Housing Coalition provides Housing Stability Yardstick

With maxed-out rent assistance, Indiana is running out of time to prevent a tsunami of evictions as COVID-19 resurges 

By Andrew Bradley, Jessica Fraser, and Michaela Wischmeier

With nearly maxed-out rental assistance programs, Indiana is running out of time to prevent a tsunami of evictions starting August 1, even as COVID-19 resurges through the state. Self-inflicted funding limits and a lack of statewide coordination between state and city rent assistance programs have set Indiana further back on the timeline needed to advance to higher stages of housing stability. In response, the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition (HHNC) proposes a yardstick to measure the steps necessary to ensure COVID-19 housing stability.

On July 13, the State of Indiana and City of Indianapolis opened their COVID-19 emergency rental assistance programs after weeks of planning. In a little over a week, the state program had received 17,491 applications[1] for a program expected to serve 12,000 households, and the city suspended applications after maxing out the projected capacity of 10,000 households in the first 48 hours. Including the households covered by these two programs, the HHNC estimates that no more than 50,000 households are likely to receive some form of rental assistance from the resources available from various government, faith-based and philanthropic organizations across the state at current capacity.

As a result, over 200,000 Hoosier renter households – of the estimated 258,782 who will need rental assistance before September – will remain subject to eviction and potential homelessness, if Governor Holcomb’s eviction pause expires on July 31 as planned. With Indiana’s early attempts at rent assistance nearly maxed out, thousands of Hoosier renters are at risk of spreading disease and experiencing economic calamity from losing their housing.

To prevent evictions that will cause Indiana to regress in its COVID-19 Back On Track Plan, the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition has developed a ‘yardstick’ to measure four necessary steps for the state to take before Gov. Holcomb should consider lifting the eviction moratorium. The necessary steps include:

1.) Coordinate rent assistance programs to align all available funding streams. This includes stacking state and local funds and incentivizing philanthropic and private participation.

2.) Ensure equitable access to rental assistance program resources. Target outreach to highest cost burden areas and racial communities most impacted by public health, income and job loss, and housing instability.
3.) Appoint an Indiana Housing Security Task Force to advise on funding, outreach, and outcomes with expertise of landlords, impacted renters, public health and housing experts.
4.) Congress should provide adequate support for #RentReliefNow, with Indiana’s Congressional delegation as champions

    The ‘yardstick’ is as follows:

    1.) Coordinate rent assistance programs. The current Indiana COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program provides up to $500 a month for up to four months, but families receiving rent assistance from another program are not eligible to apply. This design disincentives cities and private or philanthropic partners considering creating rent assistance programs of their own, as well as prevents ‘stacking’ local and state.

    The current state program uses $25M in Coronavirus Relief Funds (of $2.4B) and $7.6M in Emergency Solutions Grant funds (of nearly $32M) allocated to the state from the CARES Act. But it leaves over $38M in Community Development Block Grants allocated to the state on the table, using none for rent assistance despite explicit authorization from HUD. funds together to help make families whole on their housing costs to avoid eviction. 

    Before the moratorium is lifted: Statewide coordination is needed to align available funding.
     The state also has not taken HHNC’s recommendations to date to provide coordination of CARES Act resources that could be used for housing stability across the state and local levels. Over a dozen Indiana cities have committed to using CARES Act resources for rent assistance, but the state has created an ‘either/or’ instead of a ‘both/and’ structure. Worse yet, while the U.S. Treasury explicitly allows CRF funds for rent assistance – and both the state and City of Indianapolis used CRF funds to launch their respective rent assistance programs, the state currently does not include rent assistance on the listof reimbursable CRF expenses for local units of government receiving CRF allocations from the state.

    2.) Ensure equitable access to rental assistance program resources. Indiana must ensure that the hardest-hit communities and Hoosiers have been given equitable access to available rent assistance, including through targeted outreach. The HHNC has found that rent assistance is Indiana’s top unmet need even during the eviction moratorium, and that low-income renters and Black and Latino Hoosiers have been most impacted by COVID-19 income loss and housing instability. And while the state has relied on others for outreach, and Indy included community partners for its program that lasted three days,  a coordinated statewide program must include metrics to ensure assistance is properly targeted to low-income renters and Hoosiers of color.

    Before the moratorium is lifted: Rent assistance must reach the top cost-burdened Hoosiers and where Black and Latino households live.

    Across Indiana, 40.4% of white renter households are cost-burdened by housing, meaning they “pay more than 30 percent of their income for housing” and “may have difficulty affording necessities such as food, clothing, transportation, and medical care.”[2] However, 44.5% of Indiana’s Latino households and 51.4% of Black households are cost-burdened.[3] In addition to Marion County, the counties with the highest rates of cost-burdened people of color include Delaware, Vigo, Johnson, Tippecanoe, Brown, Monroe, Allen, Lake, Clark, and Hendricks. For Indiana’s COVID-19 housing stability policy response to be a success, assistance must proportionally reach the most cost-burdened renters and the Black and Latino communities most impacted by the pandemic. 

    To assist with targeting outreach for Indiana and Marion County’s rent assistance programs, the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition has used Census data to identify top housing cost-burdened Census tracts and areas with high proportions of Black and Latino households in the state. A larger database of these Census tracts can be found here. 

    While Indiana has housing cost burden across the entire state, Census data shows that the top 20 most cost-burdened communities in the state [excluding Marion County] have over two-thirds of their population allocating more than 30% of their income for rent each month. At 81%, Delaware County has the most cost-burdened census tract in the state. Geographically, these census tracts are spread across all parts of the state and include rural, suburban, and urban areas. 

    High proportions of Black households live in cost-burdened census tracts in many Indiana counties, including Lake, Marion, St. Joseph, Delaware, LaPorte, and Allen. In addition, large percentages of Latino households also live in cost-burdened Census tracts in many Indiana counties, including Lake, Noble, St. Joseph, Marion, Clinton, and Elkhart.

    Similar to statewide trends, the top 20 cost-burdened census tracts in Marion County all have cost-burden rates of 65% or higher. Marion County has higher rates of racial diversity in its most cost-burdened census tracts, in comparison to the state as a whole. The majority of Marion County’s 20 most cost-burdened tracts have a Black population of 25% or higher, and slightly fewer than half have a Latino population above 10%.

    3.) Appoint an Indiana Housing Security Task Force to advise on funding, outreach, and outcomes with expertise of landlords, impacted renters, public health and housing experts. Indiana’s ability to coordinate resources across funding sources could be significantly improved through a task force that includes elected officials, housing advocates, people of color and other Hoosiers most impacted by COVID-19 housing instability. While a COVID-19 task force already exists, the ‘Economic Relief and Recovery Team’ – appointed by the governor to plan, administer and account for federal relief funds the state of Indiana receives from the CARES Act – does not reflect this level of diversity and has not made housing stability a priority.

    Before the eviction moratorium is lifted: Indiana should take up the HHNC’s recommendation for Governor Holcomb to create an
     Indiana Housing Stability Task Force

    to represent renters, housing providers and investors, and experts in the connections between housing and public health in the decisions about Indiana’s COVID-19 housing policy response. This task force would help ensure that the hardest-hit communities are served as outlined above. Ideally, a representative of the Housing Stability Task Force would serve on the Economic Relief and Recovery Team on any housing-related decisions from this point forward.

     Congress should provide adequate support for #RentReliefNow, with Indiana’s Congressional delegation as champions. Indiana and Indianapolis have made progress in constructing pipelines for emergency rental assistance. And while each program could be expanded somewhat with existing CARES Act resources, the combined capacity is nowhere near the existing need for over a quarter of a million Hoosier households.

      Before the eviction moratorium is lifted: Resources significant enough to provide the rent assistance needed for all ‘severely cost burdened’ (paying over 50% on housing) Hoosier renters to ensure housing stability must be appropriated. Congress must come through with #RentReliefNow, and Indiana’s Congressional delegation should be out front as champions for the hundreds of thousands of Hoosiers relying on them. We urge Indiana’s Senators and Representatives to join HHNC to support $100 billion in emergency rental assistance to help low-income renters avoid evictions and homelessness; a national, uniform moratorium on evictions; $11.5 billion to help local communities address the pressing health and safety needs of people experiencing homelessness; and at least $13 billion in additional funding for HUD and USDA housing programs to ensure housing stability during and after the pandemic, including funds for 100,000 new Housing Choice Vouchers. 

      “With such limited resources in Indiana’s rental assistance programs, it is incumbent upon the State and the cities that are running these programs to target their outreach efforts in the most impacted communities,” said Indiana Institute for Working Families Director Jessica Fraser. “Otherwise, these programs run the risk of widening disparity and not solving it.”

      Jessica Love, Executive Director of Prosperity Indiana, said, “The last thing Indiana needs is for Hoosier families to be evicted and thrown out on the street or couch-surfing during a resurgent pandemic and exacerbating the surge we’re already seeing in COVID-19 cases. We can no longer afford to delay the policy decision to have a COVID-19 Housing Stability Plan in place.”

      Jessica Fraser is Director of the Indiana Institute for Working Families. Andrew Bradley is Policy Director and Michaela Wischmeier is AmeriCorps Member-Fellow for Prosperity Indiana. 

      [1] Indiana has received 17,491 applications to its COVID-19 Rental Assistance Program as of July 21 according to IHCDA.

      [2] Definition of cost burdened renter from https://www.huduser.gov/portal/pdredge/pdr_edge_featd_article_092214.html

      [3] Source: authors’ calculations of ACS 1-Year Estimates - Public Use Microdata Sample 2018 https://data.census.gov/mdat


      About the Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition:

      Hoosier Housing Needs Coalition (HHNC) was formed by members of Indiana’s housing security advocacy community in April 2020 to support advocacy and education related to housing and homelessness prevention in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Staffed by Prosperity Indiana through advocacy and coalition building grants from the National Low Income Housing Coalition and the Central Indiana Community Foundation, HHNC convenes partners from across Indiana to advocate for immediate, medium- and long-term housing stability policy solutions and conduct education and research to achieve federal, state, and local policies for an equitable response and recovery to the pandemic and beyond.

      The HHNC Steering Committee is comprised of members from AARP Indiana, the Coalition for Homelessness Intervention & Prevention (CHIP), Fair Housing Center of Central Indiana, Family Promise of Greater Indianapolis, Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Indiana Institute for Working Families – INCAA, Prosperity Indiana, and The Ross Foundation.

      Wednesday, July 22, 2020

      In Solidarity Toward Racial Justice

      Statement in Solidarity Toward Racial Justice

      We join the country in its pain and outrage over the recent murder of George Floyd, which has led us to mourn anew so many other Black lives lost to police violence and structural racism. All people, regardless of zip code, income, or race, deserve the opportunity to thrive and to contribute to their communities. For individuals like Dreasjon “Sean” Reed, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and many others, the systems that have been in place for hundreds of years in this country have created a reality where these crimes are not only far too common but they pass by with far too little accountability. We stand in solidarity with the many Americans who have stepped forward these past few days and declared their commitment to racial justice.

      Violence against Black Americans is part of the structural racism plaguing this nation. Severe economic disparities are yet another symptom of it. For example, Black Hoosiers were more likely pushed out of employment during the recession and recovery, and Black workers are twice as likely to be low-income (54.2%) than their white counterparts (26.7%) because they are more likely to be working in low-paying occupations. Our Black neighbors are less likely to earn paid time off and more likely to experience the death of their baby before that baby’s first birthday.

      Our society can and must do better.  Our leaders need to make concerted and honest efforts to tear down racist institutions and rebuild new ones that are informed by the communities most impacted by disparities. Clearly, they should ensure that ALL Americans can feel safe and protected by our law enforcement organizations. But we must go much further to co-create a more equitable and just economy and society for Black Americans in wealth, education, housing, health outcomes, and beyond.

      While, as an institution, the Institute for Working Families strives to build a society of broad-based prosperity, we can and will keep pushing ourselves to understand our history, improve our processes, and advance anti-racist public policy. We will recruit, seek counsel from, and deeply engage with members of impacted communities to learn from them and to co-create policy solutions with them. We will disaggregate data to the fullest extent possible to help inform policymakers and the public of how communities of color and Black Hoosiers in particular are impacted by these inequalities. Recognizing that Black Hoosier women experience the highest degree of disparities in many areas of their lives, we will center Black women in policy development. We urge you to hold us accountable to these pledges, and to join us as we move forward. 

      In solidarity,
      The Indiana Institute for Working Families team,
      Jessica, Erin, Amy, Tia, Lauren, and Pamela

      To learn more about the policy changes needed to protect Black lives and dismantle systemic racial inequities, explore the resources below:

      ·       Campaign Zero provides research on evidence-based policy solutions to end police violence including community oversight, independent investigations and limiting the use of force.
      ·       The national NAACP demands justice for recent killings and the passage of criminal justice, economic, health and voting policies needed to protect Black lives.   Find Indiana's local NAACP units here.
      ·       The Center on Budget and Policy Priorities lays out three principles to guide a racially equitable policy response to COVID-19, which is disproportionately killing and harming Black Americans.
      ·       Read up on racial equity with this suggested reading list

      Wednesday, June 3, 2020

      Let's Celebrate & Expand Families First Paid Leave

      Let's Celebrate & Expand Families First Paid Leave

      Family comes first. At least, we often say that it does. But our policymakers' choices have created an economy full of low-quality jobs and a threadbare social safety net that make being there for family extremely difficult. In fact, it took a pandemic for lawmakers to finally take a historic step toward honoring our "families first" values: Congress finally put a paid leave law on the books. 

      While some Indiana legislators have pushed to create paid leave programs or, at the very least, minimal paid sick day standards for employers, our legislative leaders have refused year after year to even study the issue. When COVID-19 hit Indiana, four in five workers had no paid family leave through their job and about one million Hoosier workers could not earn a single paid sick day. The advice to “stay home when sick” and school closure announcements left these families with incredibly difficult choices.

      Fortunately, Congress stepped up to the plate. The Families First Coronavirus Response Act granted many workers two weeks of emergency paid sick leave and up to ten weeks of emergency paid family leave for school or child care closures. Enacting a paid leave standard – even a limited one – marked a historic moment. For the first time, the United States joins nearly every other country in the world in having a national paid leave policy. For at least some people in the United States, taking time off when sick or when a family member needs care no longer costs a paycheck – at least for now.

      However, loopholes cut many workers out, including health care workers, essential workers, and employees of businesses with over five hundred employees. In Indiana, that last carve-out alone cuts out an estimated 1.5 million Hoosiers who work for larger employers like big box retailers and chain restaurants. Furthermore, it is absurd to think that the people who are working to keep us healthy and safe on the frontlines in ERs or other health care facilities cannot call in sick themselves. Plus, the provisions are temporary.

      As we start to reopen, it is critical to close these loopholes. Congress must expand paid leave for workers, especially those who are likely to come into contact with many members the public. If Congress will not act, we echo the calls from elected officials like House Leader GiaQuinta and partners like Faith in Indiana who are asking Governor Holcomb to provide emergency paid leave for these workers, as other governors have done. 

      Even before this crisis, evidence showed that paid leave protects public health, keeps people attached to their jobs, and makes workplaces safer. It is unfortunate that it took a pandemic for policymakers to enact a paid leave law that covered (at least some) Hoosier workers. We celebrate and welcome the step forward we have taken as a nation in providing this paid leave standard. We cannot stop here. Paid leave will allow us to put families first and protect our health in this crisis, especially as we reopen and get back to work - and it must be accessible to all.  


      ->Ask Governor Holcomb to provide paid leave for workers who were left out of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act.  

      ->Senator Randolph and Representative Campbell both filed paid leave bills in Indiana in the 2020 legislative session. Can you send them a quick thank you note to encourage them to keep fighting for paid leave?
           --Senator Randolph: s2@iga.in.gov
           --Representative Campbell: h26@iga.in.gov

      Thursday, May 28, 2020

      The CFPB Complaint Database Can Help Protect Hoosier Consumers

      The CFPB Complaint Database Can Help Protect Hoosier Consumers:

      Top Complaint Areas Signal Areas in Need of Intervention

      As the economic fallout from COVID-19 mounts and Hoosier families scramble to mitigate the damage, consumer complaints can play an important role in pointing to areas of economic distress. Fortunately, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, established in the wake of the last financial crisis, provides both an avenue for recourse when consumers struggle with financial products and services as well as  a source of data to illuminate patterns. Our policymakers and leaders need to pay attention to these trends so they can think ahead about the potential long-term impact of this crisis and put measures in place to protect consumers.
      Between March 15th of 2020 and April 15th of 2020, Hoosiers filed approximately 200 complaints with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The complaint data signals a potential rising tide of economic woes. Narratives related to debt collection and consumer efforts to negotiate payments plans in the wake of COVID-19 fallout suggest that not all creditors and collectors are making an effort to work with borrowers. One Hoosier borrower wrote, I have attempted to settle and close this account three times, and [the credit card company] refused twice…even though now in the coronavirus climate my wife lost half her work hours.” Another noted, “I requested…based on the coronavirus epidemic, that this company allow me to pay my debt to them electronically as opposed to sending cash…which requires me to physically go to a banking location, withdraw funds, and then take those funds to a XXXX location to send my payment, thus exposing me multiple times to potential illness….My bank provided a letter to them stating my account was open and in good standing; however, the company continues to deny me any other option for payment.” The March-April complaint data shows that 7% of complaints relate to “struggling to pay” a mortgage or other loan – a number that will likely be worth watching in the coming months.

      Breaking down these complaints by product type, it is clear that credit reporting and repair is still far and away the leading source of headaches among consumers who filed a complaint, with incorrect information on a credit report the top reason for these complaints. This is troubling, as these reports and scores have far-reaching implications for Hoosiers’ lives: they not only factor into who can get a loan and on what terms, but they also affect insurance coverage and costs, job opportunities, housing, and other essential services. Before the crisis, an estimated one in four unemployed adults reported going through a credit check when applying for a job, and one in ten reported that information on their credit report led to them being denied a job opportunity. Similarly, many landlords run credit checks when evaluating prospective tenants. Insurance companies also use credit report data to determine how likely an individual is to make a claim and set premiums accordingly. Credit reports end up being a gatekeeper for opportunity. 

      Potentially compounding the problem, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau recently issued guidance relaxing expectations for credit reporting agencies, the private entities that collect and use data from creditors to rate consumers’ “creditworthiness.” According to the guidance, credit reporting companies will not be expected to follow requirements and timelines for resolving disputes about credit reports. If the Bureau were truly responding to its data and looking out for consumers, it would hold these entities to higher standards, particularly given the importance of credit reports and scores as individuals strive to rebuild their lives. In the absence of leadership from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, we need to see Congressional action to direct creditors and credit reporting agencies to shield Hoosiers from damage. The legislation introduced by Senators Sherrod Brown and Brian Schatz to require a four-month moratorium on all adverse credit reporting would be an excellent place to start.
      There’s at least one source of positivity in all the negative – complaining to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau appears to be producing results for consumers, at least in some cases. One Hoosier wrote in, “After receiving no response to our letters disputing charges to our account stemming from a fraudulent charge, we filed a complaint with CFPB. As a result of this complaint…[a letter from the company said] they were removing the late fees and charges that they had added to our credit card account as a result of a fraudulent charge.” The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau notes that 97%of complaints filed - which are then forwarded on to the company - receive a timely response.
      As the crisis continues, we will need responsive government agencies and thoughtful policymaking to ensure that Hoosiers can recover and rebuild. Data – including complaint data from consumers – can provide useful signals to indicate where attention is needed. Hoosiers should continue to use the complaint database, and policymakers and leaders should pay attention.

      Do you have a complaint about a financial product or service? File it with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau here.

      Additional Resources:

      Thursday, May 7, 2020

      Indiana Should Support Healthcare Coverage Navigators

      Covering Kids and Families of Indiana Programs Need Support to Help Hoosiers Connect to Healthcare Coverage 

      by Susan Jo Thomas and Ed Gerardot 

      Hoosiers need healthcare coverage to get healthy and stay healthy throughout this crisis and beyond. Although Congress made testing and treatment for coronavirus (COVID-19) free for all who need it, regular access to healthcare mitigates many of the risk factors associated with the current pandemic and also insulates against future health concerns and other outbreaks. At the same time, while we are experiencing limited non-emergency access to care due to COVID-19, those with coverage can still access primary health, mental health, and preventative care through telemedicine services and other options.  Those without coverage find their options to be much more limited and, in some cases, effectively non-existent. In short, coverage matters.

      Prior to the current crisis, approximately 545,000 Hoosiers lacked healthcare coverage – about one in twelve. Unfortunately, the fallout from this pandemic is adding significantly to our rolls of uninsured Hoosiers. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that over 200,000 of the jobs lost in Indiana were jobs that provided employer-sponsored health coverage. This means we need healthcare coverage navigators – individuals who are trained to provide free, unbiased assistance to Hoosiers as they explore their options and apply for coverage. It is critical to get these newly uninsured Hoosiers linked with coverage as soon as possible.  

      Agencies that provide navigation services through the Covering Kids & Families program are grappling with how to raise local dollars to support this work. With so much need, there is simply not enough local funding available to meet every call for aid and while federal relief dollars are coming in, it is not allowable to use those funds for match. The good news is that the state can play a role in providing the funds.

      An investment of just $1 million in state resources would keep CKF navigators working throughout Indiana for the rest of the year. Indiana could fund this by potentially tapping into the rainy-day fund or other available state funding reserves. Organizations that provide navigator services – including Community Action Agencies – want to increase their reach and availability to meet the needs of our struggling Hoosiers, including, most importantly, those who are newly uninsured and have no experience or knowledge of accessing public health coverage. Most Hoosiers would agree that the middle of a public health crisis is the worst possible moment to reduce or lose trained healthcare coverage navigators who live and work in the hardest hit communities. It is well documented that the cost of Hoosiers living without healthcare coverage will lead to more financially and physically costly outcomes.

      Indiana should invest now in the established infrastructure to aid Hoosiers through this crisis and to emerge a stronger, healthier and even more resilient Indiana.

      Other recommended policies:
      •  Allow virtual signatures allowing for navigators to become authorized representative for the purpose of aiding Hoosiers in attaining healthcare coverage.
      • Implement continuous eligibility for all Indiana Health Coverage Programs, inclusive of Medicaid, HIP, CHIP and Hoosier Healthwise, for one year either beginning April 1, 2020 or their initial date of coverage, whichever is later.
      • Provide blanket approval, with provider credentials, for all eligible sites to operate as Presumptive Eligibility Qualified Providers.
      • Provide support and training so uninsured Hoosiers can access the presumptive eligibility process in nontraditional sites, providing more paths to an immediate level of coverage. Consider authorizing community agencies, such as Community Action Programs, to act as Presumptive Eligibility Qualified Providers in order to further expand access to coverage.
      • Call on the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to open a Marketplace Special Enrollment Period from April 1, 2020 - December 31, 2020. A Special Enrollment Period would afford Hoosiers access to comprehensive health coverage that they may not have already. Additionally, request enhanced Marketplace subsidies to mitigate premium payments and lessen the up-front financial burden of coverage.

      About Community Action and Covering Kids and Families of Indiana: 

      For more than 50 years, Community Action Agencies have served families in Indiana who need help from their communities. Year after year, and particularly in times of crisis these agencies provide a myriad of services to low-income families including head start, weatherization, energy assistance, and health care coverage support services. 

      For over 20 years, Covering Kids and Families of Indiana has helped Hoosiers apply for and understand healthcare coverage such as the Healthy Indiana Plan (HIP), Hoosier Healthwise, Medicaid and Marketplace plans.  This is accomplished through a network of Certified Indiana Navigators employed through partner organizations across the state. Represented among these partner organizations are Federally Qualified Health Centers, Area Agencies on Aging and 10 Community Action Programs.

      Thursday, April 30, 2020

      Addiction & Our Three Policy Challenges

      By Tia Washum

      Tia Washum is a Grassroots Maternal Child Health Leader and a policy fellow at Indiana Institute for Working Families. 

      Over the next six months, I will be working with the Indiana Institute for Working Families staff to help transform community needs at the intersection of maternal/ child health and economic security into actionable, evidence-based policy recommendations that are focused on the well-being of mothers and their families.

      When you think about community compassion, what comes to mind? Do you think of a Kumbaya song, or wanting to help your fellow man, woman, or child, or just making a difference in someone’s life? I am passionate about service to others and how I can help to enhance their lives. But what touches and tugs my heart the most are women and children. Women are the resource of our communities and our children are the foundation of life. I’m speaking out today to bring some awareness about the current concerns in our community and people that are affected, especially mothers and children.

      Let me ask you something:

          Right now in your own life, what are you doing to escape your daily stressors?
      ·       What were you doing at eight years old?

      ·       Were you being abused as a child?

      ·       Were your parents alcoholic or addicts?

      ·       Were you sexually assaulted?

      ·       Were you escaping trauma and abuse by shooting up heroin?

      The fact is that we all face stressors and we all do something to escape. What is your coping strategy when you have been faced with one of these stressors? Do you use a substance or act out to cover up the pain on the inside? This may not be your coping mechanism, but this is a reality for some of our fellow residents. Right now, at our own public libraries there are children shooting up heroin. Can you picture that!

      I do outreach in our community with Women In Motion Inc. We provide information and talk to women in our community that are trying to find a way out. Lack of support and information is very challenging for them. There are many women that want to be good mothers to their children. At the same time, they are living a journey of escape from the harsh reality that leads them to self-medicate. They do not get the quality of care needed to protect themselves and their babies. This needs to change.

      Our first policy challenge is to make sure these individuals get support. They need effective aid that connects them to healthcare and treatment. This lack of care may not be killing them physically, but it is killing any possible healthy connection that can help them be part of our community. While some of us have connections that can build and educate our communities, others do not. They need support free from the social stigma of labels like ‘addict’ or ‘alcoholic.’ We need to help improve the quality of life for those seeking recovery.

      Our second policy challenge is to recognize that our crisis is not all about opioids. We still have mothers and children that are addicted to other drugs – including alcohol, crack, and meth - that are in our communities. We as a community should try to meet and respond to ALL addiction challenges, not just the one that is in the public eye for a moment. Unseen addictions have a deadly grip on our community as a whole.

      Our third challenge is to provide hope by making economic security and affordable housing possible. This is an important part of the solution, because deprivation is part of the harsh reality that people are escaping from. Hope means fostering self-help skills with mutual support in an environment that is non-judgmental. It means connecting individuals with the health care and social services that they have a right to and deserve.

      I am speaking out to bring some awareness about addiction in our communities and the people who are affected – especially mothers and children. I plan to use my time at the Institute to develop and advocate for solutions to the challenges we are facing. These challenges are urgent because families and communities are struggling. At this moment, some mother is under the influence of some drug and she is bringing life into this world. We as a community have a moral responsibility to give hope, guidance, and non-judgmental support to that mother and her child. I look forward to playing a positive role in bringing about the needed change.

      Monday, April 27, 2020

      Use Interim Study to Build a Better Indiana

      When families are financially stable, they can achieve their full potential and better contribute to their communities. Policy plays an important role in contributing to families' economic well-being. Now more than ever, Hoosiers understand the consequences of financial instability and the need for thoughtful policy approaches that create a sturdier base of support on which to build our economic lives.

      Signs of deterioration were evident before the crisis. At the turn of the 21st century, Indiana stood as a leader in the Midwest, ranking at least average or better than the region as a whole in family incomes, poverty, prime age employment rates, union coverage, and more. But after 2004, wages began to decline alongside policy choices that cut job quality standards and worker voice, weakened the safety net, and limited economic opportunities for middle- and low-income families. The lasting damage has left scars on working families that are being exposed in this crisis.

      As our legislators consider interim study topics, we need them to prioritize policymaking that rebuilds Indiana’s foundation stronger and better. To that end, we recommended the following strategies and topics for assignment to interim committees:

      ·       Increase job quality. Essential workers continue to treat patients, stock shelves, and care for children. When the economy reopens, those who were sidelined will seek out ways to rebuild their financial lives. It is imperative that they do so in jobs and workplace environments that support their health.

      o   We asked that study of reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers (SB 342) be assigned to the Interim Study Committee on Public Health, Behavioral Health, and Human Services. Twenty-nine states have now provided a clear, affirmative right to reasonable accommodations for pregnant workers, with two new states passing such laws in the spring of 2020. These state laws fill a gap in existing federal law and allow pregnant women to continue working and maintain a healthy pregnancy. Without these protections, women who are financially vulnerable report that they continue working without accommodations or are afraid to ask. In short, they are putting their health at risk.

      o   We asked that study of paid employee leave (SB 34) be assigned to the Interim Study Committee on Public Health, Behavioral Health, and Human Services. The COVID-19 crisis exposed just how essential it is for workers to have paid leave; it prevents impossible choices between going to work sick or losing a paycheck. Other states have created paid leave programs to take the burden of providing wage replacement off businesses’ shoulders, and Indiana should explore this as well. Paid leave has innumerable benefits to public health, including decreased infant mortality, increased vaccination rates and well child visits, decreased re-hospitalizations, and more. Our report, Paid Family and Medical Leave: Policy Analysis and Recommendations for Indiana, highlights many of these benefits and the structure of others states’ programs.

      ·       Encourage savings and responsible lending. Too many Hoosiers entered this crisis with limited to no savings and an overwhelming amount of debt. As our policy brief  on debt collection notes, nearly one in three Hoosiers had a debt in collections prior to the public health emergency. These included medical bills and high student loan balances, as well as car loans and credit card debt. Meanwhile, as access to defined benefit plans has declined and individuals are on their own to prepare for retirement, the number of Hoosiers unprepared or underprepared for retirement should raise red flags about the structure of existing systems.

      o   We asked that the topic of consumer credit (SB 395) be assigned to the Interim Committee on Financial Institutions and Insurance. Since 2002, when Indiana created a carve out to the state’s loansharking law for payday lenders, modifications to the consumer credit code have facilitated predatory lending. Our report, Financial Drain: Payday Lenders Extract Millions from Hoosier Communities suggests that these loans are made in communities that can least afford them, and result in a pipeline of money out of our communities and our state. It is imperative that Indiana revisit its consumer credit code and re-establish usury laws that encourage responsible lending.

      o   We asked that the topic of private sector retirement savings programs (SB 92) be assigned to the Interim Committee on Financial Institutions and Insurance. Making savings automatic – or, at least, easy – increases the likelihood and amount that people save. Given the importance of retirement savings in the absence of defined benefit plans, we encourage the study of mechanisms to promote access to defined contribution plans.

      ·       Increase access to stable, affordable housing. Safe, stable housing is a cornerstone of strong families and strong communities. It facilitates success in work and education and promotes public health. Here again, Hoosiers struggle. Indiana has several cities at the top of the charts for evictions and homeownership is out of reach for too many families.

      o   We asked that the topic of incentives for affordable housing (SB 123) be assigned to the Interim Committee on Fiscal Policy.

      There is certainly a great deal more that could be tackled. However, these topics - all recommended during the 2020 legislative session - would yield strong public policy suggestions that could put Hoosiers on a more stable financial footing as they rebuild following the current crisis. 

      Wednesday, April 22, 2020

      COVID-19's Impact on Access to Justice

      "Justice only for those who can afford it is not justice for all.
      In fact, it is not justice at all.” 
      Loretta H. Rush, Chief Justice of Indiana 

      By Pamela Guerrero

      The civil legal aid movement in the United States got its start in the mid-nineteenth century when a civic group of German-Americans in New York City began providing legal help to new immigrants. Legal aid groups, often affiliated with bar associations, developed in major cities around the U.S. including Indianapolis, where the Indianapolis Legal Aid Society started in the early 1920s. Civil legal aid programs developed much faster starting in the 1960s, when the federal government began to fund civil legal aid as part of the War on Poverty, led by President Lyndon Johnson. Pilot projects began across the country, and in 1974, Congress created the Legal Services Corporation, which now provides funding to civil legal aid programs that provide services in every county in the United States and several territories.

      Over the years, cases brought by civil legal aid programs have achieved many legal victories, establishing rights for tenants, welfare recipients, consumers, and other low-income Americans. From time to time, there have been political fights about funding civil legal aid, and federal funding now comes with considerable restrictions. In the current political climate, there is bipartisan support for civil legal aid, and Congress has provided more than $400 million in funding in the current federal fiscal year.

      However, this funding is insufficient for Indiana legal aid providers to serve low-income Hoosiers seeking legal aid. Prior to the public health emergency, 1.15 million Hoosiers lived below 150 percent of the federal poverty line. In a typical year (without the effects of COVID-19), four out of five low-income families experience at least one civil legal problem—this averages out to more than 765,000 legal problems that low-income Hoosiers face in a year. These challenges – and the need for legal counsel – are likely to grow exponentially during this crisis.

      Yet a 2019 study published by Indiana University Public Policy Institute found that the current legal aid system in Indiana was unable to meet the need before the crisis; it estimated that 30 percent of the cases for which households sought assistance - and 96 percent of the nearly 800,000 civil legal problems of low-income households faced - were not served at all by the Indiana legal aid system. The top three legal areas in which unrepresented parties often appear are family issues (73.9 percent), consumer and finance issues (64.4 percent) and rental housing (52.0 percent). Legal aid providers listed insufficient resources as the primary reason for turning down cases.

      The 2019 study also found that needs were increasing prior to the crisis. Relying on a 2018 survey of legal aid providers, the study found that providers observed an increase in need for services in the areas of expungement, rental housing, family law, and consumer and finance issues. Additionally, nearly nine in ten legal aid providers anticipated that demand for legal aid services will greatly increase in 2019 and 2020 - and this projection does not take into consideration the aftereffects of COVID-19.

      It is not surprising, then, that 93.8 percent of legal aid provider surveyed believe that if the current level of financial support remained unchanged, they would not be able to fully meet low-income Hoosiers' needs. Due to insufficient public funding, the study projected they would be unable to fully serve more than a third of those seeking assistance - over 16,884 civil legal problems - which represents nearly half of all problems presented to the legal system. In other words, Indiana legal aid programs already struggle to meet the demand for legal services, and without a substantial increase in financial support, it is likely that many more Hoosiers will face civil legal challenges unrepresented after the COVID-19 crisis. 

      Given the complexity of civil matters, unrepresented parties receive worse outcomes than people who do receive legal aid. The 2019 IU Public Policy Institute study reports that unrepresented parties were never or rarely successful in legal issues and reported a fail rate in 65.9 percent of disability cases, 57.6 percent of employment matters, 57.6 percent of veterans' affairs, and 49.4 percent of medical services. In addition, the U.S Department of Justice also reports that having access to civil legal aid can significantly change the outcome of cases. A randomized control trial in housing eviction cases found that 51 percent of tenants without legal representation lost their home compared to 21 percent of tenants with legal representation lost possession of the rental house. Representation matters.

      Beyond better outcomes for low-income Hoosiers, legal representation also reduces the burden on our courts and on taxpayers. Indiana courts carry the burden of unrepresented parties; courts report expending additional time and assistance to unrepresented parties. The deficiency of legal representation leads to case-progression to be delayed and to more contested hearings. The extra time these cases take increases public expenditures and represents a mismanagement of taxpayers' dollars.

      While more help is needed, there are entities working to increase access to legal counsel. In 2016, the Indiana Supreme Court created the Coalition for Court Access to improve access to Indiana’s civil justice system for Hoosiers with limited financial resources. The Coalition for Court Access coordinates all Supreme Court-related programs designed to provide and improve the availability and quality of civil legal aid to low-income Hoosiers. The Coalition is composed of judges, law school representatives, civil legal aid and pro bono providers, and members of the Indiana State Bar Association. These organizations and individuals work together across the State to close the justice gap by providing legal aid. Currently, one in three civil legal problems for which low-income households seek assistance is fully served. In 2017, Indiana’s legal aid system closed 24,000 cases. Ensuring access to legal aid improves outcomes for those who need it and it can save public dollars in the long term.

      The Indiana Civil Rights Commission (ICRC) is another important entity that provides Hoosiers with access to justice. The ICRC aids individuals in filing complaints without representation while guiding clients through the process. The Indiana Civil Rights Commission enforces Indiana’s civil rights laws, working to ensure equal opportunity for all people regardless of race, color, national origin, ancestry, religion, sex, familial status, disability, or veteran status. The Indiana Civil Rights Commission protects people against acts of unlawful discrimination in the realms of housing, employment, public accommodations, education, and financial credit. There is no fee for these services, and anyone may file a complaint. The Commission investigates the discriminatory cases and determines if there is substantial evidence or no evidence of discrimination. The Indiana Civil Rights Commission also offers mediation for both sides involved in a discrimination case to resolve their dispute without having to go to court or waiting for the discrimination investigation to finish. To participate in mediation, both parties must agree to the neutral and impartial mediator’s assistance in reaching agreements. However, the Indiana Civil Rights Commission is required to attempt conciliation after it finds substantial evidence of discrimination. If no compromise is reached, the case moves forward to the civil legal system, and an ICRC attorney is assigned to the case.

      The Indiana Institute for Working Families understands the importance of access to legal counsel. While organizations in our state are working to close the justice gap, they cannot do it alone. Substantial funding increases are needed to provide sufficient legal aid to many low-income Hoosiers, especially as COVID-19 is likely to increase need as people encounter new issues with areas like consumer and finance, rental housing, and family law.

      Congress should include increased support for legal aid in the next round of COVID-19 recovery packages. We encourage you to support access to justice right now by asking your members of Congress to support legal aid funding and clicking here to donate to Indiana Legal Services or another local legal aid provider!


      We have put together a list of legal services that are available across the state with the hope that this information will reach Hoosiers in need and enable them to seek support in these complicated and stressful matters. Legal aid is available for lower-income households in the areas of family law, consumer law, senior law, discrimination, housing, public benefits, immigration, criminal, and general civil, juvenile, domestic violence, and other issues.

      These websites can also help Hoosiers find free legal advice and lawyers in their areas.

      Our gratitude to Jon Laramore of Indiana Legal Services for providing information on the history of legal aid for this blog post.

      Friday, April 17, 2020


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