Last year was full of surprises, to say the least. And while there has been a lot of change in our country and state, we know that one thing remains constant – the civil legal aid providers of Washington continue to work tirelessly to help low-income families access justice.
There was plentiful media coverage of civil legal aid in 2016, but the media only reports on part of the story. The reality is that tens of thousands of low-income families receive life-changing support from civil legal aid providers each year, but their stories never make the headlines. Every day, LFW Grantees saves lives, restores families and strengthens communities – whether it is the family that escapes domestic violence, the veteran that gains access to his or her benefits, the teenager that is treated fairly in school, or the senior that is protect from fraud – but most often, these successes go untold.
The people that are unable to get legal help are often absent from the headlines, as well. Research tells us that Washington’s legal aid providers have the capacity to assist only a quarter of the families in our state that need legal help, and when a family is unable to get legal assistance, the consequences are devastating. So as you review some of the legal aid headlines from the end of 2016, think about what’s not being reported. Who is being left out of the conversation and how can we support them in 2017?
Northwest Immigrant Rights Project has been hard at work to support the immigrant community in the wake of the November election. Among the immigrant community, there is a lot of fear and uncertainty about how the incoming Trump Administration will address immigration and what it will mean for immigrants currently living in the country. The following are just a few of the stories since the election that report how NWIRP and partner organizations are helping immigrants prepare of 2017:
In 2016, Columbia Legal Services amassed an impressive list of class action victories, benefitting thousands of individuals and families across the state. In a case that could have far reaching implications for the thousands of agricultural workers in our state, CLS is representing dairy workers in a case against DeRuyter Brothers Dairy to not only restore lost wages but to also end a provision of the state’s minimum wage law making agricultural workers ineligible for overtime pay. Additionally, CLS recently won a case for a class of low-income patients against Yakima Regional Medical and Toppenish Community Hospital for the hospitals’ intentional failure to inform low-income patients of the option of using Charity Care to subsidize their bills. The court ruled that the hospitals are to pay $4.5 million to the class.
Lastly, reporter Marilyn Napier of the Skagit Valley Herald wrote an excellent article entitled At the Mercy of the Courts, which highlights the civil justice crisis in Washington. The article touches on the findings of the 2015 Civil Legal Needs Study, the role of the state agency that administers state funding for legal aid (the Office of Civil Legal Aid), the role of the Equal Justice Coalition in advocating for funding, and the importance of civil legal aid for low-income individuals and families. What Napier’s article concludes is that if the state is going to ensure access to justice for all residents then it needs to prioritize funding for civil legal aid.