March 2020 SLLS COVID-19 UpdatePosted on: March 26, 2020
Just as we have during Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, the BP Oil Spill, the 2016 Louisiana Floods, and other crises, SLLS remains committed to meeting the challenges of COVID-19 by fighting for the rights and protection of low-income people in our communities. Louisiana and its families have been hit especially hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. As of March 29, 2020, our state has over 3,500 cases of coronavirus. Over 3 out of every 1,000 residents of Orleans Parish has been diagnosed with COVID-19. Outside of New York, New Orleans has the highest per capita rate of COVID-19 in the country.
With schools closed and businesses shuttering doors, many low-income people, already struggling to make ends meet, have lost their jobs or are unable to work. During the week of March 15, 2020, over 70,000 unemployment benefits claims (compared to an average of 1,500 claims per week during normal times) were filed. Our workers, already stressed by concerns of how to keep their families healthy and safe, now have to also worry about whether they can keep a roof over their heads, whether their family will have enough food to eat, and whether they can access the civil justice system to protect them when they most need it.
As we end the week, unfortunately, the toll of the COVID-19 pandemic on our communities only grows. Many now consider New Orleans the coronavirus epicenter of the country. The death rate for coronavirus in Orleans Parish is more than double that of any other county in the United States - including New York. Even after the federal government issued a major disaster declaration for Louisiana, our governor warned that our hospitals are at risk of running out of capacity by the first week of April.
SLLS is dedicated now, it always has been, to fighting for justice for the people we serve. Over the past two weeks, we have been working hard – albeit in different ways – to protect vulnerable people. Thanks to supporters like you, we can continue to provide high-quality legal representation, advocacy, and community education for low-income and vulnerable people in our communities throughout COVID-19 and its long-aftermath. We've included some highlights of this emergency response below.
With the end of this disaster nowhere in sight and with the situation, laws, and policies changing daily, SLLS supporters like you play a vital role in protecting low-income people and ensuring their needs and experiences are heard and considered by policy makers. Your support provides high-quality legal representation to the most vulnerable in our communities - ensuring that they have a safe place to stay, where they can maintain social distancing, and where they know they can access the food, medical care, and other resources they need during this frightening time.
We hope you will considering joining us in this work by making a donation or joining our team of volunteer attorneys, professionals, and law students. You can make a donation online at: https://slls.org/donations/. We've included more information about volunteering below. Thank you for joining us in the fight for fairness. Your role in it is as important now as it ever has been.
- To protect the health and safety of our clients, volunteers, and staff, we quickly shifted to providing legal services remotely. To make this transition possible, we quickly purchased new equipment and other technology and redesigned programming to ensure our services remain continuously available to people in need. We are happy to report that we have completed this transition without any break in services for our clients. People wanting to call to connect with their attorneys or to apply for services can call the local SLLS office serving them or apply online. Information for our offices and our online application can be found at slls.org
- We are training our staff on updates to legal issues related to COVID-19 and on tips to work remotely.
- We are working with Louisiana Lagniappe Law Lab and other partners to make it easier for low-income people to understand their rights during the COVID-19 Crisis. You can find “Know Your Rights” information we created posted at LouisianaLawHelp.org, our website (https://slls.org/news/blog/), and on our Facebook page (@SLLSHelps).
In collaboration with community partners, we are fighting for policy changes to mitigate some of the most dire impacts of the COVID-19 crisis on low-income people. We advocated and achieved moratoria on evictions, foreclosures, and Medicaid terminations throughout our state. We continue fighting for the rights of vulnerable people – particularly people who are homeless, people living with disabilities, and the elderly – to ensure they can stay safely in their homes; can access the unemployment benefits, food stamps, and healthcare benefits they need; and can access the courts for emergencies – like protective orders – to keep their families safe. Thanks to advocacy by SLLS and its partners:
- The state has put a moratorium on evictions statewide until at least April 13th. In Orleans Parish, this moratorium will run until at least April 24th.
- Many housing authorities in our service area have agreed to stop evictions and kicking people off vouchers during the COVID-19 Crisis
- Many parishes in our service area have agreed to stop foreclosures until the end of the crisis.
- The state will not terminate Medicaid and will reinstate coverage for people whose benefits were cut off after March 18, 2020.
- We are actively engaged in local community responses to COVID-19. We are participating at least weekly in the City of New Orleans Voluntary Organizations Active in Disasters (VOAD) and the Louisiana State Bar Association’s Access to Justice Disaster Planning Committee.
- We also are coordinating with national partners including the Legal Service Corporation the National Legal Aid & Defender Association, the American Bar Association Task Force on Legal Needs Arising Out of the 2020 Pandemic, private attorneys, law firms, Voices for Civil Justice, and others from around the country who are identifying emerging issues and developing ways to address them.
Our attorneys are representing clients to address the serious immediate impacts of this disaster. Here are a few examples:
- Despite the moratorium on evictions, some landlords continue to threaten, intimidate, and attempt to illegally evict their tenants without a court order. We’ve already opened over 30 cases for tenants threatened with illegal evictions since the eviction moratoria began.
- One of these cases was highlighted in a story in the Times-Picayune this weekend. Only days after Kyla Millings told her landlord that she would be out of work for over a month after she lost her job because of COVID-19, her landlord illegally locked her out of her apartment. Kyla called the police. They correctly told her that her landlord could not evict her from her apartment without a court order and told her she could re-enter her apartment. Despite police intervention, her landlord started to remove Kyla's appliances and threw out the food Kyla had purchased so that she could follow the Governor's order to stay at home during the pandemic. Our attorneys obtained a court order preventing the landlord from evicting Kyla from her home.
- We've stopped several landlord's and long-term motel operators from evicting vulnerable people into homelessness by contacting the landlords on behalf-of our clients and explaining to them that evicting their tenants at this time is illegal.
- SLLS Staff Attorney Hannah Adams was interviewed about a New Orleans area landlord who threatened to evict people, even as the COVID-19 crisis was raging. You can find that story by CLICKING HERE.
- We also continue representing domestic violence survivors in court – helping them get protective orders so they can keep themselves and their children safe.
Our SLLS Pro Bono Program is moving to mobilize volunteer efforts to assist in the response. If you’re interested in joining us in our work to fight for fairness for low-income people, please contact:
- Attorneys and other professionals: Elena Perez at firstname.lastname@example.org
- Undergraduates and law students: Becca Rubenstein at email@example.com