News articles and other items about Neighborhood Legal Services and of relevance to our clients, donors, community partners, and volunteers. NLS also publishes Equal Justice Matters, a quarterly newsletter updating our donors, clients and funders on the exciting new ways NLS is making civil legal aid more accessible, which can be read here.
Neighborhood Legal Services is pleased to introduce Equal Justice Update, a periodic e-newsletter to share important news and updates about how – with your support – we help vulnerable people throughout Allegheny, Lawrence, Beaver and Butler counties access free, civil legal aid. To see the latest issue of Equal Justice Update please click here.
November 18, 2022
Share Your Feedback on NLS's Private Attorney Involvement Plan
How can attorneys and others in the legal community help Neighborhood Legal Services assist people in need? Your feedback is requested on NLS's 2023 Private Attorney Involvement Plan. It details how NLS plans to involve private attorneys in representing clients during the coming year. Click here to review the plan.
You are welcome and encouraged to share your questions, comments, or suggestions with NLS. If you wish to do so, please contact Pamela Dalton-Arlotti, Esq., Director of Program Performance and Compliance, at email@example.com or 412-586-6104.
November 7, 2022
Affordable Connectivity Program Open Now
The Affordable Connectivity Program is an FCC benefit program that helps ensure that households can afford the broadband they need for work, school, healthcare and more.
The benefit provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price.
The Affordable Connectivity Program is limited to one monthly service discount and one device discount per household.
Enrollment is open now, and it’s easy to apply. To learn more about the ACP, visit www.fcc.gov/acp or call 877-384-2575.
September 21, 2022
October 28 is the Last day for Households to Submit Applications for Assistance Through the Low Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP)
As a response to the Coronavirus pandemic, the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2021 established the LIHWAP program to assist low-income households by reducing residential water bill burden. LIHWAP was established to provide funds directly to public water systems or treatment works to reduce arrearages and rates charged to such households. The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 provided additional funding for this emergency program. No additional funding to extend the program has been received. The program will be closed on October 28, 2022, to ensure adequate funding is available for all applications received on or before that date that are approved for LIHWAP benefits.
County Assistance Offices (CAOs) will continue to accept paper applications for LIHWAP through close of business on Friday, October 28, 2022. Applications postmarked on October 28, 2022, will be accepted. Clients will be able to apply for LIHWAP benefits through the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania Access to Social Services until midnight on October 28, 2022. At the close of business on October 28, 2022, CAO staff will check the drop box to retrieve all LIHWAP applications submitted that day. Any LIHWAP application that is received in the drop box after the close of business on October 28, 2022 will be rejected.
Applicants and recipients have the right to file an appeal and request a hearing about a decision or failure to act that affects LIHWAP eligibility or benefit amount. An applicant or recipient may appeal decisions of the CAO. Applicants do not have the right to a hearing if LIHWAP closes because of a lack of funds before the CAO issues benefits, or if the applicant submits an application after the program ends. However, the CAO must process a “late” application if the delay was the CAO's fault.
More information about LIHWAP can be found here: https://www.dhs.pa.gov/Services/Assistance/Pages/LIHWAP.aspx
September 14, 2022
If you Have Marijuana Convictions in Pennsylvania, you can Apply for a Pardon Through the Pennsylvania Marijuana Pardon Project
Pennsylvania is coordinating a one-time, large-scale pardon effort for people with certain minor, non-violent marijuana convictions. Applying is free and entirely online. The deadline to apply is September 30, 2022. For more information on eligibility, how to apply, and the online application please click here.
Our friends at Legal Aid of Southeastern PA (LASP)'s Community Engagement Unit have to put together a short series of helpful videos explaining the application process. Please see their YouTube playlist for all three linked here: bit.ly/mj-pardon-playlist-9-2022.
August 9, 2022
PA Unified Judicial System Policy on Non-Discrimination and Equal Oppurtunity Employment from PA Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairness
The Pennsylvania Interbranch Commission for Gender, Racial and Ethnic Fairnessour Commission was established in 2005 by the three branches of Pennsylvania government to implement recommendations from the Final Report of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court Committee on Racial and Gender Bias in the Justice System. One of the chapters in the Report addressed the perceptions and occurrences of racial, ethnic, and gender bias in Pennsylvania’s court facilities. Among the recommendations from this chapter was the necessity of establishing a statewide Unified Judicial System (UJS) policy and grievance procedures for individuals who have been treated unfairly in court facilities on the basis of their race, ethnicity or gender, among other characteristics.
To that end, in 2007, the Interbranch Commission worked with the AOPC and the Supreme Court of Pennsylvania to produce and implement the current UJS Policy on Non-Discrimination and Equal Employment Opportunity and accompanying complaint procedures. Since then, among other things, the Commission has distributed the Policy and grievance procedures during Continuing Legal Education (“CLE”) and other programs for the legal profession and the public.
Recently, the Commission learned that many court users are unaware of the existence of the Policy. Consequently, the Commission decided to draft a one-page summary of it and the accompanying complaint process, which we can be found here. The summary is intended to succinctly apprise individuals of their rights under the Policy and the procedures to follow should they experience harassment or discrimination during their court business. The summary also contains a citation to the location of the full version of the Policy and complaint procedures at www.pacourts.us/judicial-administration/human-resources/complaint-procedures
August 5, 2022
#ONEDAY Critical Needs Alert Profile in Table Magazine
With your generosity, organizations like Neighborhood Legal Services that make up the community safety net for essential human services will get a signiﬁcant boost on Aug. 9 for the #ONEDAY Critical Needs Alert giving campaign.
As part of this, NLS was profiled as part of Table Magazine's Forging Forward 2022, a series of five articles about organizations helping our region make progress on the significant issues challenging our friends and neighbors. Click here to read the article.
July 23, 2022
Changes are coming to Pennsylvania’s Medical Assistance Program for the HealthChoices Physical Health Plans. Some Physical Health Managed Care Organizations (PH plans) will no longer be available with the introduction of new PH plans. Approximately 500,000 Medical Assistance (MA) consumers (throughout Pennsylvania) must change their current PH plans. Every person currently receiving Medicaid through the HealthChoices Physical Health Plans will be receiving a mailing from DHS regarding these changes.
All the counties served by Neighborhood Legal Services (Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, Lawrence) are in the HealthChoices Southwest Zone.
Anyone currently enrolled in the following PH plans will need to select a new Physical Health Managed Care Organization (PH plans)
- United Healthcare
- Aetna Better Health
Participants must select a new PH plan between June 22, 2022 through August 16, 2022.
Participants can contact PA Enrollment Services in one of three ways to select a new plan or find out more information about the new PH plans such as doctors, preferred hospitals, and preferred providers covered by these new plans.
- Online: enrollnow.net
- Mobile App: PA Enrollment Services
- Telephone: 1-800-440-3989, option 6 to speak with a representative Monday – Friday 8:00 AM to 6:00 PM
- Participants should also receive a notice and comparison chart in the mail
New plans start September 1, 2022. To learn more click here
July 11, 2022
The Butler County Bar Association Foundation (BCBAF), the charitable arm of the Butler County Bar Association, awarded $17,750.00 in grants to six community non-profit organizations and projects that improve the administration of justice and provide support to those in need in our community. NLS was choosen to receive a grant for our Safe at Home Custody Clinic for Butler County.
Foundation Chair, Maria Imbarlina and past Chair, Sean Gallagher presented the awards at an event held at Vintage Coffee House. Gallagher said, “We are happy and honored to award these grants this year. As lawyers, we must support the community in which we live and work, because without this community, the Bar would not exist.”
Managing Attorney, Nikki Christopher along with staff attorney Sarah Iseman were both in attendance to accept the award on behalf of NLS.
"NLS is honored to receive this donation to continue to meet the legal needs of our clients," said Christopher. "The number of people seeking services in Butler county has increased since COVID, and creating a custody clinic is a way to assist a larger number of people in a short period of time. We anticipate holding clinics in different parts of the county. Our first one is scheduled this month at the Butler Public library in July 21, 2022 at 6 pm.
June 1, 2022
Allegheny County Housing Authority Opens the Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8) Waiting List
The Allegheny County Housing Authority is pleased to announce the opening of the Housing Choice Voucher Program Waiting List (Section 8) on Tuesday, July 12 through Thursday, July 14. No applications will be accepted before or after these dates.
Apply online at http://www.achsng.com or computers will be available at the office located at 301 Chartiers Avenue in McKees Rocks. Please have all of your information ready, so this process can run smoothly. The information needed includes your name, address, phone number, social security number, date of birth and email address. You must have an email address in order to apply either way so a confirmation number can be emailed to you.
All applications will be entered into a lottery, regardless of the date and time the application as entered. Results of the waiting list will be posted online by July 22, 2022.
You MUST keep your confirmation number in order to access your status. Please do not call for your status as no information will be given over the phone.
May 17, 2022
The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) provides a discount of up to $30 per month toward internet service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands. Twenty of the leading internet service providers covering more than 80% of the U.S. population have committed to offer ACP-eligible households high-speed, high-quality internet plans for no more than $30/month. The commitments would allow ACP-eligible households to receive high-speed internet service at no cost. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers if they contribute more than $10 and less than $50 toward the purchase price.
Additional information on the Affordable Connectivity Program can be found here and at this phone number, (877) 384-2575. Please consider disseminating information about this new Program in the communities you serve.
May 10, 2022
The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) recently released a far-reaching new report on the crisis in civil legal aid titled, “The Justice Gap: The Unmet Civil Legal Needs of Low-income Americans”, at a public forum in Washington.
This is LSC’s fourth Justice Gap study that documents the volume of civil legal needs faced by low-income Americans, assesses the extent to which they seek and receive help, and measures the shortfall between their civil legal needs and the resources available to address these needs. The deficit between resources and need is called the “justice gap.”
The new study reveals that the justice gap is vast. Low-income Americans received no or inadequate legal help for a staggering 92% of all the civil legal problems that impacted them substantially. These problems are widespread, with 74% of low-income households experiencing at least one in the past year, and 39% experiencing five or more.
Without access to legal aid, they are forced to “go it alone” without legal representation in disputes where they risk losing their jobs, their livelihoods, their homes, their children, or even when seeking a restraining order against an abuser. The 2022 Justice Gap Study from the Legal Services Corporation (LSC) provides a fresh assessment of the justice gap among low-income Americans in today’s America against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic. To learn more about the report click here.
April 18, 2022
Neighborhood Legal Services Seeks Clients’ Council Member From Lawrence County to Serve on its Board of Directors
Since 1966 Neighborhood Legal Services has been providing free, civil legal aid to disadvantaged members of the community, including the elderly, veterans, domestic abuse victims and those in danger of losing their homes. The organization is unique among nonprofits in that it has clients and low-income members of the community on its Board of Directors.
Neighborhood Legal Services (NLS) is currently looking for an individual from Lawrence County to serve as a Clients’ Council member. According to Jennifer Modell, NLS Managing Attorney for Project Management, “NLS places tremendous value on input from Clients’ Council members, many who have been clients in the past or have faced issues like those of our clients.”
NLS Clients’ Council members attend monthly board meetings (in-person and remote) and receive training and guidance on board governance and nonprofit leadership. There are also numerous opportunities for them to receive training in areas such as landlord-tenant law, family law, criminal record clearing and public benefits. Prior to the pandemic, Clients’ Council members attended local senior fairs as well as health and disability fairs and distributed flyers and legal education materials.
“Having board members who may have experienced some of the challenges our clients face, or may be former client themselves, has enabled the NLS to reach individuals who might not know about the agency or who feel more comfortable learning about it,” said Modell.
Individuals from the community who serve on the Board must be low-income. For more information on becoming an NLS Clients’ Council member from Lawrence County, please contact Jennifer Modell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
February 18, 2022
Call for Proposals for Technology Assesment
NLS is initiating a Request for Proposals (RFP) to solicit responses from qualified vendors interested in conducting an organizational technology assessment and network security audit. NLS received grant funding from the Legal Services Corporation Technology Improvement Project to undertake this Technology Assessment and Security Project (“the Project”). The goal of the project is to ensure the technology environment is properly designed to give NLS the information they need in order to help NLS leadership understand the current status of its technical environment, capacities, and IT management; gain insight into support, engineering and IT management needs; develop specific hardware, software, and service recommendations which form a basic plan of action to address critical needs; recognize how the organization can use technology to optimize internal processes and client services; identify opportunities to make significant infrastructure improvements in an economical fashion; improve network and system documentation; identify major security or business continuity risks uncovered through the discovery and data gathering process and recognize any shortcomings in the network security posture by completing a network security audit with vulnerability assessment and penetration testing. Please click here for additional details.
Proposals are due by March 15, 2022.
February 9, 2022
Call for Proposals for Strategic and Communications Planning Consultant
NLS and its collaborating partners seek proposals to assist the collaborators with strategic planning and the development of a communications framework inclusive of key message development for our Eviction Prevention Ecosystem. The Eviction Prevention Ecosystem is a collaboration of RentHelpPGH, the Pittsburgh Hispanic Development Corporation, the Community Justice Project, Neighborhood Legal Services, Just Mediation Pittsburgh and other community based organizations. Please click Request for Proposals for additional details.
Proposals are due on February 28, 2022.
February 3, 2022
NLS recently published an Accessibility Guide as a resource to help content creators ensure the accessibility of information for individuals with disabilities. When resources, information, and services are not accessible, then people with disabilities are unfairly barred from access. People with disabilities may use assistive technology – including screen readers, voice recognition software, and video relay services – to interact with digital content. However, many people with disabilities do not use aids and rely on the accessibility of digital content. It is important to create content that is compatible with that assistive technology, and that is accessible for people with disabilities without any aids or assistive technology.
Publication of this Accessibility Guide as made possible through a grant from The FISA Foundation for our Criminal Record Clearing for Individuals with Disabilities Project which allowed NLS to spread the word about the availability of criminal record clearing to disability-serving organizations and their clients as well as provide expungement/sealing services to numerous clients with disabilities. NLS is also examining our organizational practices with regard to the many clients with disabilities seeking our services and plans to improve accessibility.
February 2, 2022
Free Tax Help Available
"We know from our experience that many times customers benefit from having a face-to-face conversation with someone who can help guide them through the filing process," Revenue Secretary Dan Hassell said. "We hope that Pennsylvanians will take advantage of the opportunity to receive free help from our staff in person." For a listing of locations, dates and times click here.
January 11, 2022
Steady Rise in Eviction Filings Shows Stresses in the Pittsburgh-area Rental Market
Landlords still aren’t filing to evict at the rates they did prior to COVID-19, but tenants facing displacement are finding few options and relief programs won’t last forever. Neighborhood Legal Services and one of our clients are mentioned in this PublicSource article discussing the eviction crisis. To read more click here.
December 21, 2021
NLS Announces New Executive Director
Neighborhood Legal Services is pleased to announce the appointment of I. Kristine Bergstrom, Esquire, as its new Executive Director, replacing Robert V. Racunas, Esquire, who is retiring after serving the organization for over five decades.
Ms. Bergstrom has been an attorney with Neighborhood Legal Services (NLS) for the past three years. NLS is a non-profit organization based in Pittsburgh that provides high quality, free, civil legal services to low income and vulnerable residents of Allegheny, Beaver, Butler, and Lawrence counties. Bergstrom will begin her new role on January 5, 2022.
“We are thrilled to appoint Kris as the next leader of NLS,” said Stephanie R. Reiss, Esquire, President of the NLS Board of Directors. “Kris has demonstrated vision, energy, and a desire to expand legal aid services in our communities. We believe her fresh approach and passion for the work will be an inspiration to the organization,” said Reiss. Last summer, NLS formed a committee to lead a national search for a new Executive Director. According to Reiss, among all the applicants, Bergstrom proved to be the best candidate for the position. “We know we have an exceptional group of talented attorneys, so we are privileged to be able to have one of our own lead our organization, especially as we face so many challenges and opportunities ahead,” she said.
Prior to relocating to Pittsburgh and joining NLS in 2019, Bergstrom was the Directing Attorney for the Las Vegas office of Nevada Legal Services where she managed multiple attorneys and programs serving Southern Nevada. At Nevada Legal Services, Bergstrom emphasized collaborations with community partners to expand services to clients and reach underserved populations. Under her direction, the office created partnerships, worked with community groups in rural areas to establish a legal aid presence in remote towns, and coordinated with a local homeless advocacy organization to provide legal services at homeless shelters.
As Executive Director of NLS, Bergstrom will be responsible for providing visionary, strategic, and collaborative leadership to improve the availability and quality of civil legal aid for low-income people and victims of domestic violence in Southwestern Pennsylvania. She will also oversee management of the organization and its budget in accordance with the policies and programmatic decisions of the NLS Board of Directors and the requirements of its funders.
“I’m honored that NLS’s leadership has given me this incredible opportunity to lead the organization in what is truly an unprecedented time. I’m excited to take on more responsibility and to be able to leverage my years of work in legal services to the betterment of NLS,” said Bergstrom. “My mission will be to find ways to help NLS work as effectively, passionately, and diligently as possible to not only deliver our services, but expand them to reach even more people in need.”
For more information on Neighborhood Legal Services, click hwew oe contact Christine Kirby, NLS Development Director via email at email@example.com or by calling (412) 586-6137.
October 19, 2021
Stay Alert for Medicare Scams!
It’s “OPEN ENROLLMENT” season for Medicare and Medicare supplement plans. From October 15 through December 7, 2021, we are all encouraged to take a look at our current Medicare plan and decide if it is working for us and if we want to change to another plan. Criminals are opportunistic and use this time to try to contact us to offer ‘deals.’ Their intent is to steal our Medicare number, personal information, and money. Click here to learn how to avoid becoming a victim.
October 14, 2021
The Legal Services Corporation (LSC) announced today that Neighborhood Legal Services Association (NLS) will receive a $302,799 Pro Bono Innovation Fund grant. LSC’s Pro Bono Innovation Fund is intended to encourage and expand pro bono efforts and partnerships to serve more low-income individuals with civil legal issues. NLS and sister program Legal Aid of Southeastern PA (LASP) are two of 12 legal aid organizations this year receiving Pro Bono Innovation Fund grants totaling $4,611,052.97.
NLS will use its grant to expand the organization’s capacity to engage pro bono volunteers in the complex eviction prevention system in Pittsburgh. Working with the community-wide Evictions and Affordable Housing Work Group, NLS will build relationships with pro bono stakeholders and housing advocates for the eviction prevention pro bono program. Also, developing the needed infrastructure to facilitate intake, referral and case placement with pro bono attorneys. The goal is to create a replicable pro bono program to prevent evictions and reduce homelessness. The project will adopt best practices for developing and supporting volunteer resources and training (in-person and online) with video tutorials, intake and case referral, reporting and mentoring.
Members of Pennsylvania’s congressional delegation congratulated LASP and NLS on receiving the grant.
Sen. Bob Casey: “Legal Aid of Southeastern PA and the Neighborhood Legal Services Association provide essential legal assistance—from preventing evictions to protecting against abuse—to those who need it the most. This funding is an important step to create equitable solutions in the legal system, where many low-income Americans often face disproportionate challenges to seeing justice. I will continue to advocate for funding for the Legal Services Corporation to support legal aid organizations and the legal needs of all Pennsylvanians.”
Rep. Mike Doyle (PA-8): “This grant will help NLS tackle eviction and homelessness and, simply put, keep families in their homes. The Neighborhood Legal Services Association has provided pro-bono legal aid for over 55 years in Southwestern Pennsylvania, and the work has never been more important than right now as we continue to feel the effects of the pandemic. Housing is essential for economic stability and wellness, and I look forward to seeing the impact of this funding for years to come.”
October 13, 2021
Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits will increase for approximately 70 million Americans will increase 5.6% in 2022, the Social Security Administration announced. The 5.9% cost of living adjustment (COLA) will begin with benefits payable to more than 64 million Social Security beneficiaries will begin December 30, 2021. The Social Security Administration ties the annual COLA to the increase in Consumer Price Index as determined by the Department of Labor's Bureau of Labor Statistics. For more information click here.
October 6, 2021
Robert V. Racunas, Long-Time Executive Director of NLS to serve as Executive Director Emeritus
As some of you may be aware, several months ago NLS announced the retirement of its long-time Executive Director Bob Racunas at the end of this year and a national search for a new Executive Director. Bob’s depth of experience and dedication to the organization have been invaluable assets to NLS.
As NLS finalizes its Executive Director search, the organization has engaged Bob to serve for a limited term as a consultant in an Executive Director Emeritus position once the new Executive Director is in place, so that Bob is available as a resource to assist in the transition process. As President of the organization’s Board of Directors, I value Bob’s knowledge and loyalty to NLS and know that he intends to help us in whatever way possible.
In the search for a new Executive Director, the Search Committee will be meeting with a number of exceptional candidates and we are excited about their expertise, dedication to pro bono legal aid, energy, and vision. As an organization that has been providing free, civil legal aid for over 65 years, we recognize the challenges ahead to reach more people in need, engage additional staff and volunteer attorneys, and continue to find new and innovative ways to deliver our services. Whichever candidate we select, we are confident that we will have the strong leadership in place to help us fulfill and grow our mission.
September 2, 2021
New Remodeled Commerce Plaza Subsidized Apartments for Seniors Now Apccepting Applications
Conveniently located minutes from the Monroeville Mall and local restaurants, Commerce Plaza Apartments is an excellent choice for seniors wanting affordable housing with many amenities. If you or someone you know are a senior (62 years of age or older) and are looking for an affordable living option please click here for more information.
To apply online visit www.ACHSNG.com an click on the WEBAPP tab on the right side of the of the home page to enter your application.
August 25, 2021
The Social Security Administration (SSA) recently changed their rules about how the pandemic-related financial assistance can affect an individual's eligibility for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Due to the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic, SSA has decided they will not count most types of pandemic-related financial assistance against SSI eligibility or benefit amount. For more information check out this helpful flyer produced by the National Center on Law and Elder Rights.
August 19, 2021
Neighborhood Legal Services is looking for volunteers from the community to serve on its Clients' Council and participate on its Board of Directors. We are interested in adding the voice of legal aid clients to form a diverse, client-focused board that is responsive to the legal needs of the community.
To learn more click here or contact firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 412 - 586 - 6110.
August 3, 2021
Robert V. Racunas, Esquire, announced he is retiring from Neighborhood Legal Services in January, 2022 after 50 years with the organization, 42 of them as executive director. Racunas began his career as a summer intern from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law and was named executive director of Neighborhood Legal Services (NLS) in 1980.
“Bob’s decades of service and dedication to NLS is unprecedented,” said Stephanie R. Reiss, Esquire, President of the NLS Board of Directors. “I’m privileged to have had the opportunity to work with him and know that replacing him will be no easy feat.”
In his five decades at NLS, Racunas cited the current global health crisis as the most challenging period of his career. “The need for our services didn’t come to a stop during the pandemic. I’m proud to say that not only did NLS continue to provide essential legal services during the statewide shutdown, but we in fact expanded our staff to reach 14,730 people, including veterans, the elderly, women, children, those with disabilities and people in danger of losing their home.”
Highlights of Racunas’s professional career include his role in providing access to justice for over one million individuals and their families needing legal aid, establishing the Equal Justice Campaign, a private bar campaign aimed at increasing financial support for free legal aid, and increasing pro bono involvement. Racunas and a former NLS colleague and elder law specialist Joseph M. Olimpi created the Older & Wiser program to help better educate seniors, their families, and caregivers about rights and resources. The program received several awards, including the Emil Gumpert Award and $50,000 from the American College of Trial Lawyers.
As a major Pittsburgh sports fan, Racunas oversaw the organization’s 50th anniversary celebration in June of 2015 with the Gridiron Gold reception and dinner. The six NFL Hall of Fame quarterbacks born in western Pennsylvania were honored during the evening by the more than 1,100 attendees. The program, featuring a roundtable discussion with the quarterbacks, was filmed, and shown nationwide by the NFL Network. The event raised substantial funds for NLS and the quarterbacks’ chosen charities and brought attention to the importance of the organization’s work beyond the legal community.
During his accomplished career, Racunas became an active member of the Allegheny County Bar Association (ACBA) and chaired its Federal Court Section. He was elected to the ACBA Board of Governors and in 2005, then became the bar association president. He has served as a member of the House of Delegates of both the Pennsylvania Bar Association and the American Bar Association. Racunas has been honored by his legal aid peers with a Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network (PLAN) Excellence Award and by the Josh Gibson Foundation with the Community Service Award. He received the 2006 Pitt Law Alumni Award, becoming the 30th lawyer or judge to be so recognized, and was named a University of Pittsburgh Varsity, Letterman of Distinction, and a recipient of the University of Pittsburgh Chancellor’s Medal. Racunas also served as an adjunct professor at the Duquesne University School of Law for 20 years.
“I’m indebted to the incredible roster of professionals I’ve worked with over the years. I’ve learned as much from them as I hope they have from me. Just as importantly, I must acknowledge the generous, proud, and brave clients I have met over the years. They will continue to be an inspiration,” said Racunas.
The NLS Board of Directors has embarked on a national search for a new executive director. For more information on the position and Neighborhood Legal Services, please visit https://nlsa.us/job-opportunities/.
Since 1966, Neighborhood Legal Services (NLS) has provided free civil legal assistance to poor and vulnerable residents. NLS handles approximately 7,500 cases annually helping serves over 15,000 residents of Allegheny Beaver, Butler and Lawrence counties.
May 25, 2021
The Department of Labor and Industry will be upgrading the unemployment compensation system, taking it offline from June 3-7. During that time, claimants will not be able to access their accounts. The department says the new system will be up and running on June 8.
While the system is down, phone lines will remain open, and claimants can call 888-313-7284 for assistance.
Please visit this page for important information on claims filing.
May 24, 2021
The Senior Food Box Program works to improve the health of low-income seniors by supplementing their diets with nutritious food. In Pennsylvania, eligible participants include low-income individuals who are at least 60 years old and whose household income is at or below 130 percent of the U.S. poverty level.
The senior food boxes do not provide a complete diet, but rather are good sources of the nutrients typically lacking in the diets of older Americans. Among the types of foods included in the food boxes are: non-fat dry and shelf-stable fluid milk, juice, oats, ready-to-eat cereal, rice, pasta, dry beans, peanut butter, canned meat, poultry, or fish, and canned fruits and vegetables.
If you are a senior interested in participating click here to check eligibility and apply online today.
May 15, 2021
Important Information About SNAP Benefits and COVID-19 Emergency
Extra SNAP benefits will be received by April 29, 2021. This payment is in addition to regularly received April SNAP benefits. If you got SNAP benefits between September 2020 and March 2021, you will get an extra payment in early May or June. For example, if you got SNAP benefits in September and October, then you will get extra SNAP for both months. If you did not get SNAP benefits in November, you will not get extra SNAP benefits for November. For more information you can view the flyers here or visit https://www.dhs.pa,gov/Services/Assistance/SNAP-CARES-ACT.aspx
May 14, 2021
Emergency Broadband Benefit Program Now Accepting Applications
- Temporary program to help households afford internet service during pandemic
- Up to $50/month discount for internet service
- A one-time discount of up to $100 for a laptop, tablet, or desktop computer (with a co- payment of more than $10 but less than $50) • Households eligible if qualify for Medicaid, SNAP, free-and-reduced priced school lunches, LifeLink or Pell Grants, OR if household lost significant income during pandemic
- Three ways eligible households can enroll:
- Directly with a local participating provider (find "companies near me")
- Enroll online with the Universal Service Administrative Company (USAC) at www.getemergencybroadband.org
- Download paper application at the www.getemergencybroadband.org site, fill out the application, and mail it – along with supporting documentation – to USAC
Additional information: www.fcc.gov/broadbandbenefit, or call 833-511-0311 between 9 a.m. and 9 p.m. any day of the week.
May 13, 2021
Legal Assistance for Tenants and Homeowners
NLS is pleased to collaborate with Community Justice Project, Just Mediation Pittsburgh, RentHelp, the Pittsburgh Hispanic Development Corporations, and others to launch the Urban Redevelopment Authority of Pittsburgh's new Legal Assistance Program for renters and homeowners. For more information, or a referral please contact RentHelpPGH at 412-534-6600. For Spanish, and other languages call 412-530-5244.
May 4, 2021
Help Understanding the New Child Tax Credit
A hotline was set up by our friends at CJP to advise clients on the benefits of the new tax credit and help them submit their information into GetYourRefund.org to get help filing their taxes before May 17. If you need help understanding the new child tax credit or submitting your information into GetYourRefund.org please call (610) 273-5488.
April 23, 2021
Chief Justice Baer Expresses Support for Legal Aid and Pro Bono
Pennsylvania Supreme Court Chief Justice Max Baer joined Pennsylvania Bar Association President David Schwager in calling upon attorneys to support free legal services programs through financial donations or pro bono work. "This year, the need is especially acute. The global pandemic has disproportionately impacted low-income groups, and the resulting financial and familial stressors are exacerbating the need for civil legal aid among those who cannot afford private counsel." He also thanked attorneys for their ongoing contributions in fulfilling the call of Rule 6.1 to provide public interest legal services. Click here to read Chief Justice Baer's letter.
April 21, 2021
Allegheny County Housing Authority Opens the Housing Choice Voucher Program (Section 8) Waiting List
The Allegheny County Housing Authority is pleased to announce the opening of the Housing Choice Voucher Program Waiting List (Section 8) on Wednesday, May 5, 2021 through Friday, May 7, 2021. No applications will be accepted before or after these dates.
There will be two ways to apply. Online at http://www.achsng.com 24/7 beginning May 5th at 8:00 am and ending May 7th at 12:00 midnight. This would be the best way to apply but you can also call 412-402-2407 or 412-402-2478 between the hours of 8:00 am and 5:00 pm. Your call will be answered by a live operator and your information will be taken over the phone. Please have all of your information ready, so this process can run smoothly. The information needed includes your name, address, phone number, social security number, date of birth and email address. You must have an email address in order to apply either way so a confirmation number can be emailed to you.
All applications will be entered into a lottery, regardless of the date and time the application as entered. Results of the waiting list will be posted online by Tuesday, May 11.
You MUST keep your confirmation number in order to access your status. Please do not call for your status as no information will be given over the phone.
April 20, 2021
This week the Office for Victims of Crime (OVC) is raising awareness of victims’ rights and services, highlighting programs, celebrating progress achieved, and honoring victims and the professionals who serve them. OVC developed a helpful referral sheet with organizations that offer a variety of services for victims of crimes. Check out our social media, where all week we will be highlighting how NLS supports victims of crimes, or click here to view our Victims of Crime brochure about the type of services we offer.
April 9, 2021
NLS Attorney Julia Zebley Was Featured in Public Source for Her Work Fighting Unlawful Eviction
NLS Attorney Julia Zebley, was recently highlighted in Public Source for her work representing a client in an eviction case who’s story is all to familiar. Zebley is quoted,
“I have seen several of these situations where older adults have been living in a place for a while, and there's a desire to renovate, and suddenly a new owner is trying to evict them under a lease that’s several years old.”
In the article Rich Lord references a study by the Allegheny Department of Human Services and The Pittsburgh Foundation which showed that, “From 2012 through 2019, tenants won just 1.5% of eviction cases, with landlords prevailing in 85%, and the rest withdrawn, settled, or otherwise dismissed.” Despite the odds being against them, Zebley won her case preventing her client from being evicted. Click here to read the full article.
March 25, 2021
Joan Tutak is Honored at the PLAN 2021 Excellence Awards for Her Years of Service
Congratulations to NLS attorney Joan Tutak for being honored at this years Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network's Excellence Awards. Nominations are solicited from across Pennsylvania for the awards which are made based on a variety of criteria that demonstrated excellence and diligence in helping improve the availability and quality of civil legal services for low income people and victims of domestic violence in Pennsylvania. Click here to watch a video tribute in Joan's honor.
March 22, 2021
PA Launches Emergency Rental Assistance Program
Governor Tom Wolf announced the launch of a program that will deliver rapid relief to millions of Pennsylvanians at risk of eviction or loss of utility service. Effective today, Pennsylvanians can submit applications for the Emergency Rental Assistance Program online at www.compass.state.pa.us. Forty-seven counties have opted to collect applications from county residents through the COMPASS website provided by the Department of Human Services (DHS). DHS will route applications submitted through COMPASS directly to counties for processing. The online application is available in English and Spanish.
To qualify for assistance, a household must be responsible to pay rent on a residential property and meet each of the following criteria:
- One or more people within the household has qualified for unemployment benefits, had a decrease in income, had increased household costs, or experienced other financial hardship due directly or indirectly to the COVID-19 pandemic; AND
- One or more individuals in the household can show a risk of experiencing homelessness or housing instability; AND
- The household has an income at or below 80 percent of area median income, which varies by county. Income limits by county are available on the DHS website. Resources (like bank accounts and cars) are not relevant to ERAP eligibility.
Applicants will need to provide the following information: head of household’s personal information; income information for all household members 18 and older; rental lease and amount owed; landlord’s name and contact information. If applying for utility assistance, applicants must provide utility expenses and utility provider information.
Applicants should be prepared to provide documents that substantiate information provided, such as pay stubs, tax filings, unemployment letters, and rental/utility arrears. However, if applicants do not have documents, county ERAP offices will work with applicants to obtain documents or written attestations.
The program will end when all funds have been expended, which DHS expects to happen by September 2021. Per Act 1 of 2021, all funds must be spent by December 31, 2021.
More information about ERAP can be found at www.dhs.pa.gov.
January 20, 2021
Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network launches PAVictimsHelp.org
Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network has launched a separate section of PALawHelp.org at PAVictimsHelp.org that is specially curated for victims of crime.
The site features LiveChat with trained navigators, working Monday-Saturday from 12:00 PM-8:00 PM, who can help users locate the help and information they need through a real-time online chat.
PAVictimsHelp.org provides access to legal information on a variety of topics related to victims of crime including but not limited to:
- Victims Rights
- Victims Compensation Assistance Program
- Domestic Violence Issues
- Identity Theft
- Money and Finance
- Employment Issues and Human Trafficking
- Immigrant Issues and Rights
The site also has an extensive referral network available providing information on how to contact PA Victims Service Agencies; social service agencies; community action agencies; legal assistance agencies and other resources for victims of crime.
January 6, 2021
Social Security Benefits Increase in 2021
Starting in 2021, there will be a 1.3 percent increase for Social Security Benefits and Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Per the Department of Labor’s Consumer Price Index (CPI-W), when cost of living rises, the federal benefits will rise as well.
These cost-of-living adjustments are known as COLA. SSA will mail out COLA notices in December of 2020 to retirement, survivors, and disability beneficiaries, SSI recipients, and representative payees. This will not be the only change in 2021. The minimum amount of earnings subject to Social Security payroll tax will be higher due to the increase in the national average wage index.
For additional COLA information in 2021, please visit the SSA website here.
Bogle, Darlynda, et al. “Social Security Benefits Increase in 2021.” Social Security Matters, 5 Nov. 2020, blog.ssa.gov/social-security-benefits-increase-in-2021/.
December 7, 2020
Being Unable to Afford a Lawyer Shouldn't Mean Accepting an Unfair Eviction, Especially During Covid-19
NLS clients often face dire civil justice problems. Combined with the challenges of COVID-19, these problems can become grim ... and even life-threatening.
Take two elderly sisters, Margaret, 83, and Barbara, 78.* When Margaret was too ill to live in her apartment alone, Barbara did what she always did: She took care of things. Instead of putting Margaret in assisted living, Barbara simply moved in to share expenses.
Their quiet life went on ... until they received an eviction notice. Almost nothing is more frightening to people their age during a health crisis than the thought of losing their home.
They were scared ... and dumbfounded. They had paid their rent and utility bills every month.Their lease wasn’t up yet. How could this be happening? And how would they safely find another place to live during the pandemic?
They needed to fight the eviction but couldn’t afford an attorney on their small incomes. Barbara thought she could represent them in court ... after all, they hadn’t done anything wrong. But they soon discovered what so many low-income Americans learn:
The civil justice system isn’t made for people like them. Barbara lost the case.
Months earlier, a new landlord had changed the requirements for paying utilities ... and the sisters hadn’t realized it. As far as the judge was concerned, they were many months behind. He let the eviction order stand and made them responsible for months of outstanding bills, accrued late penalties and the landlord’s legal fees.
Very soon, they’d have nowhere to live. Margaret’s health issues made the prospect intolerable. A civil legal aid attorney with NLS stepped up for Margaret and Barbara, recovering some of their money, getting late fees dismissed and court fees reduced, and extending their move-out date. The sisters are now safe and secure in a new apartment.
December 7, 2020
For people needing health insurance coverage starting on January 1, 2021, the new deadline to enroll is December 22, 2020 through Pennie.com. It is important to note that people can still enroll through Pennie.com up until January 15th, but their coverage will not start on January 1st.
If you need help getting covered, please feel free to refer them to PHAN's statewide helpline:
Call 877-570-3642 or email email@example.com
If you need more information, please take a look at PHAN's blog post on our new state-operated health insurance marketplace, Pennie, or our Get Help! Page, which features frequently asked questions about how to enroll in health insurance.
November 23, 2020
Continuing Disability Benefit Payment Announcement
Have you received a notice from Social Security indicating that you are no longer eligible for social security disability benefits because your medical condition has improved or no longer exists? (Cessation Notice) Or, have you received notice that you are no longer eligible for children’s SSI benefits because you have turned 18? In both situations, you have 60 days to file a Request for Reconsideration to appeal that decision. If you want your benefits to continue while Social Security is reconsidering whether you are eligible, you have to file a Request for Reconsideration within 10 days of the date on your notice.
However, because of delays in processing reconsideration requests, Social Security is allowing individuals who have filed Requests for Reconsideration who DID NOT request continuing benefits within the 10-day timeframe, to submit late requests for continuing benefits. There are two requirements:
- The notice terminating benefits for the two reasons listed above, must be dated on or before August 30, 2020
- Your request for reconsideration of the termination notice is still pending with Social Security.
November 5, 2020
Neighborhood Legal Services is is pleased to announce a collaborative pilot project with the Allegheny County Bar Foundation’s Pro Bono Center to help people overcome past mistakes, expand opportunities and create a better live for themselves and their families.
Does someone you know or a client you serve have a criminal record that's holding them back? Neighborhood Legal Services and the Pro Bono Center are helping people in Allegheny County apply for pardons from the Pennsylvania Pardons Board. To be eligible clients must be low income, have a case that was in Allegheny county, have completed their sentence and have no arrests or convictions within the past 5 years and have no serious violent offenses.
Individuals interested in obtaining a pardon should call 412-402-6606 for eligibility details and more information about the Pittsburgh Pardons Project. Call today as program participation is limited and closes on November 30, 2020.
November 4, 2020
Continuing Disability Reviews and SSI benefits
Even if you have been awarded SSI benefits, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will review your case every three years or so, to make sure that you are still disabled. When the time comes for that review,
you will receive a notice from SSA indicating that you are under a continuing disability review. The envelope will contain a paper form for you to complete and mail back to Social Security. However if you prefer to do it online, Social Security is now making it possible for you to complete the form through their website. The form will ask you to provide information about your medical conditions and your treating doctors. Make sure you have your doctors’ contact information in addition to your Social Security number, current address, phone number, and a valid email address. You can also upload any medical records that you would like Social Security to review to determine whether you remain disabled and unable to work. You can find the form at https://secure.ssa.gov/ssa455/front-end/
November 2, 2020
Journalist Charlotte Keith Interviews NLS Attorney in, "Locked Out" an Investigation About Evictions In PA
Spotlight PA shows that despite a federal eviction ban, whether or not families get kicked out often comes down to where they live, and which judge happens to hear the case. In the article, NLS director of litigation Eileen Yacknin explains that, "In practice, some landlords are filing “end-of-lease” evictions to try to get around the CDC order." Yacknin was in a local court in Allegheny County with a client in early October, when the judge told the landlord that while an eviction for non-payment of rent wouldn’t be able to proceed, an eviction filed for a different reason would.To read the full article click here.
October 20, 2020
Following the cessation of the Statewide Eviction Moratorium on September 1 by Governor Tom Wolf, NLS attorneys have helped tenants across Allegheny, Beaver and Lawrence counties maintain housing during the COVID-19 pandemic. This is made possible in part by NLS's receipt of CARES Act funding, given through the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network, aimed at preventing evictions. NLS attorneys have also sought to mitigate confusion and inconsistencies in courtrooms brought about by (1) the end of the Moratorium and (2) the subsequent introduction by the Trump administration of public health laws putting a federal halt on eviction proceedings. NLS Housing Attorney, Eileen Yacknin, was quoted in an article by 90.5 WESA, on this issue: "Different magistrates have different interpretations and therefore carry out these hearings in totally random - for them, maybe not random - but we as litigators see as random ways, in ways that aren't necessarily, what we believe, is in compliance with the law."
September 29, 2020
The Pittsburgh Pro Bono Pardons Project
Neighborhood Legal Services and the Pro Bono Center are launching the Pittsburgh Pardons Project to help clear criminal records in Allegheny county. Do you have a criminal record that's holding you back? Click here to find out if you're eligible for our services.
On October 13th, from 12:00pm-1:00pm, we are hosting a Free Virtual CLE session for attorneys about the Pardons Process. The session is free for attorneys who agree to take one pro bono pardon case through the Pittsburgh Pardon Project and a one hour substantive CLE credit will be offered. Click here to register and learn how you can help someone with a criminal record maximize their chance of success in the pardon application process.
June 28, 2020
Amy Carpenter, a managing attorney at NLS, appointed to Co-Chair of the Pennslyvannia Bar Association's Legal Services to the Public Committee!
Congratulations to Amy Carpenter on her appointment to Co-Chair of the Pennsylvania Bar Association's Legal Services to the Public Committee. The PBA's Legal Services to the Public Committee provides assistance in the creation of programs designed to provide for the delivery of legal services to indigent Pennsylvanians. It also monitors and makes recommendations concerning all legislation regarding unmet legal needs and pro bono service. Congratulations to Amy!
May 8, 2020
Attention: Volunteers Needed to Assist Attorneys With PFA Cases When the Courts Reopen
The court has continued all “final” PFA hearings due to the current Covid-19 pandemic. NLS attorneys and our PFA law students are helping each PFA petitioner prepare their petition over the telephone for presentation to the Court. Anyone granted a Temporary Order of Protection is either assigned to NLS, the Women’s Center and Shelter, or private counsel. Because the final hearings are not being scheduled on a date certain, we have chosen to keep the cases as opposed to trying to assign them to pro bono attorneys who may or may not be able to handle the case on the date they ultimately get scheduled by the court. We cannot be certain that any case assigned to a pro bono attorney will ultimately be handled by the same attorney given the uncertainty. This can put victims in the position of telling their story to multiple attorneys. We certainly do not want to create this kind of confusion and additional stress for these victims. However, we are still going to need help once all the existing PFA’s get scheduled for the final hearings. We expect that the court will want to move these cases quickly and that there will be numerous cases scheduled on any given day.
The help we are requesting of you in the month or so after the Court reopens comes in the form of helping us negotiate and/or continue the cases should service still be an issue. If you can sign up to take a morning to come up and help our attorneys, we would email you one or two client Petitions and Temporary Orders before the date of the final hearing. You do not need to talk to nor interview the client prior to the day of the hearing. If you can negotiate a settlement or continue the matter that morning, your work is done. If a hearing is required, NLS staff will take the case back. Your triage, analysis, and negotiation skills will help to process cases in an efficient manner benefiting both the court, the litigants, and the NLS attorneys! If you are willing to help us in this manner, please contact Mary Ann Troper Malley at firstname.lastname@example.org or call her at (412) 586-6134 so she can get you on the calendar for a date or dates in the month of June – at least we “think” this will be when hearings start getting set up. If the court’s order gets extended, we would simply ask you to choose another date.
May 5, 2020
Neighborhood Legal Services on The Confluence Discussing Custody Issues During Covid-19
NLS Managing Attorney for Family Law Susan Abramowich addressed how pandemic protocols can be complicated for ex-partners navigating child custody and the impact of the judicial emergency on family law cases during The Confluence, WESA-FM's morning news broadcast. You can listen to her segment here.
November 1, 2019
Giving Matters because Justice Matters - Equal Justice Campaign Benefitting Civil Legal Aid Programs Underway!
Neighborhood Legal Services’ Equal Justice Campaign is an annual fundraising campaign where the entire legal profession comes together around a common cause — helping to ensure that the neediest members of our community have access to civil legal help. Contributions made to NLS’s Equal Justice Campaign enable to people to obtain justice they deserve not just what they can afford.
Over the 32 past years, our legal community collectively has contributed more than $6.2 million through the Equal Justice Campaign. Those receiving services made possible by the Equal Justice Campaign Campaign include the elderly, disabled individuals, veterans, children, domestic violence victims, people at risk of losing their homes, and many other people in need. Thanks to the legal community’s generosity and the ongoing success of the Equal Justice Campaign, tens of thousands of low-income and disadvantaged people have been able to get necessary legal assistance, and the justice system continues to work better for everyone.
Please consider making an annual gift to NLS’ Equal Justice Campaign today.
December 12, 2019
Neighborhood Legal Services Attorney Donna Allen Rosemond Honored as a 2019 New Pittsburgh Courier Woman of Excellence
NLS Attorney Donna Allen-Rosemond was recently named one of the 2019 New Pittsburgh Courier’s “Women of Excellence” in recognition of her excellent legal work on behalf of victims of domestic violence. Donna is one of the region’s experts in this important area of the law, dedicating her career to helping people navigate a serious crisis in their lives, while maintaining a remarkably sunny outlook herself.
November 21, 2019
Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network Excellence Awards
NLS Attorney Joan Tutak and NLS Pro Bono Volunteer Samuel R. Grego with Dickie McCamey & Chilcote, P.C, were selected to receive the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network Excellence Awards at banquet honoring them and 7 others on March 31, 2020 in Harrisburg. The PLAN Excellence Awards are presented each year to individuals, groups, and/or organizations that have established excellence and diligence improving the availability and quality of civil legal services for low income people and victims of domestic violence in Pennsylvania. The award recipients include a variety of civil legal aid professionals and friends of civil legal aid across Pennsylvania who were recognized for their efforts in support of the clients served by the civil legal programs of the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network.