NLADA COVID-19 Updates and Resources

The global coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has not only exacerbated existing legal challenges faced by low-income and vulnerable people in the United States, it has also highlighted new issues in many substantive areas. Across the country, advocates in civil legal aid, public defense and affected communities are responding to ensure access to basic human needs and safety. NLADA is coordinating with an array of experts in both the delivery of legal services and access to justice, as well as experts in specific practice areas and leaders in providing civil legal aid and public defense.

This is a space for advocates to share resources and find policy developments affecting the delivery of legal services and access to justice. This page will be updated and expanded as the pandemic and its collateral consequences continue to develop. Please email Kellianne Elliott with submissions you might have for consideration in the relevant categories.

Additional resources pertaining to access to justice for low-income and vulnerable people are available from the American Bar Association Coronavirus (COVID-19) Task Force and Standing Committee on Legal Aid & Indigent DefendantsAssociation of Pro Bono CounselLegal Services Corporation (LSC), Management Information Exchange (MIE), Pro Bono InstituteShriver Center on Poverty Law, Voices for Civil Justice, and many other important partners highlighted on this page. If interested, you can find information on NLADA events and operations here.

Leadership, Management and Delivery

Policy Updates

  • As federal agencies publish guidance related to COVID-19 and implement the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, NLADA and The Justice in Government Project are tracking developments relevant to various non-LSC federal funding sources that can support civil legal aid. Follow developments here.

April

  • The Paycheck Protection Program and Health Care Enhancement Act provides an additional $310 billion in supplemental funding for the Paycheck Protection Program and $60 billion for the Economic Injury Disaster Loans Program.

March

  • The CARES Act is enacted. Notable elements include:
    • A paycheck protection program for which nonprofit organizations with 501(c)(3) status and fewer than 500 staff are eligible to apply for a forgivable loan equal to cover payroll costs and other expenses during the pandemic, and funding for grants through the Economic Injury Disaster Loan (EIDL) program. Application information for both programs is available from the Small Business Administration and and from the National Council of Nonprofits
    • The Legal Services Corporation will receive emergency supplemental funding of $50 million. Information about the distribution of these funds is available here.
    • Suspension of payments on Federal Direct Loans and Federal Family Education Loans owned by the Department of Education through September 30. Borrowers (who have Direct Loans) will receive credit towards PSLF for this period and interest rates are set at 0 percent.
    • $850 million in new funding for Byrne JAG program that provides grants to state and local justice systems, including public defense.

Practice Resources

Strategy and Planning

Delivery and Related Topics  

Leadership

National Partners

Court Access & Virtual Operations, Pro Bono, and Self-Help

Updates

April

  • The American Bar Association Young Lawyers Division’s Disaster Legal Services Program and Paladin launched a national disaster relief pro bono portal, where lawyers can sign up and view cases.
  • Attorneys, social workers, and medical professionals are being sought to work on compassionate release motions for people in prison. The Compassionate Release Clearinghouse is a project of FAMM, the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs, and others.

March

  • Association of Pro Bono Counsel Launches New Collaborative Site to Coordinate Law Firm Covid-19 Pro Bono Response
  • New York State Bar Association launches COVID-19 pro bono network in partnership with the New York State court system. 

Resources

Partners

Defense and Decarceration

Policy Updates

  • *NEW* Prison Policy Initiative: Failing Grades: States’ Responses to COVID-19 in Jails & Prisons
  • The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act was passed by the House of Representatives and is awaiting action in the Senate. If passed, HEROES would provide $500 million for each of the next two years for grants related to reducing the health crisis in state and local prisons and jails, including to support the right to counsel at the earliest possible stage to prevent unnecessary jail admissions.
  • State and local-level interventions have varied and the Marshall Project is hosting a site tracking how systems are responding. 
  • Fair and Just Prosecution: Joint Statement from Elected Prosecutors on COVID-19 and Addressing the Rights and Needs of Those in Custody – Progressive prosecutors call for jail and prison releases, including immigration detention, and access to hygiene and healthcare for people not released.

Funding

Guidance

Sources

  • Corporation for National and Community Service, AmeriCorps VISTA - Public defender offices can apply to join the NLADA Defending Communities in Service, AmeriCorps VISTA program. VISTA members can expand data management capacities, cultivate new community partnerships, or support other needs that build on the ability to meet the needs of defender programs and their clients.
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) - While not a direct pandemic funding resource, this federal grant opportunity can support clients with substance use or mental illness. Clients in or out of jail who suffer with these challenges will be impacted by COVID-19 and in need of additional supports that can be provided through this grant. 

Public Health

Resources

Domestic Violence, Family Issues, and Children

Policy Updates

May

  • The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act was passed by the House of Representatives and is awaiting action in the Senate. If passed, HEROES would provide $100 million to programs under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA) and $48 million for shelter and assistance programs under the Family Violence Prevention and Services Act.

April

  • Several states have urged VOCA and STOP Violence Against Women grantees to apply for match waivers if they are unable to meet the current matching funds requirement due to the COVID-19 pandemic and need to reduce or remove cash/in-kind match. Guidance from the Department of Justice Office for Victims of Crime has made it easier for VOCA administrators to waive the match.

March

  • The Office on Violence against Women has waived the 25 percent match requirement for grants and provided additional flexibility on the use of funds by grantees.
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued Guidance on Flexible Convening of Court Hearings During COVID-19
  • The CARES Act provides $45 million for Family Violence and Prevention Services formula grants without a matching requirement for funds. HHS lists the state administration offices and their respective websites here.
  • Title IV-E (foster care): Although the CARES Act does not provide new funds, the Children’s Bureau Associate Commissioner Jerry Milner sent a letter to child welfare legal and judicial leaders regarding the incorporation of technology in the COVID-19 pandemic, outlining statutory requirements the agency cannot waive and ways "courts can and should use flexible means of convening required hearings."
  • Children’s advocate groups release joint statement of principles around access to justice and advocacy during a pandemic.

Practice Resources

National Partners

Employment, Healthcare, and Public Benefits

Updates

  • The National Health Law Project is tracking state and federal litigation stemming from the COVID-19 response and relating to Medicaid, the Affordable Care Act, and other important health care protections.

May

  • The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act was passed by the House of Representatives and is awaiting action in the Senate. If passed, HEROES would expand the paid leave outlined in the FFCRA to workers at companies with 500 or more employees, and would also expand the Emergency Family and Medical Leave Act. The HEROES Act also provides for employers of essential workers to be reimbursed by the federal government for offering hazard pay. In addition, the Act would extend federal unemployment supplemental funding through January 2021, and provide further stimulus payments.

April

  • U.S. Department of Labor issues guidance on administration of Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC), which extends the length and amount of unemployment benefits a person can receive, and Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA). Many individuals who are not eligible for state unemployment benefits can claim for 13 weeks under PUA. This includes independent contractors/gig workers who have been forced to suspend operations and people who have already exhausted their state benefits.

March

  • The CARES Act extends the length of unemployment insurance benefits to four months, providing an additional $600 per week on top of a person’s regular benefit amount, and expanding eligibility for benefits to individuals who are self-employed and classified as independent contractors.
  • The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides coverage for coronavirus testing under Medicaid and the Children’s Health Insurance Program, and makes federal funds available to cover testing for people without insurance. It also: suspends work requirements for SNAP benefits and provides states flexibility in adjusting benefits application, certification, and reporting requirements, suspends the requirement that claimants of benefits under the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) program attend eligibility interviews in person and provide medical evidence of nutritional need, and allows for expanded benefit amounts for some families whose children would receive meals at school.
  • Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) issues Emergency Temporary Standards related to working conditions and safety during the coronavirus pandemic. These are guidance, not enforceable standards.
  • The Social Security Administration reports it will not start or complete Continuing Disability Reviews. It will also limit processing and collection of overpayments “where possible”.

Resources

Model Material

Partners

Housing, Debt, and Consumer Issues

Updates

May

  • The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act was passed by the House of Representatives and is awaiting action in the Senate. If passed, HEROES would provide 200 billion in funding for housing and homelessness programs in response to the coronavirus crisis. The National Low-Income Housing Coalition has published a detailed breakdown of this potential funding.

April

  • Student Defense and the National Consumer Law Center (NCLC) filed a class action lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Education and Secretary Betsy DeVos, claiming continued garnishment of the wages of borrowers of certain federal student loans in violation of the CARES Act.

March

  • The CARES Act provides homeowners the right to request forbearance on any mortgage insured by any federal agency, and prevents lessors of properties with mortgages insured by any federal agency from evicting or assessing penalties for non-payment of rent for three months. It also provides $4 billion in funding for the Emergency Solutions Grants program within the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, and $900 million for the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program. CARES also provides limited relief on certain types of government-held or insured debt including a short period of forbearance on mortgages and suspension of payments on Federal Direct and some Federal Families Education Loans.

  • U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) issued a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures for certain homeowners with FHA-insured mortgages. HUD has also provided updated guidance for grantees.

  • U.S. financial oversight agencies released a joint letter encouraging financial institutions to avoid penalizing people who are unable to meet financial obligations.

Practice Resources

Housing

Debt

National Partners

Reentry and Holistic Services

Updates

  • The Paycheck Protection Program created by the CARES Act requires applicants to report whether they are facing criminal charges or have had a felony conviction in the past five years. This policy has prompted advocacy efforts urging Congress and the Small Business Administration to revise their guidelines for small business relief.

Resources

Other Issues

Immigration

Policy Updates

  • The CARES Act excludes people who file their taxes using an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) rather than a Social Security number, which includes undocumented immigrants, from receipt of the $1,200 cash rebate.
  • The U.S. Department of Justice Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) issues guidance on practices during the COVID-19 pandemic to immigration courts 
  • The Families First Coronavirus Response Act provides access to Medicaid services related to coronavirus testing to only those immigrants who meet federal Medicaid eligibility requirements.
  • US Citizenship and Immigration Services has announced that people who seek out medical services relating to COVID-19 will not be negatively impacted in their public charge analysis as a result.

Practice Resources

National Partners

Elder Justice

Policy Updates

March

  • The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has waived various restrictions on coverage, including on many telehealth services for Medicare, and on standards of care. Justice in Aging is tracking emergency modifications to State Home and Community-Based Services (HCBS) Programs.
  • The CARES Act includes $955 million to support Older Americans Act and Title III-B activities, including funding of Aging and Disability Resource Centers and Centers for Independent Living, nutrition services, supports for family caregivers, and elder justice protection activities, including the long-term care ombudsman. Consult your state Unit on Aging for information about funds to increase legal services. CARES also includes $200 million in funding for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for infection control measures in nursing homes. It also includes $590 million for coronavirus treatment for certain veterans, including those who are homeless veterans and those in Veterans Administration nursing homes.

Practice Resources

National Partners

Native Americans

Updates

May

  • The Health and Economic Recovery Omnibus Emergency Solutions (HEROES) Act was passed by the House of Representatives and is awaiting action in the Senate. If passed, HEROES would provide $20 billion to assist tribal governments mitigate the fiscal impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, among other resources for Native communities.
  • Indian Health Service Director Michael Weahkee announces funding distributions under the CARES Act.

Resources: Tribal Organizations

Resources: Federal Government

Education

Updates

 
  • The CARES Act (Public Law 116-136, enacted on 3/27/2020) created a $30.75 billion Education Stabilization Fund (ESF).  See also analysis from the Center on Law and Education.
  • Proposals for much larger education funding are found in the HEROES Act (H.R. 6800, passed by the House on 5/15/2020) and in the Coronavirus Child Care and Education Relief Act (S. 4112, introduced by Senator Murray and others on 6/30/2020). While neither bill is expected to be taken up by the Senate, they will form the starting point for Democrats when bi-partisan negotiations on a new COVID-19 relief package begins [which may occur in advance of the late July expiration of the unemployment benefits in the CARES Act (on July 25th, 26th, or 31st, depending on your state)].
  • US Department of Education documents, www.ed.gov/coronavirus, updated regularly:
    • This home page links to five broad topic pages (e.g., remote learning, resources for learning at home, CARES Act, waivers and flexibility.
    • The last of the five, “Program Information: FAQs and Responses,” is where you will find many of the Department’s COVID-relevant policy documents (beyond the CARES Act), often in the form of non-regulatory guidance, grouped under:
      • Elementary and Secondary Education – including, for example, a fact sheet on providing services to English learners during the pandemic (5/18/20);
      • Higher Education – including, for example, guidance for interruptions of study (various dates), Title IV frequently asked questions (5/19/20 and coronavirus student aid information for students, borrowers, and parents (4/1/20), and OCR guidance on protection of higher education students’ civil rights during the emergency (5/12/20);
      • Special Education and Rehabilitation Services – including, for example, eight new documents addressing a variety of IDEA issues, such as procedural safeguards and fiscal requirements (issued between 6/22 and 7/6/20);
      • Career, Technical and Adult Education;
      • Civil Rights – including, for example, an Office for Civil Rights fact sheet on addressing the risk of COVID-19 in schools while protecting students’ civil rights (3/16/20) and a short OCR webinar on online education and website availability.
  • The Department’s Student Privacy FERPA and Virtual Learning Resources (March 2020) [not found on Department’s Coronavirus site].
  • Families First Coronavirus Act (Public Law 116-127) includes Pandemic-EBT provision allowing states to issue benefits to families with children eligible for school meals if not for COVID-19 school closures.

Resources

Personal Wellbeing & Self-Care

Calendar

Measuring COVID-19 Global Cases (Interactive Map)

(SOURCE: Johns Hopkins University and Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center, copyright 2020, all rights reserved)