COVID-19 Increases Need for Advance Directives – Looking for Partners

COVID-19 seems to continue to have a disproportionate effect on the low-income communities served by South Carolina Legal Services(SCLS). This is especially true for elderly and people of color who live in rural communities. Unfortunately, these are also the demographics, that are least likely to understand the value of and how to locate resources to prepare end of life documents.  These documents let family members know loved ones’ wishes about providing medical treatment, deciding who will handle necessary affairs and determining ownership of property at death.

SCLS is looking for and is eager to partner with faith-based organizations, non-profits, civic and social groups and other agencies to educate low-income communities about the value of advance directives and preparation of these documents. To help SCLS help people who need these documents you can:

  1. Agree to partner with us.
  2. Distribute educational materials to the targeted communities.
  3. Assist applicants in contacting SCLS for an intake.
  4. Provide a COVID-19 safe location to meet with applicants.
  5. Publicize events that will be held in your community.
  6. Refer applicants to SCLS.

Partnership and Participation with Homeless Connect Help Man Get Birth Certificate

The Florence Office of SCLS has partnered with and attended The Homeless Connect Event since 2012. This event, with participation from several other groups, provides a one stop shop for services to the low income and homeless community.  The idea behind the event is to have enough services to attract attendees to the event and to make it easier for them to avail themselves of all the services (thereby eliminating obstacles to getting needed help). Intakes for potential clients are done at the event with interviews scheduled shortly thereafter. Because this event was a great success, SCLS wants to participate in and accept referrals from your homeless shelter.

Here is an example of the kind of help SCLS can provide to you. John came to us through our monthly homeless event for help to get his birth certificate. He was born in Taiwan. His parents worked at the embassy.  Because of serious legal troubles, he was estranged from his parents and had been for years. He did not have a valid state ID and could not get his birth record.  He was working very hard on becoming employed and getting services including rehabilitation.  John was born abroad, therefore, the application had to be made through the State Department (DC Consular U.S. Citizens born abroad). This made the process to get the birth certificate much more complicated.  We waited for months and due to the COVID-19 shutdown, it seemed to be hopeless.  As diligent SCLS staff, we continued to work with the Consular over an extended period of time and were able to obtain John’s birth certificate. Our partnership and participation with Homeless Connect allowed John to gain employment and housing.

COVID-19 Impact on Special Education Services

We have listed some questions and answers to commonly expressed concerns of parents with children in need of special education services.

Question:  What about kids with an IEP who, in a normal, non-COVID world, are required to receive supportive services? Are those services gone?  Or can those students somehow receive physical therapy, occupational therapy or speech therapy virtually?

Answer: Those students CAN and SHOULD receive those services virtually.

Turns out, physical therapy and speech therapy have been happening virtually or via tele-medicine for years. Physical therapists in some areas have been reaching out to clients with smart phones and internet connections well before COVID-19 made such a thing seem “normal.”

The occupational therapists (and the insurance companies) took some time, but they have now swallowed the bitter COVID-19 pill and embraced virtual appointments.

Question: Can the school deny a student special services because of COVID-19?

Answer: No.

The IEP is a contract that requires the school to provide those services. Parents should certainly be somewhat flexible with schools given the unique nature of these COVID-19 times. However, now that we are 10 months in, schools need to have found a way to provide those services.  

Furthermore, any service time your child did not receive because of COVID-19 should be made-up by the school at some point soon. We call this make-up time “compensatory education/services.”

Question: Can the school require a student to come physically to school in order to receive special ed services?

Answer: Yes.

In some cases, a school might deem is appropriate for a student to come physically to school to get their services, instead of providing a virtual option. You do not necessarily have to send your child to school, if you believe it to be unsafe. However, the school offering this option fulfills their obligations under the IEP contract.

Question: Due to my student’s disability, they are unable to get an appropriate education at home via virtual school. The school is 100% virtual. What can I do?

Answer: This is a hard one (and a fact-pattern from an actual case). The child is eligible for compensatory services in the future. That’s easy. However, that does not do much to help with the opportunities the student is missing right now. To force a special exception for in-person schooling, you would likely have to retain an attorney and file a Due Process Hearing Request. Even then, I do not know that it is a very strong case, as the school has a legitimate obligation to protect the health and safety of students and staff.

SCLS Lawyers’ Top Scams and Theft That Raise Red Flags

Let’s take a look at the top scams that SCLS Lawyers say raise the red flag of caution at this time of year.

  1. Package Theft
  2. Gift Card Fraud
  3. Fake Temporary Holiday Jobs
  4.  Fake Websites
  5. Fake Freebies
  6. Fake Charities
  7. Phishing Emails

KEEP IN MIND OUR TOP TIPS ON HOLIDAY SPENDING

  • Online shopping? Pay by credit card.
  • Buy gift cards for gifts, not for payments.
  • Research charities before you donate.
  • Give gifts, not personal information.
  • Don’t save your credit card information on retail sites.
  • If possible use a third-party payment method.
  • Enable purchase alerts on all credit cards and mobile payment apps.
  • Disable international purchases on all credit cards.
  • Only make purchases from your home or cellular network.

Thanksgiving is Blessings Appreciation Time

This is the time of the year when we count our blessings and meditate on all the opportunities, events, relationships and people that we appreciate. COVID-19 has made the last eight months particularly difficult for SCLS to effectively offer legal representation, advocacy and legal education to low-income South Carolinians at a time when it was most needed. You, the agencies, faith-based organizations, social services providers, non-profits, civic and social organizations, have made our job of sharing legal information, providing legal representation and advocating for our clients possible. We are especially grateful to those of you who, with swift and prompt action, distributed our flyers to advise and encourage citizens to seek available CARES Act monetary resources. We received numerous calls from deserving folks who desperately need this money to survive in these extremely difficult times. Truly, without your support and willingness to get this information to these people who are struggling daily, we simply could not have reached so many of them. Thank you for working with us. Thank you for caring about these people. Thank you for joining our endless mission to make the lives of low-income South Carolinians better in any way we can. This is the meaning of Thanksgiving. For your work and support, we give thanks.

Unemployment Benefits and Discrimination Against LGBTQ+ Employees

Were you fired after you began to transition, or your employer found out you identified as a member of the LGBTQ+ community? When you applied for unemployment benefits did your employer claim you were fired for cause or for misconduct causing you to be denied unemployment benefits? South Carolina Legal Services may be able to help with your unemployment appeal. 

A recent Supreme Court case held that an employer cannot discriminate against or fire an employee for being gay or transgender. Prior to this Supreme Court decision, LGBTQ+ employees facing discrimination due to their sexual orientation and gender expression were not considered protected under this law. 

If you are fired for a reason related to your sexual orientation or gender expression your employer is not going to admit you were fired because you are gay or transgender. The discrimination may appear in more subtle forms.  For example, employers may allege that you engaged in misconduct by violating the dress code or that you engaged in unprofessional conduct or conduct out of line with the values of the employer.  This could result in the DEW making an initial finding that you are disqualified from benefits because your employer terminated you “for cause” or for “misconduct.”  

You must appeal this decision within ten days of the mailing date of the decision. South Carolina Legal Services may be able to represent you. To see if you qualify for legal services, you may apply for representation by calling 1-888-346-5592 or online at: https://www.lawhelp.org/sc/online-intake.  

November 21 – Deadline for Non-Income Tax Filers to Register for Stimulus Payment

The deadline to register for an Economic Impact Payment using the Non-filers tool is extended to November 21, 2020 for those who have not received their Economic Impact Payment and do not normally file a tax return. Register before November 21 using the Non-Filers: Enter Payment Info Here tool on IRS.gov.

The IRS’s Non-Filers tool is secure and can be used if:

  1. You are married with income below $24,400 or single with income below $12,200 and cannot be claimed as a dependent by someone else;
  2. You are a couple or an individual experiencing homelessness;
  3. You are a Social Security and VA recipient whose only source of income is social security retirement, social security disability, Supplemental security income or SSI;

The economic impact payment will be sent to you even if you have a federal income tax debt that is not paid off.

You can speed the arrival of your payment by choosing to receive it by direct deposit. Otherwise, you will receive a check or prepaid debit card. If you are receiving benefits the payment will automatically be paid into the account in which you receive your benefits. After two weeks, you can track the status of your payment using the Get My Payment tool.

December 31, 2020 Deadline for Requesting Mortgage Assistance from HUD

HUD allows borrowers to delay making a mortgage payment under the Forbearance for Borrowers or COVID 19 National Emergency Program. The deadline to request the COVID 19 Forbearance is December 31, 2020. The borrower will not have to make payments for 6 months. However, this period can be lengthened up to another 6 months or shortened at the borrower’s request. The payments usually come due all at once at the end of the forbearance period.  

HUD also has a program called Home Equity Conversion Mortgages (“HECM”) for borrowers with a reverse mortgage. When an HECM borrower defaults on the mortgage, such as by not paying taxes or insurance, HUD requires the mortgage company to call the HECM loan due in full and then to file a foreclosure. Due to the pandemic, HUD has said that HECM borrowers who have defaulted on the mortgage can ask their mortgage company for an additional 6 months before the mortgage company calls in the loan.  The key is that borrowers must make this request to the mortgage company by December 31, 2020.

If you are concerned about losing your home to foreclosure, and you need assistance understanding your options, please call South Carolina Legal Services at 888-346-5592 or apply online at www.sclegal.org.

Social Security Benefits Updates

The Social Security Administration (SSA) announced that benefits will increase by 1.3% in 2021. The maximum monthly SSI benefit will be $794 for a single person and $1,191 for a married couple. Retirement, survivor and disability benefits will go up about $20 a month for the average beneficiary.

The Open Enrollment period for Medicare remain open until December 7, 2020. Medicare beneficiaries should use this time to review their health and drug plans and make any changes based on their current healthcare needs. The South Carolina State Health Insurance Assistance Program (SHIP) provides free counselors who can help you find plans. SHIP be reached at 800-868-9095 and just ask for a SHIP coordinator. It is important to know that you should never pay anyone to help you choose a plan.

Medicare is offering new health plans that will cap your out-of-pocket cost at $35 or less for a month’s supply of insulin. The government will not call you and ask for your Medicare or social security number. It will not threaten you with jail if you do not provide personal information to the caller. Scammers can use your Medicare number to file false claims or obtain treatment under your name or they can try to sell you a bogus insurance policy for genetic or COVID testing. Finally, the government will not show up at your door to sell you a Medicare plan, medical equipment, medication, or supplements. You may register your phone number with the National Do Not Call Registry at https://www.donotcall.gov/ or 888-382-1222.

Domestic Violence Behaviors

Domestic violence is a pattern of behaviors used by one partner to maintain power and control over another partner in an intimate relationship.

More than 2 in 5 women will experience either physical violence, sexual violence, or intimate partner stalking in their lifetimes. South Carolina ranks in the top 10 worst states for the rate of women murdered by men.

Domestic violence is not just physical violence against a partner. It is also sexual and psychological violence, as well as emotional abuse. It can also look quite different depending on the relationship and depending on the abuser.

Those who use domestic violence to create power and control over their partner can use a variety of tactics. This includes, but is not limited to, using intimidation, emotional abuse, and isolation. The abuser can also minimize, deny, and blame the victim in a way to manipulate and shift responsibility. This abuse can also look like the use of threats, including economic threats, and the use of children.  

If a person is in an abusive relationship as the victim, (s)he is not the one to be blamed and does not need to be ashamed.     Help for the survivor is just a phone call away. Visit www.sclegal.org for a listing of shelters throughout the state that will provide you with a safe space away from your abuser. You may also call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1.800.799.7233 or text “LOVEIS” to 1.866.331.9474.            

South Carolina Legal Services may also offer free legal assistance to domestic violence victims, including obtaining Orders of Protection, divorces, and custody. To apply, you can call 1.888.346.5592 or apply online at www.sclegal.org.