US Supreme Court Will Hear Arguments on the Constitutionality of the Indian Child Welfare Act During Native American Heritage Month

Indian Child Welfare Act Banner

November is Native American Heritage Month. This is a time to recognize the significant contributions Native Americans have made, and continue to make, to the United States of America. This month celebrates the rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories of Native peoples. It also provides an opportunity to raise awareness about the unique challenges faced by Native Americans, many of which continue in the present.

The US Supreme Court heard oral arguments Wednesday November 9th in the case of Brackeen v. Haaland, which will decided whether certain sections of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) are unconstitutional. The plaintiffs argue that it provides an unlawful racial preference in child custody and adoption cases and unlawfully intrudes on a state right to regulate child placement. Those in favor of the law say that it aims to prioritize the placement of Native American children with their extended families or tribal communities, where their cultural identities will be understood and celebrated. 

The ICWA was passed by Congress in 1978 in response to the long and tragic history of separating Native American children from their families by state agencies, sometimes by force, who would place the children in institutions or with non-tribal foster families. The removal of a Native American child was not always due to abuse or neglect by a parent but was often due to misplaced beliefs about tribal life and poverty. The separation notorious with the federal government’s removal of Native American children to boarding schools, continued into the mid-20th century through state-court proceedings that determined, without considering Native American culture, that children had been neglected or abandoned. These children were then placed with families that were not Native American.

To address this history, the ICWA establishes minimum standards for the removal of Native American children from their families and establishes a preference that Native American children who are removed from their families be placed with extended family members or in Native foster homes. By keeping Native American children within their family and tribe, there is opportunity to better foster their culture and identity. Under ICWA, tribal courts have exclusive jurisdiction over child-custody proceedings involving Native children who live or have their permanent residence on tribal land. 

Brackeen v. Haaland was filed in federal court in Texas by the states of Texas, Indianan and Louisana, three couples who are not Native American who have tried to foster or adopt children with Native American ancestry, and one of the children’s biological mother. Four tribes have joined the case to defend the ICWA. The federal district court held that the ICWA was unconstitutional, but this was reversed by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit. 

A decision in Brackeen v. Haaland will address two fundamental issues:

  1. Whether the ICWA’s placement preferences — which disfavor non-Indian adoptive families in child-placement proceedings involving an “Indian child”— discriminate on the basis of race in violation of the U.S. Constitution
  2. Whether ICWA’s placement preferences exceed Congress’ Article I authority by invading the arena of child placement — the “virtually exclusive province of the States,” as stated in Sosna v. Iowa — and otherwise commandeering state courts and state agencies to carry out a federal child-placement program

The challengers (Texas and the non-Native American adoptive families), contend that the ICWA’s use of an “Indian child” classification to create placement preferences violates the Constitution’s requirement of equal protection under the law.  They also argue that states, not Congress, have long been delegated the power to regulate adoption and child-custody proceedings. The tribes counter that Native American children have “always been a federal (and tribal) sphere,” insisting that the Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate Native American affairs broadly, as part of the duty of protection that the federal government owes to Native Americans. In particular, they say Congress’ power to regulate commerce with tribes has never been limited to “buying, selling, and transporting goods” (a common definition of “commerce”). They contend that the Constitution gives Congress the power to regulate all interactions between Native Americans and non-Native Americans.

Native American tribes have called the ICWA “one of the most important pieces of federal Indian legislation ever enacted,” and warn that a ruling in favor of the challengers “would work profound harm on Indian children and Tribes.” They feel that the ICWA “prospectively incorporates Tribes’ own preferences into federal law.” According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who filed an amicus brief with the US Supreme Court:

“If the Supreme Court overturns ICWA, states would once again be allowed to indiscriminately remove Native children from their families and culture while simultaneously depriving tribes of future generations — putting the very existence of tribes in jeopardy.”

Today Native American programs and courts work with state courts to determine the best placement of a Native American child with preference being given to placement with a family or tribal member to help the child remain in touch with their extended tribal family. 

For more information, check out this article from SCOTUSblog. To read more about the oral arguments that occurred Wednesday, click here.

Name and Gender Marker Changes: Learn how to Update Your Name and Gender Marker in South Carolina

As members of the LGBTQ+ community strive to live their most authentic life, they may desire to change their name or the gender marker on their birth certificate. Continue reading to learn more about this process in South Carolina.

Name Changes

To make a name change for an adult, there are 4 key requirements that must be met:

1. Fingerprint and Criminal Background Check from South Carolina Law Enforcement Division (SLED)

While it is possible to go on the SLED website and quickly do a criminal background check by submitting the information SLED requires, for a name change you need to do fingerprint screening as well. This will involve going to a local law enforcement center to complete a fingerprint card. You can do this at any law enforcement center, though fees may be different at each center.

After completing this background check, you will get a “Record Check” document back from SLED that you need to attach to your petition to change your name. If you have a criminal record, it will say so and include a printout of your criminal record. If you do not have a criminal record, this form will indicate that you do not have a criminal record. This will also include whether someone is listed on the sex offender registry.

Once you have completed this document, you will mail it to SLED at the address below, with a self-addressed and stamped envelope, as well as $25. They will use the self-addressed envelope to mail the results back to you.

SLED
PO Box 21398
Columbia, SC 29221

2. Screening statement from the Department of Social Services (DSS) that indicates whether the person is listed on the Central Registry of Child Abuse and Neglect

This process can be found on the DSS website (https://dss.sc.gov/resource-library/forms_brochures/files/3072.pdf), however this document will need to be witnessed or notarized. You will mail this form to DSS at the address below, as well as the payment for an $8 fee.

DSS
PO Box 1520
Columbia, SC 29202

3. Affidavit that indicates whether the person is under court order to pay child support or alimony (“Affidavit of No Support”)

This affidavit will be a sworn statement to the court including your name, and stating that there are no outstanding payments in your name, including all previously used names (e.g. maiden name)

4. Screening statement from SLED whether the person is listed on the sex offender registry

This documentation can be obtained when contacting SLED for the first requirement, fingerprint, and background check.

Once you have obtained these documents, you will file a petition with the Family Court, including a $150 filing fee. Then, you will request a hearing and attend the scheduled hearing. The Final Order will be submitted to the judge for their review and signature. It is important for you to then obtain CERTIFIED copies of the Final Order from the clerk’s office, as you will need a certified order for another step.

At this stage, if the court has granted it, your name has been legally changed. However, if you want your birth certificate to reflect this change, you will need to take additional steps. You will need to ask DHEC to amend your birth certificate to reflect the name change. To do this, you will need:

  1. Certified copy of Final Order (this is why it’s important to make sure you get the certified final order because that is what DHEC requires)
  2. Vital Records Birth Application
  3. Included copy of state-issued ID
  4. $27

This information can be mailed to DHEC or taken to the DHEC vital records office in Columbia

Gender Marker Change

Filing for a gender marker change is not as straightforward, as there is no statute or case law addressing gender marker changes in SC. However, there is a law that allows Family Court to correct birth records. There’s another law that identifies DHEC as having authority to correct mistakes on the birth certificate.

DHEC issued a letter in 2018 stating that if the court and medical professional are satisfied with gender marker change, and these 4 steps were followed, they would accept the court order for gender marker change.

  1. Medical certification of physical change related to the person’s sex
  2. Licensed physician and the court are satisfied their medical treatment has been completed with the result being that they are now a different sex from their biological sex at birth and is not merely in the process of transitioning
  3. That the change is permanent in nature
  4. Change in sex is made with the intent to change permanently and for all purposes

Note, that these requirements do not indicate that a petitioner must have had surgery to change a gender marker, as long as the court and physician are satisfied with medical treatment that has occurred and has changed sex from biological sex.

What counts as medical certification?

  1. Detailed affidavit from a licensed physician treating the Petitioner in support of gender marker change and correction of birth record
  2. Depending on the individual case, expert testimony from a licensed physician may be required

The petitioner’s testimony will also be key!

This testimony would need to:

  1. Outline requirements DHEC has set
  2. Show doctor and petitioner have been careful to follow and meet requirements
  3. Explain factors like background, diagnosis of gender dysphoria, what treatments they received, biological changes, etc.

Frequently Asked Questions

Do I need an attorney to pursue a name and/or gender marker change?

  • Probably – if you’re just doing the name change, the requirements are pretty straightforward; but if you are doing a name and gender marker change, it would be best to have an attorney since case law is not as straight forward and the attorney can make sure you have the strongest case possible.
  • If you meet gender marker requirements, it is best to do the name and gender changes at the same time so the birth certificate can be amended all at once.

I live in SC, but I was born in another state. Can I do a name/gender marker change in SC?

  • Yes! You are a resident of the state so you are subject to SC court jurisdiction.
    • However, it is important to double-check with other state vital record departments to ensure they do not require additional court order requirements.
    • Each state has different laws addressing gender marker changes. Make sure you reach out to the vitals record department to know of other requirements and whether they will accept the SC court order.

I was born in SC but now live in a different state. I was told I had to pursue the name change in SC. Is this true?

  • No – SC and DHEC will accept court orders from any other state, as long as it’s compliant with other SC requirements.
    • For gender marker change, DHEC may still want to see a copy of the affidavit from a licensed physician.

I have a criminal record. Will I be able to pursue a name/gender marker change?

  • For the most part, yes. The law contemplates this issue and says the clerk of court would have to notify law enforcement divisions about name or gender marker changes.

I am listed on the DSS Central Registry for Child Abuse/Neglect. Will I be able to pursue a name/gender marker change?

  • For the most part, yes. If the judge grants a change, a copy of the order will be sent to update the registry.

If I file a case with the court to change my name/gender marker, will it be open to the public? What about for a minor?

  • Yes; however there are circumstances where records can be sealed but this is not common. Family Court has its own court system that may not be visible on the public index online.
    • Confidential information like date of birth and SSN should be redacted before being issued on public record.
    • A little different for minors – any action in family court involving a minor child, the child is not identified. Parents bring the action so any mention of the child will identify the child as initials.

For more information, check out one of our Level Up Law episodes where attorney Charlotte Osmer overviews this process: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KJ1CRZXyJlA&list=PLJ9Hlm5oxA5tlb2v8VVu2SQhZNOOtD7mX&index=64

Need Help Paying for Internet Service? There is a new program that can help.

The Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program began last year in March to help households pay for internet service. Eligible households received a credit of up to $50 a month on their bill for internet services. Families located on qualifying tribal lands were eligible for a credit of up to $75 a month. That program is being phased out and replaced with the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP). The new program helps more households qualify the credit, but it to $30 per month. Households living on qualifying tribal lands will still receive up to $75 per month. Households that qualified under the old program will continue to receive up to $50 per month until February 28, 2022, but they do need to reapply for the new program to remain eligible for the credit. 

A household is eligible if: 1) their income is at or below 135% of the federal poverty limit (currently$35,775 for a family of 4); 2) they receive SNAP, Medicaid, SSI, VA disability pension (a VA needs-based program), HUD public housing assistance, or Lifeline benefits; 3) they are eligible for the free or reduced-price school lunch program; 4) they receive a Pell grant during the current award year; 5) they experienced a substantial loss of income due to job loss or furlough since February 29, 2020, and total household income in 2020 at or below $99,000 for single filers and $198,000 for joint filers; or 6) they meet the eligibility criteria for a participating providers’ existing low-income or COVID-19 program.

Enrollment is easy (two steps) and can be done by mail or online. To apply online: https://www.checklifeline.org/lifeline/?id=nv_flow&ebbp=true. After being approved, the family just needs to contact their internet provider. There are 115 companies in SC that participate in the program and can be found here: https://data.usac.org/publicreports/CompaniesNearMe/State/StateOption/SC. A household is a group of people who live together and share money even if they are not related to each other. Roommates that do not share money are considered as separate households and each roommate may be eligible for a credit. Households living on qualifying Tribal lands can find more information at https://acpbenefit.org/do-i-qualify/enhanced-tribal-benefit/

The program also offers a one-time discount of up to $100 towards the purchase of a laptop, tablet, or desktop computer. The purchase must be made through a participating provider and there are only 21 participating companies in SC. To see if you may qualify for help, go to https://www.fcc.gov/acp.

Early Wage/Income Access Programs

The need for early access to your wages is not a new concept. Early wage access programs might be helpful to workers with unexpected expenses because it is an alternative to high-cost payday loans.

Basically, these programs allow workers to access wages they have already earned ahead of the regular payday — much like payday loans.

If providers charge workers high fees or provide early access to such an extent that it allows what ends up just like repeated balloon-payment loans, it is not so helpful.

Early wage access might be a good thing when used occasionally,  but if there are charges, interest and other fees, they can add up, and result in a situation much like what we see in payday loans.   

The National Consumer Law Center has outlined the differences in the types of earned wage access services as follows: 

Employer-based or direct-to-consumer
Employer-based services operate through a contract with the employer that allows the program to access time-and-attendance records to determine actual earned wages.

Direct-to-consumer programs have methods of estimating earned wages but not with certainty, and they do not need employer approval.

Repayment method
Employer-based services usually are repaid by payroll deduction or other mechanisms through the employer.

Direct-to-consumer and some employer-based services debit bank accounts and can trigger nonsufficient funds (NSF) or overdraft fees when the timing or estimate of the paycheck is off.

Fees. Some providers charge no fees to the worker.

Fees in other programs range from $2.50 per day to $6 per month.

They can be per advance, per pay period, or monthly for a package of services.

Fees may be higher if you want the wages right away.

Some direct-to-consumer models actually rely on purportedly voluntary “tips” but may make it difficult not to tip.

Some of the other options are frequency of access and limits on how much you can access

Frequency of access. Many employer-based services limit access to once or twice a pay period, but others may allow access on a daily basis.

Access limits. Many services OR employers limit access to 50% of gross or net earned wages, ensuring that the worker will receive at least half of their paycheck on payday.

Others allow (and even encourage) “use-it-or-lose-it” access up to 100% of wages earned in a given day.

Although many providers claim their programs aren’t providing loans, if they are fee based and not restrictive, a worker can end up in a cycle of debt much like a payday loan.  The only difference in the early wage access program and living paycheck to paycheck is that your paycheck might get reduced more and more with each pay period with an early wage access program.  State and federal lending laws include fee and rate limits and require certain disclosures. Providers may claim their program is not providing loans and not subject to those laws that protect consumers.

NOTE:  A bill (S. 532) was recently introduced in South Carolina focused on allowing the employer-based model of early wage access programs to operate here.  Providers would have to register the S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs and post a bond. The Department would receive complaints from consumers as they do in other consumer matters. Under the law, the early access services would not be considered a form of lending.

Car Warranties

There are two types of warranties when you purchase a new or used car.  There are express warranties and implied warranties. The express ones apply to specific items or the performance of the car. They can be written or verbal but they have to be “expressly” communicated to the buyer. Most express warranties are in writing and probably come in a special package. But all express warranties don’t have to be mentioned in a special package.

Express warranties could be created by just a simple description of the car like it’s a 1995 Ford Explorer. The dealer or  manufacturer is warranting that it is the make and model the contract says it is. If in fact  that car is a different model or different model year, then the express warranty has been breached.

A verbal representation by the dealer or the dealer’s salesman can be an express warranty. You should not automatically assume it is an actual warranty because a representation by a salesman could be what is called “puffing”.  For example, “this is a great car, it runs really smooth”. That’s not really any specific representation. So, the statement is not a warranty. If the salesman makes a more specific statement, it can be difficult to prove that the verbal statement was actually made. Also, the written warranty will often state that the warranty is the only warranty and any verbal representations are not part of the contract or part of the warranty.

Almost every new car and most used cars, come with some type of written warranty so you should be sure to take the time and effort to read and understand exactly what is being covered and not covered under the warranty. Take note of who has the duty to make warranty repairs. Is it the dealer’s duty or the manufacturer’s duty? That’s found in the warranty.

You should note the difference between a warranty and an extended service contract. Sometimes the difference in these can be confusing.  A warranty and a service contract might require someone to repair problems with the car, but they are just not the same thing. A warranty is really a promise about specific items and the performance of the car. It becomes part of the sale. An extended service contract is a separate contract that is sold for an additional amount of money.

Implied warranties do apply to a sale.  They are not expressed verbally or in writing but are implied by law. There are three types: the warranty of title, the warranty of merchantability and the warranty of fitness for a particular purpose. The warranty of title says that the dealer or manufacturer has good title and they can legally transfer that title to the buyer.  Also, it warrants that there are no liens on the car that the buyer hasn’t been told about. With the implied warranty of merchantability, the dealer or manufacturer warrants that the car is fit for the ordinary purposes for which cars are used. In other words, it is fit for driving. For example, a broken automatic door lock may not be considered as a breach of that warranty of merchantability because the car is still in good driving condition.

Lastly, the implied warranty of fitness for a particular purpose. In that situation the dealer or manufacturer by implication warrants or promises that the car is fit for a special purpose. For this warranty to come into play the seller must know what specialized purpose the buyer has for the car.  The buyer is going to rely on the dealer’s skill or judgment in recommending that the car is fit for that particular purpose.

Most dealers and even some manufacturers have clauses in their contracts that try to limit warranties or even prevent them from being given at all.  This is what we call a disclaimer. The law does allow the use of disclaimers, but they have to do it properly.  For example, express warranties cannot be disclaimed at all.  Implied warranties of fitness for particular purpose can be disclaimed, as long as the contract provides clearly and conspicuously that all implied warranties of fitness for a particular purpose are disclaimed.

So be sure to read all the warranties and disclaimers in a contract before you sign it.  Of course, be especially careful when buying a used car because the warranties are most likely limited or completely disclaimed in the sale of a used car. Federal law requires dealers to give basic warranty information on the window sticker of a used car as well as a new one.  If the window sticker says the car is being sold “as is”, the dealer is giving no warranty at all. That means that the dealer does not even warrant that you could drive the car off the lot. So be very careful when you are buying a car that has a sticker that says it’s being purchased “as is” because you’re really going to have little, if any, recourse against the seller.

When and How to Use the Three-Day Right To Cancel

People often think they have 3 days to change their mind on any purchase. It’s often called the right to cancel or the right of rescission. We think of it as buyer’s remorse.  The Federal Trade Commission (FTC)  regulations refer to it as the cooling off rule.

This especially comes up in car sales. Many states just like South Carolina do have laws that will give the buyer the right to cancel on certain types of purchase contracts but it’s very limited. The one most often misunderstood is the car sale. The three day right to cancel does not exist in the purchase of a car or other vehicle. The rule exists because consumers will sometimes get caught up in a persuasive sales pitch and make a purchase they later regret. 

Under South Carolina law there are specific, though limited, circumstances where the right to cancel arises: door to door sales, sale of a health club or gym membership, refinance of a home mortgage and the purchase of a vacation timeshare unit. Let’s take a closer look at these.

  1. Any kind of service or product that was sold to you at your home by someone coming to your door and selling it to you is subject to your right to cancel the purchase.  You’re entitled to a full refund if you notify the seller that you are cancelling the sale within three business days. But that doesn’t apply when you bought the item in the store or online and it’s delivered to your home. That is not considered a door to door sale. Likewise, if you go to the premises of the business and you buy it from them there and they are going to deliver it to your house that is not a door to door sale and the right to cancel within three days doesn’t apply.
  2. Gym and health club memberships sold in South Carolina are subject to a three day right to cancel. That right of cancellation applies no matter where the transaction purchasing the membership takes place.
  3. If you refinance a mortgage on your primary residence you have a three day right of cancellation. That doesn’t include a second home or commercial property.
  4. Finally, in South Carolina the purchase of vacation timeshare units are subject to an even longer right to cancel of five days.

The FTC cooling off rule which is essentially the same, provides the three day right to cancel a sale that’s made at your home, your workplace, a dormitory, or a temporary location. Keep that in mind if you go to a sale in a hotel or motel room, convention center, fairground and so on, you do have the right to cancel sales at those type locations. Certain types of sales can’t be canceled, even if they take place in places normally covered by the Rule. The Cooling-Off Rule does not cover sales that are:

  • under $25 for sales made at your home;
  • under $130 for sales made at temporary locations;
  • for goods or services not primarily intended for personal, family or household purposes. (The Rule applies to courses of instruction or training.);
  • made entirely online, or by mail or telephone;
  • the result of prior negotiations at the seller’s permanent place of business where the goods are sold regularly;
  • needed to meet an emergency;
  • made as part of your request for the seller to do repairs or maintenance on your personal property (purchases made beyond the maintenance or repair request are covered).

Also exempt from the Cooling-Off Rule are sales that involve:

  • real estate, insurance, or securities;
  • automobiles, vans, trucks, or other motor vehicles sold at temporary locations if the seller has at least one permanent place of business;
  • arts or crafts sold at fairs or places like shopping malls, civic centers, and schools.

How do you cancel?

You don’t need to have a reason for cancelling. You have the right to change your mind.

To cancel the sale, you just need to sign and date one copy of a cancellation form that should have been given to you at the time of the sale. But if they didn’t give you a form you can just write a cancellation letter. The notice needs to be mailed to the seller and postmarked within three business days of the sale. That means weekdays and Saturdays but, not Sundays and federal holidays.

If you cancel the purchase, that seller has 10 days to cancel and return any check you signed, refund all your money and tell you whether any of the products that you still have will be picked up and return any trade-in that you may have provided in a particular sale.

Within twenty days the seller must either pick up any items you have or reimburse you for mailing expenses if you agree to send the items back by mail.

If you did receive the actual goods from the seller before you did the cancellation, you do have to make them available to the seller in as good a condition as when you got them.

If you think a seller has violated the FTC’s cooling off rule, you can file a complaint at consumer.ftc.gov and here in South Carolina you can file a complaint for violations of state law with our S.C. Department of Consumer Affairs and that is at consumer.sc.gov.

Operation of Trial Courts

The South Carolina Supreme Court updated its Order regarding Operation of Trial Courts during the Coronavirus Emergency on November 23, 2021. The specific Order may be found at Supreme Court Order November 2021.

A few pertinent points about the Court’s Order are as follows:

  • Non-jury trial and motions may be conducted using remote technology.
  • In person trials and hearings may be conducted if a judge determines it is appropriate and it can be safely conducted.
    • trials will be staggered to decrease the number of people;
    • generally, only the attorneys, parties and witness may attend;
    • remote testimony may be allowed;
    • masks must be worn;
    • remote administration of oaths is allowed.
  • Courthouses should remain open to accept filings and payments
    • drop boxes are allowed and the public will have specific instructions and notification;
    • all persons will be screened for fever and must wear a mask.
  • Family Court
    • uncontested divorces may be granted without holding a hearing;
    • approval of settlement agreements and consent orders may be done without a hearing;
    • contested hearings in Family Court will be conducted remotely or in person as ordered by the Judge.
  • Bench warrants for non-payment of child support and alimony may be executed by law enforcement. The of suspension of those warrants has expired.

Social Security: Online Video Hearings

SSA has finalized its Online Video Hearing program and sent out letters on December 21st to every person who has a pending hearing request. These hearings will be conducted using Microsoft Teams; a platform similar to Zoom. Participants in this program must have an email address; a smartphone, tablet or computer with a camera and microphone; stable internet access; and a private area in their home. SSA does not require an individual to agree to online video or telephone hearings and you retain the right to an in-person hearing. You should contact an attorney or authorized representative before making a decision.  

We Are Better Together

On November 7, 2020, South Carolina Legal Services collaborated with National Expungement Week, a national nonprofit that provides funding to pay fees associated with expungements, pardons and pretrial intervention, and Path2Redemption, a nonprofit group that provides training and mentorship programs for ex-offenders transitioning back into society. These like-minded organizations came together for an expungement and pardon clinic, “Pardon My Behavior” at the Colony Apartments in Columbia, S.C.  South Carolina Legal Services provided attorneys and paralegals to assist over 50 people in applying to have with their criminal records expunged or offenses pardoned. National Expungement Week provided funding to South Carolina Legal Services’ applicants and clients to pay the cost of SLED checks, expungement, pardon, and court fees.  Path2Redemption provided re-entry mentorship and counseling at the event.

On December 5, 2020, South Carolina Legal Services collaborated with National Expungement Week, Communiversity, a nonprofit that hosts presentations on legal and wrap around serves for ex-offenders, and The Black Liberation Fund, a nonprofit that provides bail and incarceration support to formerly incarcerated persons. Together the organizations facilitated an expungement and pardon clinic, “The Gift of Freedom” at Center Station in Charleston, S.C. South Carolina Legal Services, with 7 attorneys and 2 paralegals onsite for the event, assisted over 120 attendees with applications to have their criminal records pardoned or expunged.

Both of these events highlight the immense need for strategic and targeted collaborations. These collaborations created a “one stop shop”, where qualifying participants received free legal assistance, including free legal screening for additional civil legal issues, payment for expungement and pardon fees and information about mentorship, training and wrap-around services for ex-offenders. These events have created a “referral boomerang”. South Carolina Legal Services is still receiving applicants from both events following these collaborations.

South Carolina Legal Services is seeking to maintain current collaborations and develop new ones that will create a communal network of services to assist a common client base.

To inquire about a possible collaboration, please contact Andrea Loney, Executive Director of South Carolina Legal Services at andrealoney@sclegal.org.

Supplemental Security Income and Unemployment Benefits

The COVID-19 pandemic may have a devastating impact on individuals who are receiving SSI disability benefits.  SSI beneficiaries who were working and lost their jobs because of COVID-19 may have been eligible for unemployment insurance (UI) benefits; including the expanded federal UI benefits that were available through the CARES Act.

SSI benefits will be reduced or suspended if a participant has earned or unearned income. SSI is reduced $1 for every $1 of UI benefits after the first $20. By comparison, earned income reduces SSI by $1 for every $2 that is earned after the first $85. The enhanced federal UI benefit would have reduced an SSI participant’s benefits to $0.00 when it was $600 a week or $2400 a month, far greater than the $783 SSI monthly payment. The enhanced UI benefit stopped on July 26, 2020 but state UI benefits continued and may have been low enough that it would not result in a loss of all SSI income. The newly passed COVID-19 Relief Act provides for a federal UI enhancement at a rate of $300 per week or approximately $1200 a month. This will also result in a suspension of SSI benefits for anyone receiving it. SSI suspensions for 12 consecutive months could result in the need for the individual to reapply for disability benefits which could be a long process if the individual has to prove that they are still disabled. There is also the possibility that SSI beneficiaries will receive notices that they were overpaid SSI because SSA suspended most overpayment actions from March through September 2020. Individuals who receive notice of an overpayment because of UI income should file a waiver to avoid collection. Finally, Medicaid benefits should not be stopped because of the loss of SSI benefits during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

The receipt of UI benefits should not have an impact on SSDI benefits because SSDI is not reduced for unearned income.