorce documents are drafted. A SMRLS VAP staff person takes care of filing the cases and serving the spouses, as these are difficult steps for the clients to handle on their own.

More than 200 people complete divorces annually using the SMRLS divorce clinic for the past several years. Last month, clinics were held in Owatonna, Mankato, Winona, St. Paul and Worthington. Many thanks to the Volunteer Attorneys who made this happen, including Jessica Hafemeyer , Erin Felten , Karlene Engel , Patrick Florin , Linda Morrison , Nick Morrison and Aaron Kinser for giving your time to work with our clients at the Divorce Clinics.
Improper MFIP Waiting Period Invalidated by SMRLS' Appeal
SMRLS Senior Attorney Ben Weiss (pictured right) successfully challenged a state interpretation of the law that had effectively created a mandatory one-month waiting period for families on the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) who obtained short-term employment. State law provides that MFIP cases must be suspended if a family is ineligible due to income for only one month, and then closed if the family is ineligible for a second consecutive month. For most recipients, the MFIP grant is based on income from two months earlier. But recipients can request a "significant change" supplement up to twice a year if they experience a substantial decrease in income.
Ben’s client, who worked two jobs in April and May 2019, had her MFIP grant suspended for June after becoming jobless. She requested and received a significant change for that month. Her case then closed for July because it would be her second consecutive month exceeding MFIP income limits. She filed a new application and requested to use her second significant change for the month of July, but was denied. On appeal before a Human Services Judge, Ben successfully argued that his client’s significant change in June nullified the suspension due to the language of the MFIP statutes. Because of this, Ramsey County was required to suspend benefits for July rather than close the case, and the client could then use her second significant change to receive benefits for July. The state pledged to correct its erroneous instructions to counties, which had created a one-month waiting period for MFIP recipients who exceeded the program's income limits for exactly two months.
Important Change to DHS Policy

In August 2016, a Minnesota law changed to limit a person’s responsibility to repay a cash assistance program over payment when that over payment was caused by agency error. This law applied to over payments for the Minnesota Family Investment Program, Diversionary Work Program, General Assistance, Minnesota Supplemental Aid, and Refugee Cash Assistance programs. The Department of Human Services (DHS) failed to instruct counties to quit making recipients repay these over payments, resulting in thousands of low-income families making needless repayments to said programs.

In collaboration with Legal Aid Service of Northeastern Minnesota (LASNEM), SMRLS attorneys successfully appealed these repayments for a number of clients. To make a permanent fix to this problem, attorneys from LASNEM and Mid-Minnesota Legal Aid brought a formal demand letter against DHS to remedy their mistake. Following lengthy negotiations, DHS agreed to update their over payment policy, instruct counties and tribes not to pursue cash assistance over payments, and refund the money improperly collected due to the agency error. DHS credits SMRLS and LASNEM attorneys for leading this effort to correct their mistake.
Social Justice Uncorked
SMRLS' largest annual fundraiser, Social Justice Uncorked, is POSTPONED to Thursday, September 24, 2020. It will still be held at the Depot in Minneapolis . More information is available online at .
Lawyers on Ice Hockey Event
On Monday, March 9, 2020, nearly 70 players competed in SMRLS' 18th Annual Lawyers on Ice hockey event at the Xcel Energy Center. This annual fundraiser brings together attorney from across the metro area to support SMRLS, and to play on the Minnesota Wild's home ice! This year we raised $13,000 to support SMRLS ' free legal services. Click here to learn more about the event.
Other News
New Hotline Hours

SMRLS' Hotline (1-888-575-2954) hours are now open 9:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Monday through Friday . Click here to learn more about our hotline and screening process.
Racial Justice Committee's Report

The Racial Justice Committee's annual Report to the Community is now available . It highlights how we're eliminating barriers for persons of color and to ensure their equal access to justice.
Staff Announcements
  • Lourdes Juarez is the new paralegal for SMRLS' Agricultural Worker Program (AWP)
  • Elise Riveness is the new AWP Project Manager and Outreach Coordinator
  • Sarah Palm was promoted to a Family Law Senior Attorney in the Southeast Region
  • Kathy Eveslage was promoted to Hotline Lead Attorney in the Central office
  • Meghan Maes was promoted Lead Attorney in Family Law for the Southwest Region
  • Erin Frana joined SMRLS as a Family Law attorney in our Winona office
  • Vilay Lunt is now a paralegal in our Worthington office
  • Sheryl Riemersma retired from our Worthington office after 28 years with SMRLS
  • KyLee Manthei moved to our Worthington office as a Housing Staff Attorney
  • Darbie Smith was hired as a new housing attorney at the Central office
  • Thomas Mueller was hired as a new housing attorney at the Central office
More ways to support SMRLS
Sign Up for Workplace Giving

Did you know that many employers offer matching gifts and automatic salary deduction programs? These programs provide an easy way to make a tax deductible contribution to SMRLS. Participating in one of these programs is a simple way to make a big difference at SMRLS.

Contact to get started today!
Make an IRA Contribution

Traditional IRA owners must start taking required minimum distributions (RMDs) at age 70 1/2 or face tax penalties. If you are 70 1/2 or older, you can make a charitable contribution directly to SMRLS up to $100,000 from your traditional IRA without it being considered a taxable distribution. You can use your qualified charitable donation to meet all or part of your IRA's RMDs for the year. Contact to learn more.
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Southern Minnesota Regional Legal Services | (651) 228-9823 |