Poor families in our community are often one setback away from disaster. A blown head gasket with no money to fix can lead to missed work, a lost job, unpaid rent and utilities, an angry landlord, no money for security deposit/first month rent to move, and stressed children suffering in school, falling behind or acting out. For lack of a few dollars, a struggling family spirals downward and significant community resources are needed to deal with the aftermath. Stories like this are repeated too often.
In 2007, representatives from United Way, SEOLS, Ross County DJFS, Community Action, IRS and the County Auditor and Treasurer worked together to help low-income people file their taxes and get full refunds. Volunteers, including SEOLS attorneys, were recruited, trained, and—using computers at different agency locations, including the SEOLS office—prepared 480 returns in 2008. SEOLS staff attorney Luke Feeney, active in the project’s success, obtained an AmeriCorps volunteer to help and then an IRS grant to hire a project director. Within a few weeks, refunds from electronically filed returns were deposited into the accounts of struggling households. In 2012, 951 returns prepared by 25 volunteers put $1.6 million into the pockets of Ross County’s low-income families and community.
Yes, legal aid attorneys litigate. Our Chillicothe office advocates for low-income people and seniors in county, municipal, juvenile, probate, and common pleas courts, and in welfare department and public housing authority administrative hearings in five counties. They also represent clients in two appellate districts, the federal court in Columbus, and Social Security Administration hearings.
But SEOLS attorneys do more than litigate to help individuals and families struggling against the effects of poverty. Their work with other community partners and their dedicated advocacy on behalf of their clients helps families connect to vital resources, and helps to alleviate poverty through systemic change.
If you or someone you know needs our help, give us a call to see if we can help. If you are a social service agency with clients who need an attorney or legal information, give us a call. If you see systemic problems hurting low-income folks, give us a call. If you are involved in the community and want to work together to create or improve services or would like to volunteer or help us raise much-needed funds, give us a call.