Our Grants For 2013

The Board met during September 2012 to discuss grant applications. As a result of that discussion, the Board made the following grants to five worthy organizations.

Click on each Grantee’s name below to read about their organization and the case for which they received funding, and to view their six-month report, year-end report, and case update.

Heartland Alliance National Immigrant Justice Center

The National Immigrant Justice Center (NIJC) seeks to ensure human rights protections and access to justice for immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers. NIJC provides direct legal services to and advocates for these populations through policy reform, impact litigation, and public education.

Since its founding three decades ago, NIJC has uniquely integrated individual client advocacy with broad-based systemic change. NIJC and its pro bono attorneys are on the vanguard of federal impact litigation and advocacy, setting positive precedents for those seeking human rights protections within our borders. In 2012, NIJC played a key role in the Department of Justice’s issuing regulations requiring the Department of Homeland Security to extend Prison Rape Elimination Act protections to detained immigrants.

THE CASE: NIJC is involved in the litigation of the case, Cece v. Holder, currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit. NIJC argued this case before the court in a rehearing en banc as amicus. The case involves an Albanian woman who feared she would be trafficked for prostitution due to the widespread trafficking of young, unprotected women in Albania. In support of Cece, NIJC is arguing that her particular social group is viable and not fatally flawed. NIJC’s brief asserts that victims of persecution – particularly those who are pro se – should not be denied relief for failing to articulate a clear PSG when they have shown they will be harmed on account of a characteristic they cannot change. NIJC is seeking to promote arguments similar to the ones raised in Cece in other federal circuits. In a similar case, NIJC is preparing an amicus brief in support of rehearing for another young Albanian woman who fears trafficking in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.

Contact: Mary Meg McCarthy, Executive Director, National Immigrant Justice Center, 208 S. LaSalle Street, Suite 1818, Chicago, IL 60604

Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana

When the Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL) first opened our doors in 1997, our state was acknowledged to have one of the country’s worst systems to treat and prevent delinquency. In July of that year, the New York Times called Louisiana home to the “most troubled” juvenile public defender’s office in the country.1 That same month — after earlier reports in 1995 and 1996 by Human Rights Watch and the United States Department of Justice (DOJ) — the DOJ detailed brutal and inhumane conditions in Louisiana’s juvenile prisons, bringing international shame to the system. Louisiana’s juvenile justice system provided virtually no representation for children accused of crimes and then placed them in hyper-violent prisons where they regularly suffered bodily and emotional harm. The large majority of these children were African-American.

JJPL’s mission is to transform the juvenile justice system into one that builds on the strengths of young people, families and communities to ensure children are given the greatest opportunities to grow and thrive. We have three key program objectives to achieve this mission: to reduce the number of children in secure care and abolish unconstitutional conditions of confinement by improving or, when necessary, shutting down institutions that continue to inhumanely treat children; to expand evidence-based alternatives to incarceration and detention for youth; and to build the power of those most impacted by the juvenile justice system.

JJPL litigates on behalf of youth both locally and statewide. Additionally, we educate policy makers on the need for reform, coordinate with parents, youth and other concerned citizens to ensure their visibility and participation in the process, and actively implement media strategies to hold the state accountable for the treatment of its youth. By coordinating our diverse abilities in strategic campaigns to engage policy makers and organize community members and youth, JJPL continues to work on improving the lives of Louisiana’s most vulnerable children.

THE CASE: The Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL) and Families and Friends of Louisiana’s Incarcerated Children (FFLIC) recently filed a class action lawsuit; R.B., A.C., J.R., and T.B. vs. Dr. Mary Livers; in United States District Court for the Eastern District Of Louisiana on June 13, 2012 against the Louisiana Office of Juvenile Justice (OJJ) on behalf of incarcerated children who have been denied access to counsel to redress constitutional violations while in OJJ custody. Hundreds of youth per year are placed in OJJ’s custody and the conditions inside OJJ’s facilities are deplorable. OJJ has failed to provide youth in their custody with their constitutionally required access to courts by failing to provide adequate access to legal counsels. During the last 18 months, the conditions inside OJJ facilities, Bridge City Center for Youth, Swanson Center for Youth, and Jetson Center for Youth, have been violent and inhumane. Parish Sheriff Officers are called to these facilities at an alarming rate because of the violence that occurs inside of these facilities. Youth inside these facilities are routinely victims of violence but have no access to legal advocates to assist them in addressing these brutal conditions. The goals of this litigation are to provide incarcerated youth in Louisiana with constitutionally mandated access to counsel and the courts and, ultimately, improve the conditions of confinement for all youth in OJJ custody. Funds received from the Foundation’s grant would be used in conjunction with this lawsuit.

Contact: Charlotte D'Ooge, Development & Communications Director, Juvenile Justice Project of Louisiana (JJPL), 1600 Oretha Castle Haley Blvd., New Orleans, LA 70113

National Housing Law Project

Established in 1968, the mission of the National Housing Law Project (NHLP) is to advance housing justice for poor people. Its goals are to increase and preserve the supply of decent, affordable housing, improve existing housing conditions, improve and enforce low income tenants’ and homeowners’ rights, and increase housing opportunities for groups that have historically experienced housing discrimination. Over the course of its history, NHLP has helped to preserve more than one million units of affordable housing, established many basic housing rights enjoyed by low-income tenants and homeowners, and has worked to uphold those rights when new policies or regulations threaten to erode them.

In tandem with the government’s establishment of the legal services program in the mid-1960’s, NHLP was formed to serve as the designated resource and legal support center for those attorneys as they assisted poor people with their housing challenges. Since then, the network that NHLP serves has expanded to include other public interest attorneys; tenant, homeowner, and community organizations; state housing coalitions; housing providers; and other intermediaries who serve low-income people. Through initiatives that address housing problems at the root of other pressing social issues, NHLP’s networks have also expanded to include advocates of special needs populations: the elderly, immigrants, survivors of domestic violence, the formerly incarcerated, and people with disabilities.

THE CASE: NHLP’s grant from the Barbara McDowell and Gerald S. Hartman Foundation will support its engagement in high-impact litigation against the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA). NHLP is representing low-income rural families who lost their homes to foreclosure and whose home mortgages were financed by the USDA. It has been the practice of the USDA to pursue collection of the former homeowner’s debt, even after the home has been lost by the borrower and sold at foreclosure. With the housing market still suffering from plummeted values, USDA has been using an administrative wage garnishment procedure to collect borrowers’ deficiencies. Thus, under present policies, the agency can garnish up to 15% of a debtor’s wages, take from a debtor’s federal income such as social security, or fully capture tax refunds, which in some cases amount to several thousand dollars a year. The agency’s collection practices have created financial hardship for these low-income rural families that will likely continue for the rest of their lives in the absence of a successful legal challenge.

Contact: Marcia Rosen, Executive Director, National Housing Law Project, 703 Market Street, Suite 2000, San Francisco, CA 94103

New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty

The New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty is a nonprofit law firm and advocacy organization dedicated to advancing economic and social justice through education, advocacy, and litigation. We work with low-income New Mexicans to improve living conditions, increase opportunities, and protect the rights of people living in poverty.

THE CASE: In the second poorest state in the country, healthcare and food and cash assistance programs, such as Medicaid, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Temporary Assistance to Needy Families, and General Assistance, are essential to help low-income families meet their basic needs. If the state improperly denies, discontinues, or reduces those benefits for any reason, the consequences on a family can be devastating. The Fair Hearing process is meant to prevent such improper denial, reduction, or termination of benefits and protect families from losing essential financial, nutritional, and healthcare assistance. It is an essential safeguard for clients.

Unfortunately, New Mexico’s Fair Hearing process is not being properly administered by the state, and clients are often wrongfully denied the benefits for which they are qualified. The New Mexico Human Services Department does not timely provide clients with the Summary of Evidence it will use to justify the adverse action it proposes to take against the client’s benefits at the hearing. As a result, many clients do not have enough time to adequately prepare for the hearing and are far more likely to unfairly lose benefits to which they are entitled. The Human Services Department’s failure to provide a Summary of Evidence in a timely fashion violates statutes and regulations, as well as the Constitution’s due process protection.

The NM Center on Law and Poverty will use the funds from its grant to litigate to improve the Fair Hearing process, specifically, by ensuring clients have access to all the information and evidence they need to meaningfully challenge the state’s termination, reduction, or denial of benefits. We will compel the Human Services Department to come into compliance with the law and ensure that the Fair Hearing process is properly serving clients in need.

Contact: Craig Acorn, Senior Attorney, New Mexico Center on Law and Poverty, 720 Vassar Dr. NE, Albuquerque, NM 87106.

North Florida Center for Equal Justice, Inc.

The North Florida Center For Equal Justice, Inc. is a 501 © (3) organization founded in 2007 and funded primarily by The Florida Bar Foundation grants. Through impact and class action litigation and appellate advocacy NFCFEJ provides legal services that will most effectively address the housing, consumer, individual rights and education problems that affect large numbers of residents in north Florida and throughout the state.

THE CASE: NFCFEJ along with the Public Interest Law Center of the Florida State University College of Law and private counsel Matthew Dietz filed a class complaint in the USDC for the Southern District of Florida seeking injunctive relief for all medically fragile children in the State of Florida alleging that the state discriminates against the children by unlawfully separating them or attempting to separate them from their families and communities by failing to provide federally mandated and medically necessary home and community-based services. The complaints were filed on behalf of children who are currently in nursing homes in the State of Florida and those children who are at risk of unnecessary institutionalization. The grant funds will be used to pay litigation expenses including costs associated with experts.

Contact: Edward J. Grunewald, Executive Director of The North Florida Center For Equal Justice, Inc., 2121 Delta Boulevard, Tallahassee, FL 32303

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