South Carolina Legal Services > Articles by: South Carolina Legal Services

Public Benefits During a Pandemic

Food and Medical Resources for the Most Vulnerable Among Us.

For the first time in over a century, the US is facing a global pandemic on a scale large enough to disrupt normal, daily activities and routines. We have largely been able to go on with business as usual through SARS, MERS, H1N1, and other pandemics that have emerged in the last two decades. Currently, the US and the world is battling the COVID-19 virus. For many of us, this is a stressful time, filled with annoyances. For the most vulnerable among us who live on the brink of food insecurity, this is much more than a mere inconvenience or disruption of daily life.

The School Nutrition Association predicts that 11 million children (1 in 7) across the United States live in households that do not have access to adequate food on a consistent basis. For these children, school meals provide a valuable source of nutrition. As schools across the country close to prevent further spread of COVID:19, the US Department of Agriculture and local districts nationwide are developing ways of getting food to the children most in need. The South Carolina Department of Education oversees the implementation of the School Nutrition programs across the state of South Carolina. Many local districts are implementing a modified version of their seamless summer feeding. The program usually requires that meals be consumed on site; however, the USDA is granting waivers to provide the meals to be picked up or delivered to students in need. These meals are free to all children age 18 and under. You can get more information here about how to access these meals. Local school districts are the also a great source of information.

The US Department of Agriculture has also implemented other emergency measures to ensure that the needs of the food insecure can continue to be met during this public health crisis through its other Food and Nutrition Services: SNAP, WIC, and a wide variety of Food Distribution Programs. Many of the measures can be implemented by states without further USDA approval. The South Carolina Department of Social Services is responsible for implementing SNAP and no additional information is

currently available on their website regarding any changes in procedure for the SNAP program. The South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control administers the WIC program. There are presently no updates as to changes to the normal operation of this program on the DHEC website. Presently, there are no state office closures across the state. Our Public Benefits Unit will continue to monitor any changes that impact these programs and provide updates as the situation develops.

Medicare provides medical coverage for those most at risk of developing serious complications from COVID:19—the elderly and those with chronic medical conditions. Information has been released by the federal government that Medicare will pay for testing for COVID:19 and any resulting hospitalizations or medical treatments. Those with Medicare Advantage Plans have access to the same benefits, and Medicare is allowing these plans to waive cost-sharing for the COVID:19 lab tests.

Medicaid is administered by the South Carolina Department of Health and Human Services for the benefit of qualifying, low income South Carolinians. There are several waivers available to state agencies who administer Medicaid during this current public health emergency. Individuals who have flulike symptoms should try to use the telemedical resources available for free through MUSC for screening purposes rather than going to local emergency departments unless symptoms are severe. The MUSC Virtual medicine screenings are FREE for all South Carolinians with the code COVID19. The website is: www.muschealth.org/virtual-care. Those with questions about using the service should call 843-261-5940.

Tips For Students With A Learning Disability

March is Learning Disabilities Awareness Month. If you are a parent/guardian of a student who might have a learning disability, the Education Unit at SCLS would like you to know the following:

– A child with a “specific learning disability” is entitled to free special education services at their home school district.

– If your child is consistently underperforming on state tests and/or is struggling in basic subjects like math or English Language Arts, they might have a learning disability.

– To be classified as having a “specific learning disability” or “SLD”, you must first request the school district to test or “evaluate” your child

o The request should be done in writing.

o The request should explain why you want the evaluation – namely, that you believe your child has a learning disability and qualifies for an Individualized Education Program or “IEP”

o The request should have the student’s name, date of birth, school, as well as the parent/guardian’s information

o If you would like assistance with drafting this request, apply for our services. If you qualify, WE CAN HELP!

– In most cases, prior to an evaluation, the school district will place your child in a “Response to Intervention” or “RTI” program. In RTI, your child will receive some special instruction to try and get them caught-up and performing at their grade-level.

o If your child responds well and begins to perform at their grade-level, GREAT! It is likely they do not have a learning disability.

o If your child does not respond well, and continues to perform poorly at school and/or on state tests, you should insist on moving forward with the evaluation

– The evaluation is technically called a “psychoeducational evaluation.” It’s performed by a school psychologist at your child’s school over the course of a few days. You will have to sign some paperwork to authorize the test.

o The school district has 60 days to complete this evaluation. There is no exception for holidays or summer break.

– Once the evaluation is complete, the school district will invite you to a meeting to review the results.

o If the school district believes your child has a specific learning disability, the team (which includes you!) will then develop an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) to address your child’s needs. Specifically, the team will develop goals for your child and explain the amount of special education time they will need to complete those goals.

o If the school district does not believe your child has a specific learning disability, and therefore does not qualify for an IEP, you have the following options:

§ Insist on further RTI “(Response to Intervention”) services.

§ Request an Independent Educational Evaluation (IEE) of the school, in writing. An IEE is an evaluation done by a qualified professional who is not employed by the school, and who you get to choose. The school district will have to pay for this evaluation.

§ Hire an attorney, including applying for our services. If you qualify, WE CAN HELP!

The Education Unit at SCLS is always here to help qualified parents/guardians with their education-related programs. If you need some basic advice, apply! If you need someone to explain the process, or your options, apply! If you believe you need to file a lawsuit against the school district, apply! You can apply for help by calling 1-888-346-5592 or online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.

5 Simple Facts About the Fair Housing Act

1. History

The Fair Housing Act (“FHA”) was enacted during the Civil Rights Movement following the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on April 5, 1968. This is why April has been designated as the month when we remember the FHA. It is a federal law, intended to limit discriminatory practices in the sale and rental of housing and ensure equal access to homeownership, regardless of class.

The states have adopted similar acts. In 1989, South Carolina adopted the Fair Housing Law (S.C. Code §§ 31-21-10, et. seq), and it largely parrots the language of the FHA.

The FHA covers most housing, however, some groups may be exempt, such as, Single-family homes that are rented or sold without using a broker; Owner-occupied homes with no more than four units; Members-only private clubs or organizations.

According to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), examples of discriminatory practices include: imposing different prices for the sale or rental of a dwelling; delaying or failing to perform maintenance or repairs for certain renters; or limiting privileges, services, or facilities of a dwelling because of certain characteristics a person might have. People who share a characteristic covered by the FHA are members of what are called “protected classes.”

2. Protected classes

The FHA promotes our national policy that discrimination in housing based on certain characteristics is abhorrent to a civilized society. Thus, the Act protects members of seven classes – race, color, religion, national origin, sex, disability and familial status.

In its original form, The Fair Housing Act of 1968 prohibited discrimination in housing based only on race, religion, national origin or sex.

In 1988, Congress passed Amendments to the Act which expanded the law to prohibit discrimination based on disability or on family status.

We can get a better understanding of the Act by taking a closer look at how it functions in specific areas. Let’s take a closer look at how the Act protects families and persons with disabilities.

3. Familial status

Unless a building or complex qualifies as housing for older persons, the landlord may not discriminate based on familial status. That is, she may not discriminate against families in which one or more children live with a parent or someone acting as a parent. Familial status protection also applies to pregnant women.

Some examples of protections of this class would include: A person cannot be evicted from housing because they have a child; Families cannot be restricted to one area of a building or complex; and, rules cannot unfairly target children such as, a landlord cannot forbid children from a common area that adults are permitted use. Advertisements cannot state that children are not wanted or that the property is restricted only to adults (unless it’s seniors-only housing).

4. Reasonable accommodations

The FHA is the core law ensuring that disabled individuals have access to housing enabling them to enjoy housing to the same extent as a non-disabled person. The Act requires all “covered multifamily dwellings” designed and constructed after March 13, 1991, to be readily accessible to and usable by persons with disabilities.

Some of the accessible features required by the Act include; 1. Accessible building entrance on an accessible route. 2. Accessible and usable public and common use areas. 3. Usable doors. 4. Accessible route into and through the covered dwelling unit. 5. Light switches, electrical outlets, thermostats and other environmental controls

in accessible locations. 6. Reinforced walls for grab bars. 7. Usable kitchens and bathrooms.

If someone has a disability that substantially limits one or more major life activities, the landlord may not refuse to let them make reasonable modifications to the dwelling or common use areas, at the tenant’s expense. And the landlord may not refuse to make reasonable accommodations in rules, policies, practices or services if necessary, for the disabled person to use the housing.

Examples: A building with a “no pets” policy must allow a visually impaired tenant to keep a guide dog. An apartment complex that offers tenants ample, unassigned parking must honor a request from a mobility-impaired tenant for a reserved space near her apartment so she can have access to her apartment.

5. Federal Enforcement of Fair Housing

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) is responsible for enforcing the Fair Housing Act.

If you believe that you are a victim of housing discrimination, you can file a complaint with the HUD. Fair housing complaints can be filed online, or via email, phone or postal mail. Because there are time limits on when a complaint can be filed with HUD after an alleged violation, it’s important to submit a complaint as soon as possible after the incident. You can find more information about the complaint process here: https://www.hud.gov/program_offices/fair_housing_equal_opp

SCLS Teams Up With Private Attorney For Victory at the S.C. Court of Appeals

Navigating Medicare and other benefits can be difficult for seniors. This was no more apparent than in a recent SCLS appellate victory over National Healthcare /Mauldin, LLC (NHC) where the S.C. Court of Appeals was asked to reverse a trial court decision against our client Wade Thompson, an elderly, disabled veteran from Anderson County.

In a victory for our client in National Healthcare LLC vs. Wade Thompson, https://www.sccourts.org/opinions//unpublishedopinions/HTMLFiles/COA/2019-UP-378.pdf  SCLS Attorney Susan Ingles[1] and PAI Attorney Sharon Ward[2] teamed up to obtain a reversal of the trial court decision that granted a judgment of $8,869.32 to NHC against Thompson.    The S.C. Court of Appeals reversed the trial court’s original judgment that was based on quantum meruit, an equitable doctrine to allow recovery for unjust enrichment.  “A party may be unjustly enriched when it has and retains benefits or money which in justice and equity belong to another.” 

In reversing the trial court, the Court of Appeals held that NHC is estopped from seeking recovery from Thompson because it acted with “unclean hands”[3] by admitting Thompson to its care under the assumption of Medicare coverage and then failing to notify Thompson of its own corporate email response stating no benefit days were available to Thompson. 

NHC failed to notify Thompson that his stay at its Mauldin, SC facility would not be covered by Medicare.  The healthcare facility had obtained initial telephone verification of Medicare coverage at the time of admission, but the follow up written verification NHC received less than 24 hours later confirmed the stay would not be covered. Thompson had already exhausted his benefit days under Medicare rules. As a result, Thompson’s subsequent 6-week stay was not paid for by Medicare as NHC personnel assured Thompson when he was admitted. After NHC did not receive the $8,669.32 from Medicare that Thompson unwittingly incurred for six weeks, they filed the debt collection lawsuit against Thompson and his daughter.  The trial court dismissed Thompson’s daughter from the lawsuit and that decision was not appealed by NHC.

In the appeal, NHC argued that Thompson was unjustly enriched by the 6-week stay it provided that Medicare did not pay for. The Court of Appeals held NHC’s failure to tell Thompson of the lack of coverage as soon as it received the written verification constituted unclean hands and held he was only liable for a $630 charge he had already paid.

Ingles and Ward successfully argued that NHC’s failure to notify Thompson that his stay would not be covered was fatal to its claim that he should pay for the stay out of his own pocket.  The S.C. Court of Appeals agreed. Find out more about how to become a PAI Attorney for SCLS and get paid to further our mission of access to justice for all by clicking here https://sclegal.org/pai/ .


[1] A 15 year veteran at SCLS, Ingles is a Senior Staff Attorney and head of the Consumer Unit.

[2] The Private Attorney Involvement (PAI) is funded by SCLS’ grant from the Legal Services Corporation. The collaborative program exists to encourage the involvement of private attorneys like Ward, who previously served as a staff attorney at the S.C. Court of Appeals, in the delivery of legal assistance to eligible legal aid clients

[3] The doctrine of unclean hands precludes a Plaintiff (here NHC) from recovering in equity if it acted unfairly in a matter that is the subject of the litigation to the prejudice of the defendant (here Thompson).

Fighting Debt Collection

NOTE: All the names in the article have been changed to protect the parties’ identities.

Tatiana Diaz came to South Carolina Legal Services (SCLS) in full panic mode. A day prior, someone came to her door and handed her a pack of court documents. She was being sued over some money she allegedly owed. Tatiana could not understand anything more than that. Her first thought was to ignore it and hope it goes away. She had heard about SCLS before and now, with nowhere else to turn, she applied for our help in figuring out what was happening.

What was happening was that a debt collection agency filed ten (10) separate lawsuits against Tatiana, trying to collect on debts it claimed she owed. The total amount of debt from all these lawsuits was just over $7,000. Tatiana admitted that she had a credit card that she used and was never able to repay. However, this was years ago, and she did not believe that she owed as much as the agency claimed in the lawsuits.

SCLS accepted Tatiana as a client to try and verify how much she actually owed, and if she did owe a debt, to negotiate a settlement or a payment plan. Tatiana was supporting a family on one income and could not afford to repay the full amount at once. Our first order of business was to file a response to each lawsuit. Failure to respond to a lawsuit can result in losing your chance to dispute the lawsuit. We did not want that.

Once we responded to the lawsuits, the agency would have to show prove that Tatiana owed this debt and how much she owed. Instead, the agency’s attorney reached out to us and offered to dismiss all ten cases based on Tatiana’s low income. The cases were later dismissed, and Tatiana did not have to pay anything.

If you have a debt collection case filed against you, know that you have options. Although an agency will not always be so quick to dismiss, know that an agency must meet certain requirements before the judge allows it to collect from you. First, the creditor has to prove that you owe that debt. Second, the creditor must prove the exact amount that you owe. Finally, the creditor must prove that it has the right to collect on the debt from you. Collection agencies are not always able to prove all these facts and may be willing to dismiss the case or settle for a smaller amount.

Additionally, the creditor may not be able to collect from you if any of the following are true: (1) the debt is too old and the court can no longer enforce it; (2) the debt was a result of mistaken identity or identity theft; (3) the debt has already been paid or discharged in a bankruptcy proceeding; (4) the creditor did not follow proper legal procedure in trying to collect from you. There may be additional defenses available based on your individual situation.

If you have been sued for consumer debt, apply to SCLS to see if you qualify for our legal services. Call us at 1-888-346-5592 or apply online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.

Rock Hill Open House

The Rock Hill office held their first Open House event on Tuesday, December 10th for local attorneys, judges, agencies, and organizations.  The event was well-attended.  Staff were able to meet with members from the local domestic violence shelter, Rock Hill Housing Authority, and other local groups.  State Representative Mike Fanning also attended along with several magistrates from Chester.   Guests nibbled on delicious chicken salad sandwiches, mini cheesecakes, and fresh fruit and vegetables while discussing important matters effecting the community.  Rock Hill staff and members of the community also discussed new ways to work together to help meet the legal needs of the community.

The Federal Government Increases Special Education Budget by $400 million

The federal government is increasing the budget for special education services and South Carolina will receive a portion of the funds. Since the 1970’s, school districts have been required to provide certain services that students with disabilities need to meet basic goals. The federal government is supposed to provide 40% of the cost of special education services, but, historically, the federal government has only provided about 22% of the cost of special education. Instead, states and some local school districts pay the costs.  However, even when federal government does provide the funds for special education, a few school districts in South Carolina have not been spending all the funds provided. Instead, they’ve sought waivers from the obligation to spend it all. The reasons why remain unclear.

School funding issues can be complicated. Regardless of where the funds are coming from, our focus is on assisting students in receiving the primary education and training needed for continued education, independent living and participation in the work force.  School districts are required to provide special needs students with the services needed to achieve these goals. If a school has denied your child any of these services because of insufficient budget, ask them to verify that it has used all its federal funds. Additionally, ask whether unused funds from other budgets, programs or school districts can be used. Our goal is not to seek the most expensive programs or services, but rather to obtain adequate services. If your child has special needs, a school cannot justify its denials of services on the basis that it does not have the funds needed.

If you are having an issue with your child’s school district, South Carolina Legal Services may be able to help. You can apply for our free legal services by calling 1-888-346-5592 or online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.  

Earned Income Tax Credit

In an effort to educate and create awareness among the low-income taxpayers, taxpayers with disabilities and taxpayers with children, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) celebrates the National Earned Income Tax Credit Awareness day on January 31, 2020.

The Earned Income Tax Credit also known as EITC, is a tax credit that increases the taxpayer’s refund or reduces the amount of tax owed. To qualify for the EITC, the taxpayer must have earned income from working for someone or from running or owning a business or farm.  EITC is one of the largest antipoverty programs. It is important to educate and create awareness about the EITC so those who qualify for this credit can claim it and take advantage of its benefits. Some of the taxpayers at risk for overlooking this credit includes grandparents raising a grandchild, workers without children, workers with limited English skills, workers living in rural areas, Native Americans workers, workers with earnings below the filing requirement, and workers who have disabilities or are raising children with disabilities

To claim this credit, the taxpayer must file a federal income tax return even if the taxpayer owes no tax or isn’t required to file a return. The EITC is a complex tax credit. It varies by income, family size and the taxpayer’s filing status. To qualify for the EITC, the taxpayer must meet the adjustable gross income limit or threshold. Taxpayers without qualifying children might qualify for the EITC if the taxpayer meets the income threshold. Children that are claimed as dependents for EITC purposes must meet all qualifying child rules.

The IRS estimates that four out of five eligible taxpayers claim and receive the EITC.  Nationwide, during 2019, 25 million eligible workers and families received about $61 billion in EITC. During 2019, in South Carolina, 453,000 taxpayers claimed the EITC, 10,000 taxpayers less than in the 2018 tax year. The average amount of EITC received during 2019 in SC was $2,618.00. 

The EITC is one of the most audited credits within the IRS. Taxpayers must keep records even if it is not the first time the taxpayer claimed this credit for the same children. During an EITC audit, the IRS will request that the taxpayer provide proof of relationship, residency, income and support for all the qualifying children claimed. The IRS has a 3-year statute of limitation to assess a tax return from the due date or the date the return was filed, whichever is later.  Therefore, taxpayers should keep copies of their records for at least 5 years.

The IRS has created the EITC Assistant tool. This tool can verify if the taxpayer is eligible for EITC, and it can also help estimate the amount of the credit. To use this tool, taxpayers can visit the IRS website at https://www.irs.gov and type “EITC Assistant” in the search engine.

South Carolina Legal Services Low Income Taxpayer Clinic represents taxpayers that are wrongfully denied this credit. Our services are free. To apply for our services, please call 1-888-346-5592 or apply online at www.sclegal.org.

Beware of Social Security Fraud

Dollar Sign Drawing In A Notebook

Scams involving callers pretending to be from the Social Security Administration (SSA) asking for cash or gift card payments, have increased in the last year to become the most frequent type of fraud. To address this ongoing problem, the SSA has created an online form at https://oig.ssa.gov/ for people to report suspected fraud.

If you have received a call, email, text or in-person communication from someone pretending to be from the SSA, you can report the scam directly to the SSA by using the online form. The form will allow you to create a unique Personal Identification Number (PIN), so if someone contacts you about your report, you can verify that the call is legitimate. The SSA will use the data it receives from the reports to find the people responsible for the scams and reduce this type of fraud and the number of victims.

SSA employees do occasionally contact people by telephone. This contact is usually when the person has ongoing claims or other business with the agency. However, an SSA employee will never threaten you with arrest or other legal action if you are unable to pay a fine or debt.  Any request for money from the SSA will come in the mail. The letter will have specific details of how to make the payment and explain any appeal rights you have if you disagree with the amount owed to the SSA. Similarly, the SSA will normally mail a letter if there are any problems with your Social Security number or record.

As a reminder, the SSA employees will not:

• Tell you that your Social Security number has been suspended.

• Contact you to demand an immediate payment.

• Require a specific means of debt repayment, like a prepaid debit card, a retail gift card, or cash.

• Demand that you pay a Social Security debt without the ability to appeal the amount you owe.

• Promise a Social Security benefit approval, or increase, in exchange for information or money.

If you receive a call promising or threatening any of the above actions, you should hang up and report the call to the SSA at https://oig.ssa.gov. If you receive a letter stating that you owe money to the SSA and you do not agree or want to know more about your rights, South Carolina Legal Services may be able to help. To see if you qualify for our free services, call us at 1-888-346-5592 or apply online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.

Tenants’ Rights to Heat and Hot Water

Young boy sitting in a chair.

During the winter months, lack of heat or hot water can become life-threatening conditions. This can be an especially big problem if you are disabled or have small children.  Repairs to heating and air or water heating appliances may be expensive, and landlords do not always fix them right away.  The South Carolina Residential Landlord and Tenant Act (Act) gives special protections to tenants when heat or hot water is not being provided in their units.

The Act requires landlords to provide heat and hot water.  Landlords are also required to maintain heating systems and hot water tanks.  Landlords cannot avoid these requirements through the lease.  If the landlord does not provide these services, you can sue but must first deliver a written notice to the landlord.  If the problem is not resolved as soon as possible, you can sue the landlord in the magistrate or circuit court and ask that the judge order the landlord to fix the problem and pay money damages.  In most cases, a landlord has fourteen (14) days to repair a problem, but if the problem affects health or safety, the landlord must make the repair as soon as possible.  If the landlord does not repair heat or hot water, you can terminate the lease but must first give the landlord a written notice that the lease will terminate in fourteen (14) days unless the problem is fixed before then.

Additionally, if the landlord does not provide heat or hot water, you have the right to obtain heat or hot water by some other means, such as a space heater or fire wood. You can subtract the cost from the rent and sue the landlord for money damages and attorneys’ fees. 

Once you discover a problem with heat or a water heater, you should act as soon as possible.  First, send a letter to the landlord with the specific details of the problem and what you want him to do.  If you want to terminate your lease because of this problem, say that in the letter. Remember, if the landlord fixes the problem within 14 days, you will not be allowed to end your lease.  Take pictures of any visible problems in the heating unit or water heater.  If not having the heat is life threatening, you can ask the magistrate judge for an emergency order to order the landlord to fix the problem. 

If the landlord does not fix the problem, you may sue.  You can sue in the magistrate court or the county court of common pleas in the county where you live.  If you file your case in the magistrate court, you can get a trial quickly, but remember, you cannot ask for more than $7,500.00 in damages. You or the landlord can ask for a jury trial.  Some counties require that you and the landlord try mediation before scheduling a jury trial. If you are having a problem with heat, air or hot water in your unit, South Carolina Legal Services may be able to help. To see if you qualify for our free services, call us at 1-888-346-5592 or apply online at https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.