This decision is wonderful news for Charlotte Center of Legal Advocacy and the people it serves as the ACA has helped make health care accessible to millions of uninsured Americans since 2010.
More than 31 million Americans rely on the ACA for affordable coverage that provides free preventive care, protection for pre-existing conditions and a ban on lifetime caps for insurance benefits, along with the peace of mind that comes with being insured.
Access to health care is essential for all people as efforts to fight the COVID-19 pandemic continue. This decision ensures that access without disrupting our healthcare system at a time when care is needed most.
For those who have coverage through the ACA, this decision does not change current plans. Those who are uninsured or interested in changing their health plan can still sign up for 2021 coverage through August 15 using the Special Open Enrollment Period. Financial assistance to pay for coverage is still available.
The Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s health insurance navigators provide free, unbiased assistance to anyone who needs help signing up for coverage or understanding their options. For more information, visit charlottelegaladvocacy.org/getcovered.
Responding to Crisis: Marking One Year of COVID-19
Last March, few imagined that our community would still be grappling with the coronavirus pandemic a year later.
In many ways it seems the pandemic is nearing an end after this year of hardship and loss: vaccines for the virus are increasingly available, and cases have dropped to a point where North Carolina is easing activity restrictions.
But we are only just beginning to understand the extent to which this virus has driven our neighbors to the margins of safety, economic security and family stability, laying bare the extreme inequities that have long existed in our community.
Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy has spent the last year fighting for our community’s most vulnerable residents as COVID-19 upended daily life.
As we pass this milestone, we take stock of just how much we’ve fought to advance our mission of pursuing justice this past year.
It’s work we do every day and have always done in our 50+ years of service. But COVID-19 has cast a glaring spotlight on the importance of our mission.
Pursuing justice: It’s fairness under the law. It’s equal access. It’s meeting basic needs. And it’s making sure our neighbors are equipped to endure any crisis life throws their way, including a global pandemic.
Today and every day, we continue this hard, necessary work until our community is a stronger, more just and equitable place for ALL.
Over the past year we:
Addressed immediate issues related to agency closures in our local Department of Social Services (DSS), allowing for remote application for benefits and limiting terminations and state unemployment insurance systems to tackle issues stalling federal unemployment benefits.
Prevented illegal evictions and kept vulnerable populations safely housed.
Responded to critical needs for protective orders and intervention due to a sharp increase in domestic violence incidents while our courts were operating on a limited capacity.
Monitored the changes in Medicaid, food stamps and other assistance programs to ensure coverage is not disrupted for those who need them in our community.
Advocated for language and technological access on administrative applications for health, food and income benefits to ensure all who were entitled to assistance could receive it.
Assisted people who have lost their jobs and/or health insurance navigate Affordable Care Act health coverage options and Special Enrollment Periods (SEPs).
Ensured members of our community are not falling victim to COVID-19 related scams and losing their income.
Helped immigrant families understand the unique ways the pandemic impacts employment, housing, public resources, ICE activity and immigration courts.
Read on to learn more about the need for our services and our impact over the past year.
Meeting Exacerbated Needs
Days after the first cases were reported, we shifted to remote operations, equipping staff to continue our work as the need for help grew exponentially.
For our neighbors living on economic and health margins, the pandemic has further exacerbated their instability in extreme ways.
The need for our services before the pandemic:
More than two thirds of low-income households were experiencing at least one civil legal problem that significantly impacted daily life. These rates are much higher for survivors of domestic violence, immigrants, veterans, families, and parents of children with disabilities.
In Mecklenburg County, poverty, segregation, and income inequality have pushed residents to the sidelines, concentrating distress in family stability and fortifying barriers to economic opportunity.
Children born into poor families in Mecklenburg County are among the least likely in the U.S. to escape poverty.
Public agencies closed and delayed services just as newly unemployed individuals found themselves trying to piece together a semblance of stability navigating administrative and public benefits systems for the first time.
Those already depending on these systems (people with disabilities, children, seniors, veterans and their families) were desperate to prevent the illness, hunger and homelessness that could result from losing Medicaid, Food Stamps, Social Security, Supplemental Security Income (SSI) or other benefits.
The combined effects of racial, gender, ethnic, and other forms of bias create multiple barriers for people of color and women as they navigate institutions where entrenched disparities remain the status quo.
This clear intersectionality has yielded disproportionately negative impacts for people of color and women during the pandemic. Because of this reality, we have continued to identify and address systemic racism while fighting to ensure equal access to assistance.
When Mecklenburg County’s Department of Social Services (DSS) closed its offices to the public on March 18 with little notice, we fought to make sure our neighbors could still get benefits and services guaranteed to them under the law.
We made DSS agree to:
honor the date of phone calls as date of application for applicants to ensure they receive the maximum amounts of benefits allowed;
not terminate benefits for missed deadlines; and
allow late appeals, and to post clear signage in front of their buildings outlining this information.
The closure sent applicants to the agency’s call center which meant longer wait times for help.
We made sure people understood their eligibility for public benefits, helped them apply and navigate confusing administrative systems, all while ensuring their rights were protected. When programs and services changed, we kept the community informed.
We continue to advocate for extensions and flexibilities that are favorable to beneficiaries, while serving as a watchdog to ensure those policies are appropriately enforced and accessible to applicants of all backgrounds.
‘Things are smoother now.’
Like many of our neighbors, Melody was already struggling when COVID-19 turned her life upside down. We assisted her with various legal needs last year. Recently, we checked in to see how things are going for her and her family one year into the pandemic.
When someone contacts Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy for help, they are often struggling to stay afloat in a storm of crisis.
They have a big problem impacting their life but do not know how to fix it. Their problem is a symptom of various unmet legal needs that need to be addressed comprehensively to put that person on a better path.
As the primary financial support and caregiver for her family, she was trying to keep up with medical bills and fighting to keep her home as she faced foreclosure for unpaid property taxes from the mid-2000s left over from her parents’ estate.
The Advocacy Center had helped her negotiate a payment plan with the county that included forgiveness of a substantial portion of the debt.
“When the pandemic hit, I lost my job,” Melody says. “I was devastated. I thought, ‘How am I going to make those payments?’”
Melody is used to being the one helping others. But when it came to piecing together the support her family needed to remain stable, she could not do it alone.
Again, she called the Advocacy Center. We connected her with Legal Aid of North Carolina-Charlotte to help her get expanded unemployment benefits under the CARES Act to support her family.
“I’ve worked all my life and never needed any benefits,” Melody says. “I didn’t really know how that stuff went.”
As part of our work, we learned that Melody’s sister, Wendy’s social security benefits had been terminated despite her disability. The Advocacy Center stepped back in to ensure she was receiving the benefits she was entitled to.
We also helped Wendy apply for food stamps to help their family through this crisis. Melody would soon turn 65, so we also ensured everything was prepared for her to receive Medicare in a few short months.
We checked in with Melody recently to see how things are going for her and her family one year into the pandemic.
It’s been hard.
She’s lost eight family members to COVID-19. In addition to not being able to physically mourn with her loved ones, she’s missed the big family get togethers held every year—egg hunts at Easter and a family reunion in September.
Melody says one thing she’s learned through her experience is “it’s okay to ask for help and it’s okay to not be okay.”
She compares the past year to sailing through a storm and credits the staff at the Advocacy Center for guiding her to calmer waters.
“Just knowing I had them there, I was able to stay in my boat,” she says. “Things are smoother now.”
Despite the past year, she says she is still looking for the silver lining in everything.
She hopes to return to her job whipping up the daily special at Showmars in the City of Charlotte Government Center, where she had worked for 22 years. And she dreams of one day owning her own food truck.
In the meantime, she’s glad to have her health, her family cared for and a place to call if she needs help.
She smiles every time she drives by the Advocacy Center and Legal Aid office on Elizabeth Avenue.
“Look at how much work the people in that teeny little building do!” Melody says. “The work they do, it’s needed. Because sometimes people just need a helping hand. It’s been a blessing.”
Melody, we’re glad we could help. Call us if you need anything.
Before the pandemic, about 12 percent of Mecklenburg residents, including children, were considered food insecure according to Feeding America. The ongoing economic fallout has swollen that number to almost 16 percent who are on the brink of hunger.
In the last year, our staff assisted 371 people and their families with issues accessing food stamps (SNAP benefits), making sure they could successfully get the assistance they needed to remain stable and understood their eligibility for SNAP and other public benefits.
North Carolina was among the earliest adopters of Pandemic EBT (PEBT), which provides food support for families with children eligible for free or reduced-price meals while schools were closed. Though N.C. took many positive steps in creating this program, there have been hurdles and confusion in the implementation. We have been working closely with clients, partner organizations, and the state to monitor issues on the ground and communicate them to N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to ensure the program works efficiently and families receive these critical benefits quickly.
Before the pandemic, one in six Americans had a civil legal problem that negatively impacted their health. We knew that unmet legal needs related to COVID-19 would dramatically worsen health outcomes.
Thirteen percent of Mecklenburg residents don’t have health coverage. More than 500,000 low-income people in N.C. have no options to get health care because they earn too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to receive financial assistance for health insurance.
COVID-19 forced frontline workers to weigh the risks of working to keep their families stable with the chance of falling critically ill and needing to seek medical care they couldn’t afford. Others lost health insurance benefits with their jobs at a time when access to health care mattered most.
Many who lost their jobs due to COVID-19 did not realize they had the option to apply for health care coverage through a Healthcare Insurance Marketplace Special Enrollment Period (SEP) 60 days after losing coverage. Consequently, many went without it due to their inability to afford private insurance.
Johanna Parra, coordinator of the Advocacy Center’s Health Insurance Navigator Project, was among the first in the nation to discover another option for those who were desperate to get coverage and have peace of mind knowing they could get care if they needed it.
Because all 50 states were under the COVID-19 pandemic national emergency declaration, eligible individuals could apply for coverage through the Affordable Care Act’s Health Insurance Marketplace, also referred to as “Obamacare,” for a Special Enrollment Period through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA SEP).
Fighting for Equal Access
As soon as Congress passed the CARES Act to provide economic support and COVID-19 relief, there was confusion around the benefits included in the package.
Understanding the CARES Act and COVID Relief: Stimulus Payments and Unemployment Benefits
Families desperate for financial support needed help making sure they received stimulus checks (Economic Impact Payments) issued by the federal government.
Who was eligible? How would payments be distributed? What if payments didn’t arrive?
We answered these questions and more for our clients and the community to ensure everyone eligible for a payment could receive it.
Staff are now helping people address missing stimulus checks and other issues related to the CARES Act as people try to prepare their 2020 tax returns at a time when collection activities and massive job losses strain taxpayers. We are working to resolve these issues and push the IRS to offer specific remedies for various issues related to stimulus checks.
We are also working closely with clients and partner organizations to ensure the latest COVID-19 stimulus opportunities from the American Rescue Plan are understood and correctly received.
By May of last year, more than one million North Carolinians had applied for unemployment insurance benefits. The volume of applications paired with implementing new assistance programs under the federal CARES Act has caused significant delays, making the process more challenging for applicants.
Working together, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy and Legal Aid of North Carolina-Charlotte answered the calls of thousands of frustrated workers to guide them through the application process and appeals. Through direct action and systemic advocacy, these organizations ensured that those who had fallen through the cracks had access to the full payments they deserved.
Prior to the pandemic and historically, North Carolina’s unemployment system made it difficult for eligible residents to receive unemployment benefits, leaving workers with little to no support.
Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy is focused on removing some of these barriers by focusing on unemployment insurance system reform, essential worker benefits, living wages, and promoting workers’ rights in a right to work state—all of which disproportionately impact People of Color (POC).
We are also monitoring how scams and multi-level marketing schemes (MLMs) target unemployed and low-income individuals, especially during the COVID-19 crisis.
NC Extra Credit Grant
Quick action and a strong partnership generated 24,946 applications submitted; $8 million distributed, in just 18 days.
On September 4, Gov. Roy Cooper announced the Extra Credit Grant: an additional $335 dollars in COVID-19 relief for N.C parents. While middle and high-income families automatically received the payment, low-income families had to apply through the North Carolina Department of Revenue (NCDOR).
These families had just 29 days to learn about the program and apply. Only 10,000 families did so during the initial application period.
Through a pro bono partnership, Legal Aid of North Carolina, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, and Robinson Bradshaw filed a complaint resulting in a court order on Nov.5, 2020 that reopened and extended the application period.
Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy created a website and extensive communication campaign entitled 335 for NC, which encouraged these parents to apply for the grant through December 7, 2020. More than 32,000 individuals visited the website.
In just 18 days, Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy, Legal Aid of North Carolina, and Robinson Bradshaw reached hundreds of thousands of families and delivered 24,946 applications to NCDOR resulting in more than $8 million in aid made available to families who needed it most.
Keeping Families Safe and Protected from Exploitation
State and federal moratoriums on evictions and foreclosures have been implemented and continued over the past year to keep people who couldn’t pay their bills safely housed during the pandemic, but they haven’t been enough to protect everyone.
As we watched infection rates rise, courts in North Carolina started working through backlogged foreclosures. Evictions began ramping up, exacerbating the shortage of affordable housing that existed well before the threat of coronavirus. Homeowners who had to take advantage of forbearance because they could not pay their mortgages will eventually have to repay extraordinary balances on their home loans, many of which cannot be modified.
The Advocacy Center continues to work with families desperate to keep their homes and stay current on their bills to avoid homelessness and financial ruin. We are making sure people understand their rights and obligations with lenders to help them make informed decisions about their situations. We are also educating the community to make sure our neighbors do not fall victim to scams related to COVID-19.
‘The weight that was lifted off’
Entrepreneur, grandmother, personal shopper, caregiver, and church activist. These are a few of the hats that Mrs. C wears on any given week. She keeps copious amounts of to-do lists to keep herself, her family, and her business in order, a skill she says she learned from the staff at Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy.
“I kept their organizational skills, detail-oriented skills and people skills. It was a great learning experience.”
Mrs. C sought Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy’s assistance when a predatory mortgage company threatened to foreclose on her and her husband’s home.
“Raising grandkids, things got tight, but I also felt like I got hoodwinked into this mortgage. I had an anxiety attack.”
Mrs. C quickly connected with our Consumer Protection Unit which soon found out her mortgage company was fraudulent and under federal investigation. The Advocacy Center resolved Mrs. C’s issue and her family was able to keep her home.
“I cannot tell you the weight that was lifted off me when Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy jumped in like that and helped me right off the bat. It was a godsend. They worked with me on everything.”
Without the burden of potential foreclosure, Mrs. C can focus on growing her business and fostering her family:
“It’s peaceful now. I’m able to move forward. If only you could see the smile on my face! It’s a peaceful, peaceful smile.”
Immigrant families were already targets for exploitation before the pandemic. Fear of deportation, language barriers, and lack of traditional financial resources make it harder for immigrants to get assistance and leave them vulnerable.
Owners of substandard housing often rent to immigrants because the owners believe those tenants will be afraid to exercise their rights to habitable housing and to continued tenancy.
Traditional financing options are also often unavailable to immigrant families, which makes them easy targets for predatory financing options such as contracts for deed, options to purchase, installment sales contracts or lease with option contracts. These are enforced through eviction procedures and are complicated to defend without legal assistance.
Immigrants are also targeted for predatory sales of mobile homes, which can be substandard. These situations often involve predatory financing methods on land that is rented and are subject to eviction from the land, also requiring complicated defense.
The pandemic hit immigrants especially hard. Primary earners lost jobs as businesses shut down and those without legal status didn’t qualify for COVID-19 assistance.
“Because of the virus we lost our jobs and that put us behind on rent. And now it’s worse because my husband had an accident and our court date is tomorrow so we don’t know what we’re going to do … We don’t get help from anyone, those of us who are undocumented. A lot of us are going through this.”
– Advocacy Center client Ismar spoke to WFAE as her family faced eviction in July. Attorney Juan Hernandez was able to negotiate an agreement with the family’s landlord to prevent them from losing their home. Listen to the full story.
Thinking they could take advantage of families in desperate situations, landlords continued to threaten and illegally remove families from their homes.
At a time when our court system was operating on a limited capacity and resources for assistance were scarce, we helped our clients avoid homelessness, remain stable and exercise their rights.
We upheld their rights through our work, which included remedies such as cancellation of the contract, recovery of down payment or money paid above and beyond the fair market rental value, damages for unfair and deceptive trade practices, among others. We also conducted community education programs regarding the rights of immigrant renters related to their housing.
Domestic Violence Protection
While officials urged people to stay home to prevent spreading the virus, home wasn’t the safest option for many in our community.
Immigrant women also face additional barriers to escaping domestic violence or abuse, leaving them feeling trapped in abusive situations.
Charlotte Center for Legal Advocacy helps low-income immigrants living in Mecklenburg County who are victims of domestic violence. A recent Allstate Foundation national survey found that 64 percent of Hispanic women say they know a victim of some type of abuse and 30 percent have personally been victimized.
Reports of domestic violence incidents increased significantly along with the need for legal assistance to get necessary protection early in the pandemic as people. Advocacy Center staff helped survivors and their families navigate administrative changes to get the protections they needed while our courts were closed.
Our Response Continues
We are all weathering the same storm, but we are not all in the same boat.
The past year has made it clear just how critical access to safety, security and stability is for everyone in our community.
But barriers that prevent equal access to these needs persist. And our current safety net is simply not wide or strong enough to support everyone who needs it.
Much like the Great Recession of 2008, the recovery for those hit hardest by COVID-19, those we serve, will take years. Some will never recover.
The need is everywhere. That’s why we’re here, fighting to help families not only stay afloat but also thrive. And we’re not going anywhere.
Today and every day, we continue this hard, necessary work until our community is a stronger, more just and equitable place for ALL.
¿Ha Perdido Su Trabajo O Esta Trabajando Menos Horas Por COVID-19?
¡El Centro de Apoyo Legal de Charlotte y Asistencia Legal de Carolina del Norte estan aquí para ayudarle!
Hay 5 formas en que le podemos ayudar a usted y a su familia a mantenerse estable:
1. Beneficios de Desempleo:
Debe aplicar para recibir beneficios de desempleo lo más pronto posible. Puede aplicar por internet en la página web, des.nc.gov o puede llamar a 1-888-737-0259. Si no puede hablar con alguien enseguida, siga intentándolo y documente todos sus intentos.
Recuerde completar las certificaciones semanales en la página web des.nc.gov o llamando todas las semanas al 1-888-737-0259, incluso si su aplicación no ha sido aprobada todavía o si ha sido descalificado para beneficios y ha sometido una apelación.
Si trabaja por su cuenta propia, no ha trabajado recientemente o está aplicando para recibir o ya recibe beneficios por incapacidad, usted puede ser elegible para recibir beneficios de desempleo si no tiene trabajo o esta impedido para trabajar debido al COVID-19. Esto incluye a padres que tienen que quedarse en casa porque los niños no están en la escuela.
Durante esta emergencia, la cantidad de beneficios de desempleo ha aumentado a $600 semanales hasta el 31 de julio del 2020. También puede recibir los beneficios por más semanas.
Inmigrantes con autorización de empleo pueden ser elegibles para recibir beneficios de desempleo. Desafortunadamente, inmigrantes indocumentados no son elegibles.
Llame al Proyecto de Seguro de Desempleo en Respuesta a COVID-19 del Centro de Apoyo Legal de Charlotte al 980-256-3979 si tiene preguntas sobre beneficios de desempleo, ha tenido dificultades aplicando o le ha sido negado los beneficios.
2. Pagos de Estímulo
La mayoría de la gente debe recibir un pago de estímulo del IRS (Servicios de Ingreso Interno) de $1,200 por cada adulto y $500 por cada niño menor de 17 años. Puede recibir este pago incluso si no tiene la obligación de presentar una declaración de sus impuestos.
Tiene que ser autorizado para trabajar en los Estados Unidos para ser elegible para recibir estos pagos. Típicamente, esto significa que usted tiene un número de seguro social que es válido para empleo. Desafortunadamente, esto significa que muchos inmigrantes pueden no ser elegibles para recibir un pago de estímulo.
Si no ha recibido su pago, llame a la línea de impuestos del Centro de Apoyo Legal de Charlotte al 980-202-7329
3. Desalojo, Juicios Hipotecarios, Servicios Cortados y Pagos de Préstamos Estudiantiles
Usted no puede ser desalojado por su propietario o tener su casa embargada hasta que tenga una audiencia en la corte. Estas audiencias están aplazadas por lo menos hasta junio del 2020.
Si usted tiene un préstamo de hipoteca con una entidad del gobierno como Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, VA, USDA, FHA o Home Equity Conversion mortgage (“Hipoteca Inversa”), puede tener derecho a dos periodos de 180 días de gracia para sus pagos hipotecarios sin tarifas por pagos atrasados.
Se prohíbe la desconexión de servicios, incluyendo electricidad, gas y agua para las personas que no pueden pagar durante la pandemia de COVID-19. También está prohibido cobrar tarifas, multas o interés por pagos atrasados hasta junio. Clientes residenciales tienen por lo menos seis meses para pagar facturas pendientes.
Algunos préstamos estudiantiles pueden ser suspendidos hasta septiembre del 2020.
Es posible que el Centro de Apoyo Legal de Charlotte y Asistencia Legal de NC puede ayudarle a prevenir su desalojo, juicios hipotecarios o desconexión de servicios. Llámenos al 704-376-1600.
4. Seguro Médico
Usted y sus hijos pueden ser elegibles para Medicaid.
Si no puede conseguir Medicaid, es posible que pueda inscribirse para cobertura en el Mercado de seguros/Obamacare con ayuda financiera si ha perdido su seguro médico o si ha tenido cambios en circunstancias recientemente. Tiene 60 días después de la pérdida del seguro o cambio en circunstancias para inscribirse.
Si ya está inscrito en el Mercado de seguros/Obamacare y no puede hacer sus pagos mensuales es posible que pueda calificar para primas más bajas.
El proyecto de navegadores de seguro médico del Centrol de Apoyo Legal de Charlotte puede ayudarle encontrar las mejores y más asequibles opciones de cobertura/seguro médico para usted y su familia. Podemos ayudarle a llenar una aplicación, actualizar su cobertura del Mercado de seguros/Obamacare o contestar preguntas que tenga usted o su familia. También podemos ayudarle si le han negado seguro o servicios. ¡Llame al 980-256-3782 para programar una cita gratis por teléfono hoy!
5. Asistencia con Comida
Puede ser elegible para estampillas de comida. La cantidad de beneficios de estampillas de comida ha aumentado y los límites de tiempo/requisitos de empleo han sido eliminados para algunas personas durante la pandemia del coronavirus.
Centrol de Apoyo Legal de Charlotte le puede ayudar a aplicar para estampillas de comida por teléfono. También podemos ayudar si le niegan la aplicación. Nuestra ayuda es gratis. Llámenos al 980-256-3782.
Hasta familias que no son elegibles para estampillas de comida recibirán una tarjeta de EBT por correo que puede ser usada para comprar comida si sus hijos califican para comida gratis o a bajo precio en la escuela. Su estatus inmigratorio no afecta su elegibilidad para recibir este beneficio. Si no recibe esta tarjeta, llámenos a 704-376-1600.
Familias sin ingreso también pueden recibir asistencia en efectivo para sus hijos de Servicios Sociales bajo el programa de Work First. La cantidad de beneficios de Work First han sido aumentados y los requisitos de empleo han sido eliminados durante la pandemia. Puede aplicar por teléfono si llama a Servicios Sociales al 704-336-3000. Si le niegan la aplicación o no puede aplicar, llámenos al 704-376-1600.
Hospitals Must Post Prices Online for Standard Services
CHARLOTTE, NC – It’s now easier to estimate what your hospital bill might add up to. Since the start of the new year, a federal rule requires all hospitals to post prices for procedures online. That doesn’t include what health insurance covers.
Healthcare.gov Knocked For Glitches, Inaccurate Info By Advocacy Group
If you’re shopping for an insurance plan on healthcare.gov, the online marketplace created by the Affordable Care Act, there’s an important feature that doesn’t always work, an advocacy group says. It sometimes gives misinformation about which doctors are in the network for each plan.