Learning by Listening about Citizen Wealth

DLC.Doorribbon_000Los Angeles After a week in California from Benicia to San Francisco to Oakland and finally Los Angeles, I found myself scratching my head as I headed home about what I was learning from people’s comments and questions about the continued attack on citizen wealth in America.

In Oakland Alfredo Avila with the Applied Research Center raised the issue that deliberate delays and forced appeals for the elderly apply for social security were extending some delays in receiving benefits by eligible individuals up to 18 months.  I pressed Alfredo because I had not heard this and didn’t want to crawl out on a limb, and there was headshaking throughout the crowd and nods of confirmation.

What about legal services lawyers, I asked, weren’t they challenging this?  Several people in Oakland raised the fact that not only are the offices now barred from any “impact” litigation, which is exactly what this might be, but privately told tales of legal services directors who embraced the restraints more interested in protecting their limited funding than really assisting the poor in making changes.

I repeated these stories I was hearing in Oakland while we were all sitting around the table talking about Citizen Wealth in Los Angeles at the UCLA Downtown Labor Center.  Kent Wong, director of the program, seized on the point and while ticking the points off on his fingers, went down the list of areas where he knew the pending reauthorization language for the Legal Services Corporation barred impact legislation and moreover almost anything that would even challenge government regulations or performance for the poor.

Donis Borks, a regional representative for the UAW local that represents many legal services offices around the country, was in attendance as in happened.  He nodded his head as Kent spoke as did Myesha Jenkins, a law student at USC.  Borks later mentioned that during the discussion of the book’s argument for maximum eligible participation that it had given him an idea, because legal services intake workers were also not making sure as they did the paperwork with clients to check and see if they were eligible for other programs, and this could be easily and meaningfully done.  I was excited to hear that and jumped on the point.  Donis quickly added it would take their union to make this a priority because he doubted the office directors would easily do so.

Stories like these have been moving and keep me pushing forward, but at the same time it is discouraging that while confronted with the constant erosion of citizen wealth support for lower income families we are still caught in the conundrum of finding the spirit willing and the flesh and follow through so weak.

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