Legal help available to those in need during pandemic

While nearly everyone has been impacted by COVID-19 in one way or the other, low-income individuals have been particularly hard hit economically. Many have lost their jobs and don t know how they ll pay their rent, mortgage or other bills according to two nonprofit organizations that are looking to help those in need during the coronavirus pandemic.
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While nearly everyone has been impacted by COVID-19 in one way or the other, low-income individuals have been particularly hard hit economically. Many have lost their jobs and don t know how they ll pay their rent, mortgage or other bills according to two nonprofit organizations that are looking to help those in need during the coronavirus pandemic.

While nearly everyone has been impacted by COVID-19, low-income individuals have been particularly hard hit economically. Many have lost their jobs and don’t know how they’ll pay their rent, mortgage or other bills.

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Ohio Legal Help, the nonprofit that runs the legal assistance website OhioLegalHelp.org, says visits to its online pages about unemployment, eviction and public benefits have jumped dramatically the past few weeks, reinforcing the fact that people need help dealing with civil legal issues arising from COVID-19.

“These trends aren’t surprising,” said Susan Choe, executive director of Ohio Legal Help. “They reflect the major concerns that Ohioans have right now as a result of coronavirus. Thousands of people have lost their jobs or have been furloughed, and they’re looking for help navigating the legalities of unemployment benefits, foreclosures, evictions and other issues they’re now facing.”

Choe told the Dayton Daily News, that many people, especially those with low incomes, desperately need legal advice as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

“The people in Ohio most affected economically by the pandemic have quietly struggled with issues like evictions, foreclosures, bankruptcy and child custody for years without the benefit of an attorney or the knowledge to secure one,” Choe said.

The Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was passed by Congress and and signed into law by President Trump on March 27. The more than $2 trillion economic relief package also contains legislation that can help people keep a roof over their head and protect their credit during the coronavirus pandemic.

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“If your accounts with creditors are in good-standing and you are now under financial hardship due to the coronavirus and you make an arrangement with your creditors, those accounts will now be considered paid on time or as agreed,” she explained. “But people have to understand, that bills aren’t just going away and will accrue interest while they are in forbearance.”

Getting something notarized is also easier, according to Choe, who said Ohio passed legislation last year enabling documents to be notarized digitally.

During the pandemic, it has put a spotlight on the fact that 86% of civil legal problems faced by low-income Americans receive inadequate or no legal help, Choe said, adding that lawyers have been classified as “essential” during the pandemic and are still working to help people navigate their legal issues either by phone or secure video meetings.

She added, “It’s a problem referred to as the ‘justice gap’ and that is the difference between the civil legal needs of low-income Americans and the resources available to meet those needs. Income shouldn’t dictate who can and cannot get the assistance they need to navigate the legal system, especially at a time like this.”

Debra Lavey, senior attorney for the Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc., (ABLE), agrees with Choe, and says people in the Miami Valley region that are in need of help should reach out for legal advice.

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Eviction is an issue that many people could be facing in these tumultuous times according to Lavey.

"In Ohio there is no statewide eviction moratorium," Lavey told this news organization. "Ohio is one of only six states that has not addressed evictions on a statewide basis during the COVID-19 pandemic. The five other states include Arkansas, Georgia, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wyoming."

She said evictions are a five-phase process, going from the landlord issuing a tenant a notice of late payment on rent, then a filing to the court against the tenant, resulting in the third phase being an eviction notice. The fourth phase is the tenant losing the eviction case in court, which culminates with the tenant being moved out.

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“Courts in Ohio are still open for business and in some courts in Ohio eviction hearings are still happening,” Lavey said. “Courts can issue eviction judgments and tenants can still be moved out during the pandemic.”

She advised that it is important to get legal advice is there is an eviction notice pending, but also said that the CARES Act offers help to those receiving subsidized housing.

“The CARES Act does contain language that states there cannot be an eviction for people on subsidized or public housing for a period of 120 days,” Lavey said, noting that the 120 period started on March 27, when the legislation was signed. “That provision is for non-payment of rent and does not apply to people not getting a subsidy.”

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