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  • September 03, 2019

    Tip of the Month
    When Clients Fear Public Benefits

    As a public interest attorney, you may have low-income clients not taking public benefits they are eligible for. When that happens, says Erica Lopez, it is critical to the clients to find out why.

    Erica K. Lopez

    When public interest attorneys work with low income clients who are not currently receiving public benefits, it is critical to ask clients why they have chosen not to apply or receive those benefits.

    Erica K. Lopez Erica K. López, U.W. 2011, is an attorney with Legal Action of Wisconsin in Madison, where she practices in housing and eviction cases, and in disability determinations.

    In this political climate, many immigrant clients (both those authorized to live in the United States and those who are not) choose not to receive eligible public benefits for themselves and their citizen children. This comes as a result of fear and misinformation caused by two new executive rule changes proposed by the current administration.

    In October 2018, a rule was proposed to change the way public charge determinations are made when immigrants apply for permanent residency. More recently, in May 2019, the administration proposed a rule disallowing eligible family members living with immigration-ineligible family members from residing in federally subsidized housing, even if ineligible family members pay market rate rents and receive no subsidy.

    In May, the Urban Institute found that adults in immigrant families were already being chilled from public benefits in 2018, reporting that one in seven adults in immigrant families avoided public benefit programs.

    The rule changes are not yet effective. But even if there is a change, one way to ensure clients are maximizing the receipt of benefits is to recommend clients consult immigration attorneys before they decide to discontinue or not apply for public benefits. Partnering with local immigration attorneys and clinics is vital in ensuring clients can make informed decisions.

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    Public Interest Law Section Blog is published by the State Bar of Wisconsin; blog posts are written by section members. To contribute to this blog, contact Jacob Haller and review Author Submission Guidelines. Learn more about the Public Interest Law Section or become a member.

    Disclaimer: Views presented in blog posts are those of the blog post authors, not necessarily those of the Section or the State Bar of Wisconsin. Due to the rapidly changing nature of law and our reliance on information provided by outside sources, the State Bar of Wisconsin makes no warranty or guarantee concerning the accuracy or completeness of this content.

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